SUCCESS. ASK SOMEONE TO DEFINE IT, and you will not get the same response twice. When it comes to coaching football, Sandpoint High School Head Coach George Yarno, Jr. said success does not come in the win-loss column; it is helping boys grow into young men who exhibit good moral character.
Coach Yarno has grown up around football. His dad, George Yarno, Sr., played professional football for 13 years; 11 in the NFL and two for the USFL.
“My dad played for Tampa Bay, Atlanta, Houston and Green Bay,” said George, Jr. His uncle, John Yarno, also played professional football with the Seattle Seahawks before going onto the USFL.
Unfortunately, Coach Yarno’s father passed away last year just prior to the Sandpoint Bulldog’s season.
“My father was my hero. Everything about him is everything I want to be,” said Coach Yarno. “I have modeled my coaching style after him.”
In visiting with Coach Yarno, it is clear his passion is not only football but working with kids as well. He has been part of very successful programs, including his most recent job at Highland High School in Pocatello where the team has won 10 state championships, two of which were under Coach Yarno. But in the end, Yarno said it is not about the wins and losses.
“My focus is on how many kids’ lives I can change. If we can do that, the wins and losses will take care of themselves,” he said. “I only remember a couple of [football] scores. But I remember every coach that had an influence on me.”
Going into his second year as head coach of the Sandpoint Bulldogs, Coach Yarno said fans can expect to see a few changes on the field.
“The kids are excited. We are doing things offensively that will be different, and a number of the kids are loving it.”
There are approximately 20 seniors and 30 juniors on varsity and roughly 35 sophomores on the junior varsity team.
But football for this group does not start in September. Not even August. The coaches begin to prepare in April and hold spring practices in parts of May and June and then attended Border League Camp the week of June 18.
“On June 25 we started lifting weights and running every week, Monday through Thursday, in the morning,” said Yarno, adding that while not all the kids showed up they consistently had at least 35 athletes and somedays as many as 50.
Mandated by the state there was a “no contact” week the week of July 31 to August 4, and then practices began on August 7 running each weekday from 9 to 11am and 3:30 to 5:30pm. The team had two games before school started, and Coach Yarno said he hopes the season ends the week before Thanksgiving. “That will mean we are in the state championship,” said Yarno.
In addition to overseeing 120 football players,15 coaches and nearly 300 parents, Coach Yarno also teaches strength and conditioning classes to the freshmen, upperclassmen and females at Sandpoint High School.
The coaching staff from varsity down to the freshmen team has a number of new faces, several of them young men who can evolve together as a staff for years to come.
“We’ve expanded the playbook a lot, and I am still committed to running the football,” said Coach Yarno of what fans can expect to see this season. “I will always emphasize running the ball and stopping the run on defense.”
Creativity is something that Coach Yarno emphasizes, and this will be demonstrated on the offensive plays with more formations and shifts.
When asked what he sees as the team’s strength, Coach responded, “We are loaded athletically, especially in the skilled positions.” He added that the defensive line, with all seniors with the exception of one junior, will also be very strong.
He has high hopes for quarterback Robbie Johnson, an athlete Coach Yarno said exhibits special qualities. “Athletes like him do not come along very often. If I do my job right, he should be player of the year.”
Coach Yarno said the positions of linebacker and defensive back only have one returning starter, but that does not mean they are a weak link. “The kids who are stepping up should be really good,” he said.
When asked who he sees as the biggest opponent of the season, Coach Yarno said, “Right now it’s Post Falls, because that is our first game. When you’re a coach you cannot look past your nose. You look at one week at a time.”
In mid-September the team will travel to Alberta, Canada, to play a game. Since Canadian football differs from American, they will play two quarters of each. According to Coach Yarno, Canadian football has 12 men on the field as opposed to 11 in American football, and they can motion toward the line of scrimmage. “They also have bigger fields,” he said.
Coach Yarno believes in allowing the players to vote on who they feel will best represent the team as captains. Prior to the season, the entire team votes on a captain from the offensive players, the defense and the special teams. “The coaches then will choose a fourth captain,” said Yarno.
He and his assistant coaches are excited for the direction the Bulldogs are going and anxious to see what the season brings. “There is a good foundation here, and I’m looking forward to building an empire on that foundation,” said Coach Yarno, who adds that every player is a piece of the puzzle, and he is sure this team will surprise some people.
His job as a coach and as a teacher is one Coach Yarno takes seriously. “If my boys leave my program a better person, that’s worth a state championship right there,”he said. “Our success is not measured by wins. It’s based on the men we produce and put back into our community. We want to develop good students and good citizens. If we have to skip a practice to go help someone in the community that needs us, that is what we will do. In the end, these boys will win at life, and that’s why we’re here.”