For many, football and falling leaves go hand in hand, but on Mercer Island, high school football players start their season with two weeks of training toward the end of every school year.
And so, with “spring football” in full swing, Mercer Island High School head coach Brett Ogata took the opportunity to reflect on the program he continues to build. He is quick to point out that while the Islanders enjoyed their best results in a decade (first round of the playoffs) last fall, much of the credit is due to one man — Kevin Chiles.
Chiles, owner of Chiles Sports Development, runs a speed and strength training program for all Mercer Island athletes, year round. In addition to making attendees of MIHS’s thrice-weekly workout-room sessions “bigger, faster and stronger,” he’s also helping to prevent season-ending injuries.
“Kevin Chiles was my first hire, and my most important hire when I came to Mercer Island,” says Ogata. “The first thing Brian Emanuels [then president of the Booster Club] asked me was, ‘What do we need to do to build a winning program?’ And I said, ‘We need bigger, faster, more durable athletes. We need to hire Kevin Chiles.’”
Ogata met Chiles while working as an assistant coach at Skyline High School.
“The first year that Kevin worked [as a trainer] at Skyline, 2004, the team went on to the state championship,” Ogata recalls. “They won the championship in 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2011. There is a direct correlation [between success and Chiles’ work]. They had a good program before that, but it became dominant after he got there.”
The secret, Ogata explains, is that “Chiles makes the kids better, safer athletes. He has a great method, and he understands how to train kids. He works on core and flexibility, which are big strengths of his program.”
Chiles himself is a superb athlete, who made his mark competing in both football and track at Kentridge High School. He was a running back and outside linebacker, winning numerous honors, including Defensive Player of the Year and MVP of the 1994 East-West All-Star game. He continued playing football at Boise State, where he started for two years as a defensive back. In high school track, he served as team captain and anchored the state’s second place 4x100 and 4x400 meter relay teams. However, he found out later that his greatest skills are in training and motivating youth.
“Chiles has an infectious personality,” says Ogata. “I’ve never met one athlete who doesn’t like him. What makes him so good is that he is always upbeat and positive in the weight room.”
Because high school athletes feel confident about their work and progress in the weight room, they’re willing to sacrifice sleep or social activities to attend the 6 a.m. and after-school sessions.
“We have been getting about 90 percent participation of the football players during their off-seasons and some who are in-season for other sports,” says Ogata.
The results are hard to contest. “In my first year at Mercer Island, we had close to 15 injuries — such as torn ligaments — on the varsity team. The next year we had about seven injuries. Now, the kids are in better shape. Last season we didn’t have any serious injuries until the last game. We didn’t have any muscle-type injuries that are prevented when the kids are flexible and strong.”
Ogata can’t help noting the change in the players’ physiques.
“In my first two years here, we were the ones getting beat up [on the field],” he said. “When we played Bellevue two years ago, they just smacked us really hard, and we couldn’t do anything against them. This year, we were beating up the other teams. In the Bellevue game last fall, we injured some of their best players — of course, not intentionally — because we were really aggressive.”
As Ogata explains, playing smart and safe relates directly to good conditioning — not just for muscle strength, but also for endurance.
“When players get tired, they don’t cut as sharply, and that’s when injuries can occur,” he says. “They are more susceptible to injuries when they are fatigued.”
Of course, Ogata adds, “you can’t avoid a broken bone due to an impact hit, but maybe a better [more in-shape] athlete could avoid the hit” that could cause the break.
In addition, while “there is no science in the world that says you can reduce concussions with exercise, better-conditioned athletes might be able to avoid hits in the head. But, I think the number of concussions on our team is down because the kids are in better shape.”
Because of the players’ time and dedication with Coach Chiles, “We are probably one of the best conditioned teams in the state,” he says. “The kids are a lot stronger and bigger because of that.”
And, after their work during the offseason, during “spring ball” and the summer months ahead, the boys will be excited “to prove to the world that we really are a good program,” says Ogata. “After getting a taste of what playoff football is about, they are highly motivated to taste that again and to taste that for longer.”
After their two-week “spring season,” Island football players will travel to Evergreen State College for team camp from June 29 through July 2. They will also compete in “7 on 7” tournaments and continue with strength training throughout the summer. The first game is at home against Redmond on Friday, Aug. 31, and the following weekend the varsity and JV squads will travel to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, for games on Saturday, Sept. 8.