Prep football: Nitro coach Midkiff in it for the long haul
Derek Midkiff is about to embark on his sophomore season as Nitro's football coach.
This is the final week of the three-week out-of-season coaching period, and Midkiff is preparing a program that has just two wins the last two seasons.
Still new to coaching, Midkiff is a seasoned veteran when it comes to Nitro football.
"I'm a Nitro kid," he said. "I claim Nitro as my home."
Midkiff had the numbers as a player. The former Wildcats starting quarterback (1999-2003) threw for 2,513 yards and 18 touchdowns under Scott Tinsley in 2002. He also had the MSAC's top five single-game passing performances that year.
"I had a positive experience in high school and that is something I want for these kids too," Midkiff said.
After graduating, Midkiff played quarterback for Concord.
Once he exhausted his eligibility he followed his mentor, Tinsley, to West Virginia Tech for a year before taking an assistant coach position on the Nitro sideline for two years.
He was home. Even his wife is a Nitro girl.
The task of turning around the Wildcats' program was a difficult one when Midkiff took the reigns before last season. Nitro went winless in 10 games in 2011 before going 2-8 in Midkiff's inaugural season.
One of the toughest losses for Midkiff came at the close of the season with a heartbreaking 28-27 defeat to Riverside.
A botched field goal at the end of the game cost Nitro the win.
As tough as that was, it was tougher for Midkiff because he didn't see it. He was ejected from the game.
"I behaved poorly," he said, "I'm very passionate about my kids, but I've got to learn to rein it in a little bit."
His poor behavior is going to cost him the first two games of the 2013 season.
"This is probably going to be the toughest thing I experience as a coach," Midkiff said, "I made a mistake and I'm going to make sure I do the right thing."
While the right thing for Midkiff is to stay home and model penitence, his wife will be at the games, front and center.
The lesson for Midkiff is clear: Nitro football is bigger than even the coach.
Midkiff is familiar with high expectations to go along with his Nitro football career.
He had the unenviable task of stepping into the QB role the year after J.R. House broke the national record for passing yardage and directed Nitro to its only state title.
Last year, Midkiff stepped into a program that averaged just 15 points per game and gave up more than 50 per game.
At the end of his first season, Midkiff started closing the gap with an offense averaging 21 points and a defense giving up just over 40.
"We had to change the culture," he said. "We wanted to create an environment that was passionate and competitive."
For Nitro, that begins with defense.
"We are starting every practice with defense this year," Midkiff said.
In an effort to focus on defense, Midkiff has brought in Bob Mullett, former Concord coach, as an assistant coach.
"Nitro has always been known for their offense but we want it to be known for a nasty physical defense," he said, "It's going to take some time but we are going to get there."
Nitro has work to do on offense as well.
Senior Tyler Barton will step into the quarterback role, but he hasn't played since his freshman year.
"Replacing Ethan Clark is probably our biggest battle," Midkiff said. "We've got two guys competing for that spot - Alex Gibson and Buck Sheppard - both are great athletes.
"Our offensive line is wide open. We have four spots to fill and it's going to be very competitive."
Returning for his sophomore season is Brayden Underwood, who rushed for 1,000 yards as a freshman. Five of those games last year, Underwood played with a cast and never lost a fumble.
Senior Derek Spencer returns to anchor the defensive line and is Nitro's only four-year player.
Midkiff is looking for a long term investment and Year 2 is just the beginning.
"I'm a lifer as long they want me at Nitro," he said. "I want to be here."