Staff Photo: Ben Beitzel
Steve Riley is the head coach for the Georgia Force homeschool football team.
Steve Riley, 37, is the head coach of the Georgia Force high school football team, a home-school football program. Riley has been with the team for six seasons, but took over the head coach responsibilities this past season.
Riley, a former college football player at Oklahoma Panhandle State University, is also a former college football coach. Riley talks with staff writer Ben Beitzel in this installment of “Getting to Know...” about joining the Force, his deep knowledge of his hometown’s history, playing eight-man football and what it’s like graduating high school in an eight-person class.
BB: Without kids of your own, how did you get involved with coaching a home-school football team?
SR: It was with friends at church. I coached two years of college football in Oklahoma and then came out here and was here for six years before I got involved with the home-school team. A friend of mine that I went to church with, Scott Willis, he was the coach and founder of the team.
BB: So after six years and with Willis leaving, you just gravitated to the top spot?
BB: Have you always wanted to be a head football coach?
SR: It is something that I’ve worked for. It was not anything I was striving to get to. I just wanted to be involved with the game and the kids.
BB: This seems like a unique opportunity for you to coach high school kids since you aren’t a teacher.
SR: Exactly. It’s very unique. The thing that helps us out is it is for home-school kids and private and Christian schools that don’t have a football team. It’s not like it’s a paid position, all of the coaches volunteer and all of us have real full-time jobs and in the evenings we do the football thing. We get together on weekends and watch film or we get together at home and just do whatever we can to get the kids ready on and off the field.
BB: That’s a real commitment, a lot of high school coaches don’t have many tasks during their day away from coaching.
SR: The league that we deal with is mostly teams like us. There are only a few Christian schools where the coaches are teachers, where they get to work on it. Most of the teams in our league are teams like us. It’s a very big commitment. But if you enjoy doing something and enjoy being around the people you are doing it with it doesn’t seem like it is taking up a whole lot of time, really.
BB: What went into your decision to play Division II football?
SR: I actually started out an a NAIA school in Kansas, Bethany College. That is basically what I wanted to do when I graduated high school was play college football. I got recruited and ended up going to a really good school up there. We won a conference championship my first year there and then I transferred back to Oklahoma and had my career there. It’s one of those things and what I tell my kids is, ‘If you have the opportunity to play, play. You may not be able to get a football scholarship, I was lucky and blessed enough to get an opportunity to get paid to go to school because of football and academic scholarships.’ For me that was the right thing to do. I wanted to get into coaching, I wanted to further my career there as well. It was just a stair step procedure. It was just natural.
BB: What position did you play?
SR: I started at quarterback. Then I spent a little bit of time at flanker/wide receiver and then I moved to cornerback and then my senior year I played free and strong safety.
BB: That’s broad experience, what position do you coach?
SR: I coach the offense and quarterbacks.
BB: Where is Oklahoma Panhandle State University?
SR: Goodwell, Okla., xIt’s about two hours north of Amarillo, Texas. It’s way out there. I like to say I am at the corner of everything. We are six miles from Texas, 50 miles from Colorado and Kansas and an hour and a half from New Mexico.
BB: Is football big out there?
SR: It is. The only problem with that area is it is hard to get a lot of kids because it is so small. They have anywhere from 12 to 16,000 students depending on the year and to be a Division II school you have to have all the sports for the women or the men. By the time you get all of that, most of the students are either rodeo or athletes or hometown grown people. To bring new kids in, you try to recruit from south Texas whether it’s Galveston or Austin or San Antonio or Houston, they come into where I am from and there is nothing to do. It’s basically school, sports, church and nothing else. You have to drive 10 miles for a pizza.
BB: That’s barely a town.
SR: It’s a town. But basically what it is, is we live along the railroad. Highway 54 and the railroad run next to each other. Every 10 miles they had to dig well for the steam engines. That is actually how we got our name, Goodwell, they dug a well, it was good and they called it good well. There are towns every 10 miles and back in 1908, I believe, when they started it, they decided they were going to have a county seat, a college and a train station. There were three towns right in a row, Goodwell, Guymon and Optima. They basically drew out of a hat who got what. Guymon got the county seat, Optima got the train station and we got the college. That was 1908 so three years ago they celebrated their centennial.
BB: That’s a lot of knowledge.
SR: I grew up in Goodwell. I knew there was a school there.
BB: Well after college coaching, do you like the switch to this alternative high school program?
SR: Being in the field I am in (IT) is perfect for me. I get to share the ministry, I get to share the gospel. I get to deal with kids from 12 who have never played football before to 18 that have never played football before and everything in between. I have a kid now that is 15 years old that if he keeps staying where he is at and gets up he might be able to go D-I, all the way to the kids that don’t even know what an end zone is. It’s a unique opportunity to get to coach kids that have never played before, but start a relationship with them and see them all the way through. We just graduated our first eighth-grade class. Back in ’04-’05 when we first started these kids were eighth-graders. So that was a pretty emotional experience right there.
We have three kids right now that just graduated from that class that are going to play college football.
BB: Without you that is not an opportunity they would have had.
SR: That’s right.
BB: How big of a change was metro Atlanta?
SR: Not really. I have lived in Oklahoma City. I have lived in Amarillo. It’s big but the only thing that caught me off guard was how people don’t know how to drive in the city (laughing). That’s about it. Everybody when I first got out here asked, ‘How do you like the southern hospitality?’ And I would be like, ‘Really? This is rude from where I come from.’ Out there it is ‘Yes, sir. No, sir.’ You don’t know a stranger out there.
BB: There are people around here from all over, but not many from Oklahoma.
SR: That is what I’ve heard. A lot of people don’t move here from Oklahoma. I don’t know why.
BB: I guess there are other big cities to tug on you.
SR: I don’t know. My sister ended up coming out here and got married to a guy she met out there. It was either here, Austin, Texas, or Colorado Springs, but I figured here would be easiest since I had family out here.
BB: What’s to miss about Oklahoma?
SR: Just the family and the atmosphere. You know everybody, all of your friends and family are there. Most of the people I graduated with are still somewhere in that area.
BB: What position did you play on your high school football team?
SR: Quarterback. I was an eight-man all-state quarterback.
BB: Wait, eight-man?
BB: Well, you’ve always had a little different take on high school football.
SR: We were a high school, a regular public high school, we just didn’t have enough in the school to play 11 man. That’s pretty big in Oklahoma. Six-man is big in Texas, eight-man is big in Oklahoma for the smaller schools.
BB: You have to really love football in those towns.
SR: Oh yeah.
BB: Does 11 seem crowded?
SR: No. I have always been an 11-man football player even though I played eight-man. Once I got out of high school, it was fun playing it but once you get out it is really an interesting thing to coach because it is all about speed. If you have a guy that can run all you have to do is get him on the edge and it’s a touchdown. That’s why you see a lot of scores of 60-50. Six man scores are up in the 70s and 80s. I like 11-man because you have to strategize more and it is more of a challenge. In 8-man the biggest challenge is on defense how you are going to stop somebody’s speed. Eleven-man you have offense and defensive challenges because you have to deal with three more players on the field and it is still the same width, still the same length.
BB: How many teams were there?
SR: In the state there were probably 100 or so and in our conference, we had eight teams in our conference. It was just like the GHSA where you have our regions and your state playoffs, we had all of that. We just had our conference and the top two teams from that conference would go to the state playoffs and you would go from there.
BB: How many where on your team?
SR: My senior year?
BB: Just enough.
SR: (laughs) We played eight-man football with 11 players.
BB: How many did you graduate with?
SR: I graduated with eight people in my high school class, four of which had gone to school together since kindergarten.
BB: I guess you knew everyone pretty well.
SR: Almost too well.
BB: Not a lot of dance dates.
SR: (laughing) You didn’t have a lot of options.
BB: That explains the emphasis on family. That is all you have.