LINGLE – With the departure of Lingle-Fort Laramie football coach Matt Cornelius for a new job in Montana, it left the Doggers without a head man.
The L-FL administration didn’t have to look far, promoting offensive coordinator Brandon Gifford to take over the reins of the football team beginning this fall.
“I felt like it was a good time for me to take on the challenge and see if we can’t get Lingle-Fort Laramie football back to a championship level,” he said.
Gifford has been a part of the Dogger football program for going on nine seasons, calling the offensive plays, with the exception of the years which the Doggers played six-man football.
He has been a part of and helped with the transition to the six-man ranks from the 11-man game in 2016 and back up to the nine-man division last season.
“It’s been a roller coaster. The learning curve is steep, and it has to be steep. There isn’t a lot of time to prepare. You have your summer months and then it’s time to go in the fall,” Gifford said. “The transition up to nine-man has been difficult because six-man is so much more of a wide-open game. Nine-man is more of a typical, what I would call 11-man style game. There are more x’s and o’s involved. (The kids) have hung in there and done a nice job on the fly.”
Gifford understands the team will still experience growing pains in year two as a nine-man football team.
He anticipates only a couple of seniors out this year but said the overall numbers are looking good in the lower 20s.
“We’ll be really young. We have only a couple seniors right now slated to play next year, but we have some talent coming up,” Gifford said. “It’s tough at small schools. Sometimes you just have to ride the wave. You have big classes of kids come through, then the classes get smaller. We’ve got a good group of young kids coming in and a solid group of juniors who have been a nucleus that got a lot of playing time. It’s kind of exciting.”
Gifford is no stranger to being a head coach, leading the Dogger wrestling program the past several seasons.
“The biggest difference for me is going to be, as a head coach, everything falls on you,” he said. “Football, especially, is one of those sports which is in the spotlight. Every decision that is made in a game, on the field or off the field is a reflection on me, as the head coach. That’s something I’ll have to learn. You also have to make sure you surround yourself with the right people and make sure we are all going in the same direction.”
The Doggers began summer weightlifting last week in preparation for the upcoming season.
“We’ve got good numbers already,” Gifford said. “We’ve got that young group coming in and there is some excitement again in the weight room.”
He also plans to have some mini-camp sessions throughout the summer.
“As a new head coach, there will be some schemes and stuff we need to install, offensively and defensively. We need to get these young guys to learn the game of football and be a little more educated in the x’s and o’s in order for us to be successful.”
The Doggers are scheduled to open the 2021 season on the road at Wind River High School on Friday, Sept. 3. Kickoff is scheduled for 5 p.m.
“When we’re talking small school high school football, we all want to win and win championships. Ultimately, that’s the goal every year, but we have to remember too, we are here to teach kids, get them to enjoy the sport, love the sport and get something from the sport that is more than wins and losses.”