Q&A with Kelly Walsh Head Football Coach Aaron Makelky heading into the 2022 season
Before the kick-off of the 2022 season, Kelly Walsh head football coach Aaron Makelky dropped by the Wyoming News Now studios to talk about his Trojan team heading into the season.
CASPER, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) - Kelly Walsh football will kick off its season on Friday versus Rock Springs, who knocked the Trojans out of the 4A state playoffs last season. In addition to the home opener, it will also serve as Senior Night for Kelly Walsh. Head coach Aaron Makelky’s squad is coming off a 3-7 season in 2021, and it was the third consecutive season the Trojans have made the playoffs under Makelky’s guidance.
Last week, David Graf welcomed Makelky, who is entering his fourth season at the helm, to the Wyoming News Now studios to talk about what he’s learned after three years in charge at Kelly Walsh, his love of football and what Trojans to keep an eye on this season.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
DG: Football season’s coming right around the corner. So let’s just start, what do you love about coaching football?
AM: That’s a great question. David, I’ve got to say the best thing about coaching football is you get a group of kids that want to be there, and I love teaching. Teaching is a whole different thing, but counselors put them in your class, and they may not love history or whatever you teach. The difference about football is the kids want to be there, and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t go through all the stuff we ask them to do to be on the football team, so having that clientele, coaches who are committed and driven to build a program, and kids who want to be a part of it. That’s probably my favorite part if I only had to pick one.
DG: It’ll be a little bit of a different group over at Kelly Walsh this season. What’s most exciting about this year’s group of Trojans?
AM: There are a lot of unknowns. We graduated a big group of guys. We always do. I mean we’ll be saying the same thing next year. It’s just the nature of 4A football I think, but I’d say there’s a group of guys that are really invested in our program, and now that we’ve been here, this is going on four seasons, they’ve invested in how we do things and leadership and the culture and that feeling that you don’t have to fight it all yourself. We used the analogy last year that there was the sheriff, but the sheriff has to have deputies because if he’s the only guy in the county, he can’t go write every speeding ticket and chase down every bank robber, and so having kids be kind of those deputies and the assistant coaches taking ownership this group of guys it’s been great. They’ve handled a lot of those things, and the expectations have been set that we don’t even have to talk about them let alone enforce them as much, so I think the leadership of our seniors and our assistant coaches has been huge with that.
DG: This is your fourth year at Kelly Walsh, so these kids have only known Aaron Makelky as their head coach. What’s special about that for you?
AM: For me personally, I hope it’s special for the kids, but you’d have to ask them. I don’t know if they’d all agree with that, but just to see the development. I mean there are guys I remember the first day of practice this group of seniors was freshmen my first day of practice, and some of them have grown up a lot, and I don’t just mean taller, stronger, faster, but maturity wise and to see there’s probably 60 something freshmen in that class the funnel kind of narrows down to I think we had 19 seniors last I looked. Some of those guys have risen to the top and put in time in the weight room and spring ball and the offseason, and so it’s been cool to see. They were all just faces at one point. I couldn’t tell you who was the best player or the best leader to now we’re going through the process of like picking captains from that crew so to see maybe the top four guys rise up out of a crew 60 when there’s only about 20 of them left that’s a pretty cool thing to get to see because until you’re here for four years you don’t get that, and I think the buy-in is better because they’ve realized some of those things just aren’t gonna change. They thought they were weird or different, and I’m sure from what they’re used to, but now when freshmen show up, we don’t have to tell them what color shirt to wear. That was a shock to everybody’s system in the first year. We didn’t always do it well now it’s like we don’t even have to talk. Those guys just go, ‘Oh, I see the older guys dressed this way. I wear a white shirt on Monday practice.’ Boom, and it’s in place. So from fighting battles to having it have a little momentum, that’s another cool thing to see over four years.
DG: You’ve been here at Kelly Walsh for four years. What have you learned?
AM: Man, I’ve learned a lot, but I don’t think we have time for all of that. I think the biggest one is to focus on what really matters, and some of that’s just a personality thing with me. People will tell you I’m a detailed oriented guy, and sometimes I get stuck on things, and I have to remind myself this is not at the end of the day what really matters, David. It’s important to me, but also asking kids and coaches to do things. Compromising is not my strength, and so I have had to learn. My new thing is that I had some seniors come to me and say, ‘Could we do this thing differently with gameday?’ Pomp and circumstance, we’ll call it, and I had to remind myself that’s not what I want to do, but if kids really want that, how can I use that to get more buy-in from them? In other words, if you want this song played as you walk out, I don’t care. I’m not walking out, so let’s do that. But then I need you to make sure all the guys are lined up right and paying attention and be kind of an enforcer on that, so I’ve learned that I have to pick my battles there and be able to use those changes as a positive thing for our team, so I think I’m slowly getting less bad at it. I don’t know if I’m better, but I’m definitely less bad at it than I was four years ago.
DG: Well, it’s all about improving. Year over-year improvement. This is one of my favorite questions as you know. Who is somebody that people can get excited about to come out and see in a Kelly Walsh Trojan uniform?
AM: There’s a lot of guys. Names that people will know, or are familiar with, it’s hard to argue with Gibson Sasser, quarterback. He was in a three-way battle, and we had some injuries and some things go on, and he ended up being the guy, but he’s really done a great job in the offseason getting ready to be the guy, and he is the guy at quarterback for us now. I think he’s gonna do some awesome things.
Another one I would say that everybody’s gonna know and not be surprised about is Erich Hulshizer. When you have an all-state guy, he’s our first all-state defensive player since I’ve been here. He also did it as a junior, so he’s got to be high on that list of guys to watch. He’s gonna do some more things. I think he’ll be right in the mix or rotating in at least on offense. We did some special teams, and he’s been a kicker since his sophomore year, and we’ve rotated through guys, and kicking’s one of those things our special teams coach says, ‘Hey, on this day, we’re kicking 10 field goals. The best one kicks Friday night.’ He had a great night kicking off last Friday night. He was putting them in the end zone consistently, which we haven’t had that since I’ve been here, and that’s a huge weapon, so that’ll be fun to watch him not just do well on defense, but I think he’s going to shine in some other roles he hasn’t yet.
On the line, Chris Pickering at center. He’s not a flashy guy. He’s not huge, but he snapped every snap of varsity football. So one he was healthy, two he has that experience, and three he didn’t have a bad snap, and not one of them was under center, so he’s really a leader of our offensive line and our team.
Asher Vail is in the same boat. He started every snap at offensive tackle as a junior. He has some tough matchups blocking that D1 Rock Springs guy (Isaac Schoenfeld). There’s nobody like him, and he had to block him for two full games, and he didn’t always do the best, but he’s grown and put in the work in the weight room, and he’s going to be a leader on the offensive line.
I think another one he’s going to be on the field in some different places, but Eric Whitley. As a junior, he’s coming back with varsity experience. He had an injury that ended his season not quite halfway through, but he’s the fastest guy on our team, and we’re going to find ways to get him the ball in space, and he’s electric. He’s the fastest kid I’ve ever coached, and he’s only a junior. If we’ve had one thing since I’ve been here, we haven’t always been big or strong, but we’ve been fast, and he’s our fastest guy on the timing system that I’ve ever seen, so I’m excited about what he can do.
Another one coming back with defensive experience that was an honorable mention guy is Andrew Bessey at linebacker. He’s physical, a little undersized, but one of the toughest kids I’ve ever coached. Just a hard-nosed, great work ethic type of kid, so he’s going to be fun to watch on the offensive line and at linebacker.
DG: That’s quite a few kids to go out there and support. I love that. Well, I’ve just got one last question for you. We’re not quite at the week of the first game, but what are the emotions for you as that first game starts to get closer and closer?
AM: I didn’t get to pick the schedule. The state dictates that to us, but if you’re a competitor, you lose out on the playoffs the season before. Who would you pick for your home opener? I would pick that team, and it’s not even about beating them. It is. It’s about we did not play well on both trips to Rock Springs last year. They’re a different team, and they’re going to lose guys that were studs, but they have a great program. They’re going to reload, and they’re going to be even better in some spots, so they’re still going to be a top team in my mind. What a great bar for us to say, ‘If that’s Rock Springs, let’s go compete with them. It’s senior night, home, first game, where are we at?’ If you’re a competitor, that’s the team you want to play.
DG: It’s Senior Night on August 26th, home opener, Week Zero, a ton of different adjectives to describe that first game on August 26th against Rock Springs. Thanks for coming in, and good luck this season.
AM: Thanks for having me, David.
Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. for Kelly Walsh versus Rock Springs at Kelly Walsh High School on Friday.
Copyright 2022 KGWN. All rights reserved.