A New Era: Opening Night and Changing the Culture at Oñate HS

onate football

As long as I had waited for the moment to arrive, once it got here, it went by like a 4.3, All-Pro wide receiver running a vertical.  My first game on the sidelines as a head coach did not go as planned, but I learned quite a bit about my team and myself.

As an Offensive Coordinator, all I worried about leading up to game day was my unit, my quarterbacks, and my call sheet. My world revolved around winning and scoring points. But, now it is so much more. So much more.

I spend all my time outside of my family and classroom, laboring over every mundane detail a human being could possibly labor over. From travel lists, to checklists, to pre-game checklists, to early release from class lists, to global warming, to the 2020 presidential election…ok, maybe I went too far on those last two. But, you get the point.

Leading up to last Friday’s contest against power Rio Rancho Cleveland was a blur. Monday through Wednesday’s practices were good and crisp, but as an obsessed perfectionist, something usually seems not quite right. As we completed the 4-hour bus ride and kicked off against the Storm, I really was calm and ready.

I wasn’t expecting perfection from a group of kids with only a total of seven seniors really contributing, but I was expecting maximum effort, and that I did get. We were in a 7-7 tie after the first quarter, then the roof caved-in.

Four turnovers, three in our own territory, and one at the 15 yard line going in, plus a blocked punt for a touchdown later, we succumbed 52-22. I truly feel the score is not indicative of the way we played and really should have been closer, but then again, we all say that, don’t we?

My hat is off to Heath Ridenour and his Cleveland squad. They were well-coached, played with great effort, and showed tons of class. We got better that night just by facing them.

We did see some good things, however. The kids never quit. They kept playing until the very end. They sold out for us, because that is what I asked of them when I arrived on campus June 5th.

We had close to 350 yards of offense. Not up to the standard I want, but a respectable showing for our first game. From what I heard from administration and many parents, they loved the new look Knights because the kids were exciting to watch, played with immense energy, and again, they never quit, which has been a reoccurring theme in the past from what I’ve been told. Which segues to my next point, Culture…


We hear this all the time now…“Trust the process,” “Culture Matters,” and of course one of my favorite sayings from Bill Belichick, “Culture beats strategy every time.” But, what is meant by all this?

Why is the culture at one place better than the other?

Part of my head coaching packet when I applied for this job was a section on culture and what it means to a program. I have many different takes and ideas about this, but I feel it comes down to respect, love, responsibility, discipline, and most of all ACCOUNTABLITY.

We just do not have much of that in society anymore. Our politicians blame one another, parents blame kids, kids blame parents, and everyone blames the educational system. In our program, if you cannot be accountable and do the right thing, you cannot play for us.

Since we began on July 31st, I have had to pick-up the equipment from 15-20 young men. They would attend a practice or two, then miss the next 10. When they returned, they were shocked and incredulous that we had restocked their equipment. They or their parents for that matter, really did not see the harm in missing that many practices.

If responsibility will not get taught at home, then we’ll do it here. Plain and simple. I even told each young man that they would be willing to try again next year. They were not kicked off the team, they were taught a simple lesson of responsibility and accountability.

onate football

Now with that, we also try to make our locker room environment a home away from home situation. It is sad to say, but kids need something extra nowadays to motivate them. We want to produce an environment that makes kids excited to play and be a part of Oñate Football; and we want the young elementary and middle school kids to aspire to be Knights one day.

It comes down to simple “pride of ownership.” Taking care of what you have and being proud of it. Since I’ve taken over, we have completely revamped our facilities, upgraded equipment, renovated equipment rooms, took game jerseys our of bins (yes, they were in bins) and hung them properly, found a way to buy new game pants, and even found a way to get the varsity kids a new helmet (debuting this Friday). Do all these things help us win on Friday night? Maybe not directly, but indirectly it does.onate football

It is about so much more than X’s and O’s, it is about relationships and the players feeling like they belong to something special, something meaningful, something bigger than themselves. Only then can you achieve that success on and off the field.


Scott Veliz


by Scott Veliz
Oñate High School Head Football Coach
Follow @Coach_Veliz

About the Author

Jeff Fisher
Jeff is an award-winning journalist and expert in the field of high school sports, underscored with his appearance on CNBC in 2010 to talk about the big business of high school football in America. Jeff turned to his passion for high school football into an entrepreneurial venture called High School Football America, a digital media company focused on producing original high school sports content for radio, television and the internet. Jeff is co-founder and editor-in-chief of High School Football America, which is a media partner with USA TODAY High School Sports.