New season, new home for Belle Vernon coach Humbert
The 2014 football season is a new beginning for Matt Humbert, who has gone through an emotional but exciting offseason.
In June of 2010, he was hired to bring Ringgold's football program back to prominence. He went 31-13 in his four seasons at the helm for the Rams. Now, he looks to do the same at Ringgold's top rival — Belle Vernon Area.
It seemed like a tough decision for Humbert to make, but the coach said it was a no-brainer.
Along with being hired as the new head football coach, replacing Aaron Krepps, Humbert was also hired as a teacher. He began teaching civics this week at BVA.
“It just makes things so much easier,” Humbert said of being a teacher in the district. “Something as simple as being able to keep track of a player's grades. I can monitor them and I'm able to keep track of behavior. I can do things like pull a kid and say, ‘Hey, draw this play up on the board.' ... I can give the kids a little more chalk talk throughout the day.”
Having their coach in the school will benefit players in another way.
“Recruiting will be a thousand times easier,” Humbert said. “I can't tell you how many times I've had to meet coaches early in the morning or late at night. It was such a hassle not being there.
“Now, though, I can meet with a coach with the player or be there to fax things back and forth. I'll be able to talk to more coaches face to face.”
Humbert said he never intended to leave Ringgold, but the opportunity was one he couldn't pass. He tried to secure a teaching position at Ringgold, but nothing ever turned up.
“It was disappointing, but I understood why they couldn't do it,” Humbert said. “I was disappointed because I wanted to be a bigger part of the district. Things happen, though, and you just have to roll with the punches.
“I had no aspirations of getting out of Ringgold. ... I wasn't looking to jump ship that quick. I wanted to stay there because I felt we had some unfinished business. This was a career move for me.”
He added that BVA officials have been open to his ideas for the program.
“The district has been willing and I hope they continue to be willing to do whatever it takes to facilitate a winning program here,” Humbert said. “To make a program go, it's more than players and coaches. It's a collaborative effort within the district. There has to be people that want to see things change.
“There has to be a commitment to facilities — a commitment to putting the kids where they have just as much, if not more, as players at other Class AAA schools. That's the goal right now, to have as much success as possible and build a foundation to mirror those successful programs like a West Allegheny and others.”
A tough day
When Humbert was hired to coach the Leopards, social media sites like Twitter and Facebook helped spread the news.
Some of the tweets and posts were congratulatory and some weren't so nice. That was to be expected.
But Humbert showed he was man enough to look his former Rams' players in the eyes and tell them the news.
“It was so emotionally tough to do that,” Humbert recalled of the late February meeting. “I remember sitting in the office. It took me about 25 minutes to compose myself before I could go approach those guys.
“They understood, though. Yes, it was a career opportunity for me. Like I told them, the world moves on. They were going to get a new coach and I knew they'd like that new coach and they'll embrace that coach because of the type of kids they are. Everyone goes through things like this.”
Humbert said the experience of the change will be beneficial to all parties involved.
“It was a good experience for me to do something new and challenge myself,” he said. “The positive for those kids, it's that they had to deal with adversity. Obviously, going through a change isn't ideal, but they're tough and they're going to do well.”
The new Leopards mentor vows that he intends to remain close with his former players.
“There's so many kids that I love over there. But I have new kids right now that they need all my time, energy, focus and love,” Humbert said. “When they're football careers are over then I'll be able to resume those relationships.”
Humbert said his former players are in great hands under new Ringgold coach Nick Milchovich.
“I know Nick is doing a hell of a job over there. I would never step on his toes. Those kids obviously need his time and energy. They're going to be just fine.”
A fresh start
Like anyone starting a new job, there were jitters as Humbert prepared to meet his new team.
“I think you're always going to have kids excited for change,” Humbert said of the response he received. “Then you have people that are a little apprehensive for change. It's just a normal, human characteristic. Overall, I think the change was very welcomed and embraced here.
“These BVA kids, they've made it easy for me. They're very likable. They're great kids to coach and they want to learn. I've been able to build some relationships early on that I think I'll be able to keep for the rest of my life.”
Most of the team knew Humbert as a coach, playing against him the last few years.
“The biggest thing is getting the kids to believe in a system,” Humbert said. “They've seen my teams in the past. Any successful team I've ever coached was successful because they shut their mouths and believed in the system we put them in. When the kids believe and buy into that philosophy, that's when I think everything really falls into place. I think we've solidified that early on at BVA.”
One of the biggest challenges that Humbert faced was recruiting players to boost his roster.
“My goal is to recruit some guys and get as many kids out as possible,” he said, “and we were able to do that, but the numbers still aren't where I want them to be.”
Currently, the Leopards' roster sits at 66 players.
“Another good thing with being in the school is that I'm teaching ninth grade,” Humbert added. “I'll be around a lot of freshmen and hopefully I can talk some of them into playing and help us build a foundation that starts with that class.”
His new team and fellow BVA coaches have been instrumental in the recruiting process.
“It's a huge thing getting everyone involved,” Humbert said. “We always try to push kids getting their buddies out. I believe any school and team can be successful if you get the players out that need to be out and Belle Vernon is no exception.
“There's a lot of kids here that can play football that are on the team and some that aren't because they play other sports. I want my football players to play as many other sports as possible.”
Humbert said BVA baseball coach Daryl Hixenbaugh has helped his cause.
“I have four (baseball) players that haven't played in the past that I think will do well for us,” Humbert said. “If BVA, as a whole, wants to be successful with their athletic programs, which they have been, I think even more success can come if we're all on the same page and share the athletes.”
While he's been adapting to his new players, there are parts of his Ringgold team that he didn't have to leave on the other side of the Monongahela River.
“That was the nice thing about coming to Belle Vernon, all my assistants came too,” Humbert said. “I felt really comfortable with my staff. I had some transient coaches in the past few years and last year was the first year that I think that the staff really jelled together and worked their butts off.
“That's a key thing because in the end, they understand what you're trying to do on both sides of the ball. I don't have to coach the coaches because they already know it. It's made the transition 50 times smoother.”
While his Ringgold staff turned into his BVA staff to support him, Humbert received additional support that he didn't quite expect.
“The surprising thing was that I had a lot of good, positive reactions from people at Ringgold,” he said. “It was a really nice thing. It was such an easy transition and that I had support from both districts — it was a nice thing to have.”
Humbert and his staff have been aided by key leaders on the Leopards' squad, namely seniors Devin Hannan, a Towson State recruit and offensive lineman, Travis Snyder, his starting quarterback, and Anthony Levis, a 1,000-yard rusher two years ago. Levis missed last season after breaking his leg in the team's first scrimmage.
“The thing that I want and strive for is leadership by example. The big thing I try to get those guys to do is help the younger guys and teach them,” Humbert said. “You have your guys that I like to call rabbits — you chase that guy, you follow him around and you learn from him.
“You just want kids to be on time, work hard, finish strong — that's what I preach for those guys. Those younger kids are always looking at you. That's what we're preaching to the captains — to lead by example.”
Oct. 3, 2014
In what will be one of the most anticipated games in the Mid-Mon Valley, Humbert will return to Joe Montana Stadium with his prowl of Leopards Oct. 3.
What's that experience going to be like? Will there be pregame jitters? How emotional is that going to be for the seasoned, but young, coach?
“I really don't know. I don't know what my feelings will be,” Humbert said after a pause. “I'm so ingrained worrying about the first game (at Trinity), that's such a big game for us, that I haven't really looked ahead. I honestly can say that I don't know what I'll feel.
“I'm sure it will be a different feeling, but I don't know. I don't think I will know until I get there. … I'll just have to wait and see.
On the right track
After seeing his team through summer, two weeks of camp and two scrimmages, Humbert thinks he's off to a fast start at his new home.
“I really believe that we're on the right track,” Humbert said. “I can't say enough about my coaches. They put in more work in this camp, probably more than other coaches probably would have done. They've put in a ton of energy in the last four months to get this program running.
“One thing you always worry about as a coach, ‘Is my team going to be physical? Is my team going to be intense?'… I think I had that question answered in a very positive way.”
As a player, Humbert learned to be prepared for the next day, never looking too far ahead down the road. He has brought the same approach to his Leopards' team.
“All we worry about is what's coming the next day. In camp, it was to practice strong — to be on time. It's a day-by-day process. We worry about the things that are on hand now and we take care of those things.”
Humbert was quick to pass on offering any predictions for his team, but he is cautiously optimistic and he has liked what he's seen from his new team. He uses terms like “hungry,” “together,” “physical,” “disciplined,” “strong” and “smart” when describing his players.
“I don't know how this season is going to go, I don't have a crystal ball,” he said. “I know I don't have to worry about my team being physical or aggressive.”
Most importantly, Humbert knows he has a home at BVA. He's starting over with a new classroom subject, new principals, new students, and new football players, but he's made a move to better himself in his career. On, and off, the field.
Jeremy Sellew is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at email@example.com or 724-684-2667.