The last game David Saenz stepped on the field for was as Cibolo Steele’s defensive coordinator in what became a 38-29 state championship loss to DeSoto, marking the lone blemish on the Knights’ otherwise perfect 2016 season.
The next time Saenz puts on the headset, he’ll do so as Steele’s head coach.
After manning the powerhouse that is Steele football for the last four seasons, former head coach Scott Lehnhoff departed for a role as the district’s athletic director, leaving the door open for Saenz to secure his first opportunity as a head coach. It’s the culmination of a Saenz journey from a middle school coach and the last decade of his efforts on the Steele staff, such as the 126 wins the program has enjoyed since 2007, including a 2010 season capped with a state title.
Now a head coach for the first time in his career, Saenz oversees a Steele a roster with nearly double digit collegiate prospects and no shortage of lofty expectations, but that’s what comes with being a coach at Steele.
TexasHSFootball.com was recently able to catch up with Saenz, who detailed his adjustment to life as a head coach, how he’s handling expectations entering 2017 and more.
TexasHSFootball: You were the defensive coordinator of a state title runner-up last year, but now that you’re the head coach, what’s been the biggest adjustment?
Coach Saenz: I spent most of my time with the defense these last 10 years and now getting with the offense and trying to get everything game plan wise with what the offense is doing and continuing to do what we do on defense. That’s probably been the biggest thing from a team standpoint and having to address offensive guys, along with the defensive guys. As a defensive coordinator, you just mainly deal with the defense and very rarely deal with the offense so that’s probably been the biggest transition.
TexasHSFootball: Now that you have this job and it’s one of the best in the state, have you had any time to sit back and reflect on how far you’ve come as a coach?
Coach Saenz: Yeah, me and my wife will sit down and talk about it. We started at Judson with the middle school for six years. That was a great place to start to learn the philosophies and they way they go about their business; not just with the Xs and Os, but the character-building and the way they build their young men in that program. [I was] very fortunate when Mike Jinks got the head coaching job and brought me over and he’s a Judson graduate so it was a very smooth transition going from the stuff we were doing at Judson and we’re doing the same exact thing at Steele. So we’ve just transferred it over to Steele and the success we’ve had; a lot of it has to do with that culture and the way that the offseason and the character-building helps build the student athletes.
TexasHSFootball: How can you describe the winning culture at Steele as someone on the inside that’s been involved in making it happen?
Coach Saenz: What Mike used to say about winning, that’ll take care of itself. It’s just the character-building part of it, just like Coach Herman talked about just now about getting the kids to play hard, expectations, just taking care of those little things. It’s part of that that program character-building that was the foundation, which obviously D.W. [Rutledge] created all those many years ago and it’s just gone from where we were at at the middle school at Judson. Mike brought it and we just continue to build on that.
TexasHSFootball: Knowing the kind of expectations the media and fans have for Steele this coming season following a trip to the state title game, how to you block out all of the outside noise and focus on your own expectations within the program?
Coach Saenz: We’ve got a process that we trust and that we believe in and it’s worked for the 16 years that I’ve been coaching and that’s what we do. We take it day by day, step by step, making sure that we’re following the plan in place. And yeah, that is big, especially with social media now days with the rankings and people trying to rank your kids; we’ve got some kids that are three-star, four-star. [We’re] just trying to keep everything in perspective and the time our staff has been together — a lot of us have been together for 10 years — and that helps because we’re all on the same page. We all understand the task at hand. The kids believe in the process, they trust it and that has a big deal to do with it.
TexasHSFootball: What are your own personal expectations for this coming season? You have a extremely talented roster, but you did lose some seniors such as Xavier Martin.
Coach Saenz: We lost a great senior class. I think we have four or five starters coming back on defense and six or seven on offense, but we’re just going to take it one game at a time. Taking this job, I understood we’re going to have expectations. Yeah, we want to win; obviously win the first game. We set it up in three seasons and win each season — win preseason, win the district season and then when we get into the playoffs, win that season. Just take it one game at a time. Yeah, we want to win a state championship. We tasted it last year, that’s the expectation and the kids understand that. Hopefully we’re working hard enough and doing everything we can do as a staff and as a team to get back to where we need to go.
TexasHSFootball: Since you have so many guys like Caden Sterns, Brenden Brady and JT Woods that are already committed to colleges and don’t have to keep working for the offers; have you had any problems keeping them all bought in for their senior season?
Coach Saenz: No, not at the moment. We’ve been very fortunate at Steele to have guys throughout the 10 years that I’ve been there, from Malcolm Brown to Marquis Anderson, they came in their senior year and they laid the foundation, they continued to work and these younger guys see the way those guys work and they continue to do that.
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