By Tony Hooker
Competing against your alma mater would be special for just about anyone, and Fisher Head Football Coach Jake Palmer isn’t immune to the feeling. He recently shared some of his thoughts about being on the opposing sideline for a VG football game and much more.
Does this game take on any more meaning since you wore those blue and gold colors?
Every week’s game is fun, and you never know what to expect, but it is more meaningful to play the team that meant so much to me and had so much impact on me as a young man, so I would say that it does. It’s definitely something we’ve been looking forward to. We had the game scheduled for last year in Villa Grove, and that was really going to be special, being on the opposite sideline. Being back at Russ Ghere field would have been awesome. We’re looking forward to hosting the Blue Devils here, and hopefully we’ll have a great game.
When did you know you were going to be a coach and a teacher?
I probably knew I was going to be a teacher much longer than I knew I was going to be a coach. I knew I wanted to be a teacher after Mrs. Faust’s sixth grade class, just the amazing impact she had on me, just as a human being and a young man, so at that point I knew I wanted to impact young people the way that she impacted me. At that point, I knew I wanted to be a teacher, in sixth grade when I was 11 or 12 years old. It wasn’t until later on that I knew I was going to be a coach. I had never planned to be a varsity head football coach, it just sort of happened. It was very unexpected. I had been an assistant coach for a few years, just because I love football and I love being around the kids, and then our head coach resigned, and I wanted to have a team of my own, and now, here I am, the head coach of the Fisher Bunnies.
What did you learn from Coach Musselman that you’ve taken with you into coaching at Fisher?
That’s a great question. I would say the high expectations that he had for us, and not just as players, but as young men and human beings. That’s something that was so impactful on me as a kid. Just demanding effort in all facets of your life. Coach was so great at doing that, and it’s something that I try to mimic with my players. I would say that my time at Villa Grove really taught me that.
How about from a football standpoint? Did you take anything from that?
Triple option, baby! That’s what we run over here. It’s what I ran as quarterback at Villa Grove, it’s what my roots are in. I’ve been doing it for the last four years and we’ve made the playoffs every year.
I don’t want to end on a bad note, so I’m going to ask a question that might lead to a bad memory and then we’ll get back to the good stuff. What would you do differently against Pawnee? (Number 10 Pawnee upset number 2 seed Villa Grove in the second round of the 2008 playoffs)
Not have a bad ankle! <laughs> I would try to make sure that my teammates didn’t panic a little bit. We were in a position in that game that we really hadn’t been in all season, trailing and trying to play catch up and we hadn’t been there. So, I would try to tell my guys not to panic and just keep doing what we’re supposed to do and eventually the levy is going to break. It’s hard when you’re in your first playoff run when you have a lot of young guys. We were all pretty inexperienced, so I would tell the guys “Stay the course, keep playing tough and don’t panic.”
You’ve now moved from teaching into administration. How did that come about?
I had a principal here, Jim Moxley, and he encouraged me to get my (administration) degree early, before I had kids and got too busy. I got my degree done, and he retired two years ago, and I had made the jump the previous three years. I was the Dean of Students and athletic director here. I taught third grade for four years, then I was Dean and Athletic director for three more, and then the principal’s job opened up over here (at the grade school) which is my roots, going back to Mrs. Faust and the impact she had on me, wanting to have an impact on kids again, so I shifted from high school AD to principal of the grade school.
How cool was it to have all those weapons at your disposal on offense at VG?
I tell you what, I’d love to be able to coach some of those kids. The Rob Renfrows, the Travis Parsleys, the Michael Pearces. They were a pretty special group of guys to be around. A lot of people don’t remember, but we only had 5 seniors on that team, so we were pretty young.
Is this what you want to do, or have you considered moving up a level in coaching?
No, I love it here in Fisher. They’ve been so good to me and I’m a big believer in loyalty. What the school and the community has done for me has been life changing, and I’m so thankful. My wife and I bought a house here in January, and we’re all in on the Fisher Bunnies. This is the gig, as long as they’ll have me, I want to be here in Fisher.