Only a coach who has left a program and later returned to coach against the players he once helped mold will understand what Josh Anderson will be feeling tonight.
You see, Anderson was head coach at Chino Valley High School before resigning three years ago to take over the Longhorn football program.
The two teams, Payson and the Chino Cougars, meet at 7 p.m. tonight in what is expected to be a highly emotional homecoming showdown.
Anderson coached many of the Chino seniors two years ago when they were only sophomores, but asked to contribute on the varsity level.
“The senior class is the last group of kids I had a hand in coaching,” Anderson said. “I feel like I gave everything I had to that program while I was there, especially to the kids.”
Anderson’s game plan tonight is to fire up his charges as usual, but after the game wraps up, “I’ll shake hands and maybe give a hug or two.”
Last year when Payson traveled to Chino Valley, the evening was especially tough on Anderson partly because some of the Chino students wore T-shirts that basically depicted him as a type of Benedict Arnold.
“I know their new head coach has sold those kids on hating me and telling them that I sold them out by leaving them to come to Payson,” Anderson said. “But I still care about those kids and how they do.”
Like all good coaches, Anderson tries to mask some of his feelings about tonight’s game.
“It is still very emotional for me personally, but I’ve been very cautious as to not let our players know that,” he said. “They do not need me to add any fuel to the fire.”
Any coach who leaves a program he helped build has a special place in his heart for his former players, but the coaching challenge is to put those feelings aside for one evening each year.
Anderson has done that.
“The game plan calls for a big whippin’ of Chino Valley and that’s what’s going to take place.”