Denver Broncos High School Football Coach of the Week: Matt Van Praag of Evergreen

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Throughout a sports season, teams can overcome many challenges, both on and off the pitch.

For the 3A Evergreen Cougars, led by head coach Matt Van Praag, they faced the Unthinkable on October 6 when assistant coach Tom Poholsky, who was the father of starting quarterback Tommy Poholsky III, passed away suddenly. Poholsky had coached many of the team’s players since they started playing in fourth grade.

Before coach Poholsky passed away, the team were in the midst of one of the best starts in the program’s history, going 5-0 at the halfway point. After that, the team had to decide whether or not they wanted to continue playing.

They ultimately decided to play to honor their late coach, but saw difficulties on the pitch while going through the grieving process. They gave up the next two games before a meeting with Lewis-Palmer last Friday.

The Cougars came out shooting all cylinders for this game, including Poholsky III who pitched for five touchdowns and also added a rushing score. In the end, Evergreen was back in the win column with a 53-12 win. After the game, Lewis-Palmer’s staff bought a pizza and shared a meal with Evergreen in the midfield in honor of coach Poholsky.

Van Praag has won the Broncos Coach of the Week honors for his dedication to supporting his student-athletes, staff and community through this tragedy, but he wants everyone to know that was not one man’s effort.

“While I am the face of our program and proud to accept this award from the Denver Broncos, our players and staff have earned this recognition for enduring these past few weeks with courage, love and strength, which represents ultimately what I believe this award represents. “

Those who wish to support the Poholsky family during this difficult time can visit the GoFundMe page.

Broncos Coach of the Week is selected in partnership with the Broncos. Find the full list of winners at the link above.


Biography of Matt Van Praag

Years as Evergreen Head Coach (record): Second year (10-5)
General review of head coaches: 10-5
Coach CV: Coral Springs Christian, Coral Springs, Florida; Evergreen High School; Mountain Youth Football Association

Question: Why do you coach like you coach?
Van Praag: “My life experiences influence my daily interactions in all the roles I play. As a business owner overseeing over 50 employees, I’ve learned that relationship building is the number one indicator of success. I carry this same philosophy in my daily coaching by treating each player, each school employee and parents with the utmost respect while developing personal relationships with each of them. Coaching based on trust and love guides my daily decisions on the court as I seek to make an impact on the lives of our student-athletes. I hope to use football to create positive change in our community through our athletes and their families. I was fortunate to have coaches in high school who approached the game from a similar perspective, and the impact on my life from that approach is something I feel is necessary to convey. to others.”

Question: What do you think it’s like to be coached by you?
Van Praag: “I believe our players trust me implicitly. This trust leads to a lighter environment where our players are free to be themselves. There is an understanding of our expectations, and the consequences of not responding. These expectations are both consistent and fair. In return, players have the freedom to play with their style, which makes them feel safe. I have high expectations for effort on and off Not meeting my expectations all the time can have difficult consequences. As a result, some players struggle under my supervision when they do not want to strive to adhere to our rules. However, most of my players are consistent in behavior and effort, which creates a fun and fulfilling environment. “

Q: What is your favorite memory from being HC at Evergreen until now?
Van Praag: “I have been fortunate enough to be in the Evergreen program since 2011. On the ground we have had years of success and years of difficulty, but along the way I have made lasting friendships with our coaching staff and players. In addition to watching my children (Declan, 11, and Callum, 7) interact with our players over the years, two unique experiences on the pitch stand out. took place in September 2013 against Northridge in what we’ve dubbed the “Flood Game.” Around kick-off, the skies opened up and poured 8-16 inches of rain over the span of 6 hours , which ultimately led to a level 1 evacuation for the residents of Evergreen. players took splash like a scene from Singing in the Rain. Our center begged us to stay out of the shotgun because the balloon was so soggy. Coming from South Florida where we have torrents, I did will never seen anything like what we experienced that night. After the game, we began preparations to accommodate the Northridge team in our players’ homes because their bus was struggling to leave Evergreen due to flooding and road closures. was able to get them home safely.

My second biggest experience happened last weekend against Lewis-Palmer. On October 6, our football community suddenly lost a great friend and coach in Tom Poholsky. His son, Tommy Poholsky III, is our current starting quarterback. While our team reeled over the loss of our coach and mentor to funeral services and visitation, Tommy stayed true to his character and asked his teammates to honor his father just by playing. After two tough losses amid the chaos of grief, Tommy threw five touchdown passes and scored on the floor against Lewis-Palmer. Watching Tommy overcome his pain with this type of performance was incredibly inspiring and honorable. However, the Lewis-Palmer staff and administrator moved me the most when they bought pizzas for our players on our field to honor our late coach. Watching their players and our players share a meal in the midfield after a tough battle will always remain with me as an accurate image of character and sportsmanship. “

Question: How has it been for your team to be 6-2 at this point in the season?
Van Praag: “I’m in my second year as a head coach at Evergreen, and my first two years could not have been filled with more chaos between COVID-19 and the death of one of our coaches . To be 6-2 after losing 19 to the debutants of a year ago and facing all the challenges of the past month is a testament to our players and staff. We are an inexperienced team that has been forced to grow up. quickly. I’m so proud of our entire athletic program including our parents, rappelling club, administrative and support staff to keep us afloat and focus on the kids. We have a saying that we let’s celebrate every win regardless of performance because winning is hard. My hope is to continue to grow as a coach and watch our program become an annual competitor. “

Question: What did Coach Poholsky mean to the players, the program and the Evergreen community?

Van Praag: “Coach Poholsky has played a number of roles in our community. These included our current President of the Booster Club, the former Chairman of the Board of Directors of our Youth Football Association, a Youth football coach for five years and our current offensive coordinator and extended receivers. Coach. Many of our players have played under Tom since 4e class. He is responsible for mentoring so many of our current players during this time. The outpouring of love towards the Poholsky family is precisely what makes Evergreen such an amazing community. We have lost a man who made it his mission to use football as an intermediary to help young people become extraordinary older people. He was everything in coaching, and I saw him as a friend and a mentor. He believed in every player and fought like crazy to give opportunities to everyone who was willing to put in the time and effort. He shaped that philosophy during his days as a starting quarterback in Iowa, and the Evergreen football program is built on that foundation. Although he is no longer with us, his spirit will continue to live on as we watch our players graduate and become incredible contributors to society. “

Question: What can you say about this team that is mobilizing, continuing to play and now winning since the death of Coach Poholsky?

Van Praag: “When Tom passed away we had to decide whether we should continue playing or not. Meeting the Poholsky family, they thought honoring Tom by playing the game he loved was the right decision regardless of the outcome. For three weeks our entire training program and routine was interrupted. We have not yet had a full week of training in our new normal environment.

I saw our players organize a theatrical trip the day after Tom was discovered. I have seen teenagers openly cry with tears streaming down their faces. And I saw a young man from Tommy overcome it all and play to the best of his ability after losing his best friend and dad.

The growth of these children over the past three weeks is inspiring. We prepared and played uninspired football for two weeks because the game was taking its place on the priority list. However, a silver lining began to appear towards the end of last week, and our passion as a program returned to what it was before Tom passed away. Our entire community should be proud of the moral character that has been shown throughout these difficult times. Yet our children deserve the most credit and respect for carrying out their grieving process in a healthy way, together, and with perspective.

So while I am the face of our program and proud to accept this award from the Denver Broncos, our players and staff have achieved this recognition for enduring these past few weeks with courage, love and strength, which ultimately represents what I believe. price means. “


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