New Gateway football coach settling in
Donnie Militzer knows he now is in a head coaching position that comes with a lot of pressure placed on it.
He said he also knows what a special opportunity he's been given.
It's been more than a week since Militzer, a graduate of Keystone Oaks and Robert Morris, was hired as the new football coach at Gateway.
He has been digesting all that comes with the position, and he got things started by meeting the players last Thursday at the high school.
“I was a little nervous,” said Militzer, 31, who has 11 years of coaching experience as an assistant at the high school and collegiate levels.
“You always want to make a good first impression. I feel the kids bought in and are excited for what we want to do here. It's a great opportunity for me.”
Militzer, the vice principal at St. Thomas More elementary school in Bethel Park, said it won't be easy to replace a coach such as Terry Smith.
Smith resigned in January from the Gateway head football coach and athletic director positions. The Gateway school board had reduced the AD job to part-time and created a policy that would prevent an administrator from also coaching.
Now an assistant coach at Temple, Smith was 101-30 in 11 seasons, and he helped guide the Gators to a 9-2 record, a conference title and a WPIAL quarterfinal appearance in his final season in 2012.
“What (Smith) did (at Gateway) speaks for itself,” Militzer said.
“He's built a great program. It's hard to replace Coach Smith, but at the same time, it's set up nicely because those kids know how to win.”
The Gateway school board voted 7-2 last week to hire Militzer after a three-month search that took longer than most people had hoped.
Several candidates where interviewed during the search, and Militzer said he applied about three weeks before the school board made its decision.
Emotions have run high as to the future of the football program, and Militzer hopes he can do his part to hold up the tradition of Gateway football.
“No matter where anyone falls or has fallen in this situation, it's all about the kids,” Militzer said. “It's their team. I am honored to be able to take over a program (Smith) built. It's a new chapter, and I'm here for them.
“Everyone I've met so far has been really helpful and encouraging. Whenever you are in positions like this, there are going to be people that like you and don't like you, no matter what you do. I am focusing on the kids, getting them ready for the season and helping them reach all of their goals.”
Militzer has coached all positions — both offensively and defensively — in high school and college. He was the defensive coordinator the past two seasons at Carlynton, and he coached running backs at Washington & Jefferson in 2009 and 2010.
At W&J, he got introduced to some spread offense concepts. He said he wants to introduce those concepts to the Gateway offense.
Several of the top returning Gateway players said they are encouraged after meeting with Militzer.
Lineman Joe Robak: “I am excited that he is willing to utilize all the weapons we have. We have so many athletes on the team we can use. I am looking forward to seeing what happens. It's a weight lifted off our shoulders. We can now get into spring workouts, 7-on-7s with the skill kids and get working to the fall season.”
Receiver and defensive back Delvon Randall: “He's happy to be here and wants to get to Heinz Field and Hershey. It's a big relief for everybody that we finally have a coach.”
Defensive back Anthony Davis: “We all have to give him a chance. He came in with a positive attitude, and we want to get things started. There's a lot of motivation for (coach Militzer) and us.”
Dr. Kurt Martin, a guidance counselor at Gateway High School and a certified personal trainer, has helped the players stay on course with strength, conditioning and nutrition during the coaching transition.
“Dr. Martin has done a great job of keeping the team together,” Robak said.
“We're a close-knit group, and we're closer than we've ever been. We tried to keep as much normalcy as possible.”
Martin said the players have responded well during the transition.
“The kids have been very anxious and looking forward to the upcoming season,” he said. “They've been committed to working out, and I've been doing what I can to help them do that. The kids have been fantastic and have kept a level head as we moved forward.
“They want to both honor coach Smith and the new coach. That comes with wanting to leave a legacy. The positive energy helped them work through some of the tough challenges the past year and especially the past (three) months.”
Several players who are looking forward to the 2013 season also are looking to the future in college.
Robak is being recruited by Colgate University, while players such junior Montae Nicholson continue to be heavily sought after by Division I programs.
“My goal is to help them achieve their goals,” Militzer said.
“I want to be a sounding board for them. The recruiting process is tough, and we're asking them to make a pretty big decision. I want to be another advocate for them in the process.”
Militzer said the coaching staff could be in place in another week or two.
“We want staff members who are on the same page,” Militzer said. “I've made many connections during my other coaching stops. I want to put the best staff together.”
Militzer declined to say if anyone previously connected to Gateway or the Gators football program would be considered for the coaching staff.
Staff writer Chris Harlan contributed to this report.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.