In the Huddle: 20 seasons of success
November 5, 2010
It had evolved into one of the very most difficult moments life offers. It was his job to deliver the eulogy at his home-away-from-home, Hooper Stadium.
First was the graveside service. As moving at it was, the almost surreal scene of people lining the motorcade route from Hooper and Weaver mortuary to the stadium was overwhelming. Veterans, Boy Scouts, civilians, and area leaders stood sid by side, flags in hand, standing at attention, honoring one of our own fallen citizens.
Adam Strain had lost his life fighting for our country and freedom in Iraq. It was a tragedy of monumental proportions. His former coach would describe it as one of the saddest, most emotional, and difficult experiences of all the years he had spent at Nevada Union High School.
Dave Humphers spoke of the football fraternity and the brotherhood of players who had left their mark on the landscape of one of Northern California’s most successful high school football programs. Adam Strain was one of them. He had fallen in battle. His life had been taken. Humphers voice cracked. He excused himself for a moment.
It was as fresh as the day it occurred.
Humphers has spent more than 27 years coaching Nevada Union High School football. This year marks his 20th as head coach. The walls of his preparation room deep in the bowels of his modest home are papered with memories of days gone by, of monumental conquests, of great accomplishments, of moments that have made his coaching life truly noteworthy. It is a scrapbook of success. It tells stories of epic battles, player accolades, and the program’s most scintillating moments. There is a smattering of family pictures; his wife, Doreen, from her high school years, his oldest boy, Gabe in days gone by, and second son, Hank, as merely a young boy.
It encompasses it all and tells a story of rich contribution to sport and family. It speaks loudly of the exhilaration of victory and the moments that define a program.
It was a hard fight to get Humphers to tell the story. He urged a column on select players. He wanted very little of any two-decade celebration. Yet, it is a fete that needs to be recognized and celebrated.
For better or for worse, Humphers has orchestrated in an era of success that no one expected here in little Nevada County. He captained a sport that has become a way of life in Grass Valley and Nevada City. He gave it meaning and direction. He did so with a firm and steady hand, always focused on the big prize of student development.
“I love the success of the individual’s kids who come in and grow up,” Humphers said. “They gain confidence as young men. Being a part of their lives and teaching them core values gives me the greatest sense of accomplishment.
“Winning has its place. It is not life or death. It’s odd to say that, based on the time we put into the competitive effort to win. That is secondary to the development of fine, young men”
Over the years, he has created a brotherhood of pride and respect with players. They are never forgotten. He enjoys celebrating the milestones of their lives. He speaks of an Andrew Jackson, who came visiting this summer to say hello. He recognized a Josh Van Matre, who returned to coach. He relishes being involved in past players’ lives who have moved on to other pursuits. He laments the losses of the Adam Strains of the world.
A glimpse into his personal life leads one to understand why it might bring him to tears.
Doreen Humphers has seen it all. She has been at her husband’s side for the majority of this journey. She stands in the background of football, but the forefront of family. She is behind him all the way. It was tough for her to pour it all out. Her reflections of her husband were emotional and raw, yet highly meaningful.
“He is a man of integrity first and foremost,” she said. “He does not just talk the talk. He walks the walk. He always cares about doing the right thing and wants to share that with young men. He is a passionate man who is living his dream. Above all, he is our rock.
“It is not every day you find someone really committed to what he believes. He is a great example to our sons and daughter (Sophie). Dad always does the right thing. I am proud he is the father to my children. I love him a lot.”
Indeed, Humphers lives his life in a passionate, devoted, and focused manner. He is well-respected as a premiere coach in our section, region, and state. His contributions in helping boys develop into men has long been the cornerstone of his personal playbook. This program is rich in tradition and Humphers is the captain of the ship, always trying to guide it toward the appropriate and successful goal.
This year represents more than just a 20-year celebration, it has also presented the privilege of being able to coach sons Hank and Gabe. Hank, a sophomore, was sidelined early on this campaign with a severe injury suffered in the Monterey Trail game. Gabe, a junior, has enjoyed an impressive season.
They both savor the opportunity to reflect on their dad.
“Standing with him during the National Anthem is a great moment,” Gabe said. “Dad has always had great dedication and high expectations. I have been waiting for this for a long time.”
Hank reflected, “He has a lot of character and honor. He reacts to both winning and losing in a very humble way. He is very steady during a game. He looks at what we must do to win.”
There have been many great moments. The 2005 wins over Grant and the eventual sectional championship versus West of Tracy stand out. Last season’s journey to the section championship, including a mammoth win again Pleasant Grovem are highlights. Another special season was 2004, in which his underdog band of brothers won crucial road playoff games only to fall to St. Mary’s in a sectional championship shootout at UOP.
Being the mastermind and head coach of such a program is not the easiest of things. There are surely unpopular moments when decisions must be made. Humphers always maintains as his mantra the drive to put the very best team on the field, personalities aside. Sometimes this is difficult, bordering on impossible.
Yet, Humphers accomplishes this with a professional demeanor. He truly cares about his players. He stands with them in victory and defeat. He seldom loses sight of the big picture. His students are first and foremost. Their growth as young men is the very top priority. He is a friendly yet focused man who is not void of emotion. He deeply savors this program and throws incredible energy into its big picture success. Down years do not rattle him. Up years do not change him. He remains steady, true to his work, enjoying the winter months as times of development, cherishing fall as the time it all comes together.
Even in years where the overall goal is not accomplished, Humphers finds his moments of success. He watches players develop. He says goodbye to great seniors. He keeps an eye on the overall goal. He remains focused, true to his word.
I have always felt that we suffer from “Silver Spoon Syndrome.” We live in a beautiful place. We have a wonderful way of life. Our schools are extraordinary. We have grown to sometimes expect these qualities rather than appreciate them.
There are many reasons to rejoice.
Dave Humphers is another of our gifts. A man deeply devoted to our students, he demonstrates every day why this program is so great.
Here’s to the next 20 years.
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