MOHAVE VALLEY — David Klassen took a long and winding road to River Valley High School where he took the Dust Devils’ head football coach position early this spring.
Klassen will be filling the shoes of former co-head coaches Paul Duchaineau and Mark Ruckle, each of whom stepped down during the offseason after the Dust Devils fell to the Gophers during the first round of the playoffs at Florence High School.
Duchaineau and Ruckle coached the Dust Devils to a state title in 2014 and took them to the quarterfinals of the 2015 playoffs during their three-year tenure.
River Valley athletic director Ivan Brown said he had talked to several candidates for the head coaching job.
“When we talked to Coach Klassen, he just seemed like a good fit for our program,” Brown said. “Actually, we’re putting a lot of confidence in him and the boys are here working out and that shows the confidence that they have in him.
“Coach Klassen seemed to have the philosophy that convinced us that we would have a good program under his tutelage.”
Klassen said his dad is the first and most influential person, as far as coaching goes.
“I watched him go undefeated four years in a row with only 18 points scored on him,” said Klassen about his dad, Don Klassen’s prowess coaching youth football. “In those four years, I have never witnessed anything like it again in my life.
“Coach Jim Beale in Higley and coach Randy Ricedorff were huge influences.
“Coach Brian Young, at Payson baseball, also played a big part on my coaching (philosophy).”
Coaching in the 3A North prepared him to coach in the 2A East, which was just as tough last season.
“If a team is not prepared to go out and be very physical against a Blue Ridge or Snowflake, then you will be in for a long night,” Klassen said. “I can remember coaching against Blue Ridge the year I was defensive coordinator at Payson. I thought I had prepared for everything they had. Then, at the end of the game we got beat pretty bad, and Bob London came into our coaches office and told me he thought the defense did a good job.
“I told him, ‘You walked all over us.’ And he said, ‘Not really, your (defensive) linemen were going up the field about two inches too much and that’s how we beat you.’ ”
Klassen added: “That is the kind of preparation you need when coaching in that section.
“When I got to Show Low to coach, I found out just why they were good every year. The way they prepared in the summer was absolutely astonishing. I felt like I did not sleep from June until November
“When I coached there, and now that I am a head coach myself, I prepare in the spring and summer just like Coach Ricedorff did at Show Low.
“I bet I gained 10 years experience in one year at Show Low.”
Klassen said he started out as his dad’s Pop Warner junior league assistant coach when he was in high school.
“When I figured out I was not going to be able to play college football, I kept coaching.” Klassen said. “I coached at the youth level for 20 years, my positions there were defensive coordinator and offensive and defensive line coaches.”
Klassen said he attended Maryvale High School in Phoenix and played baseball and football all four years and wrestled his senior year.
When he was a senior at Maryvale, he also played football at Maryvale with juniors Darren Woodson, who was later enshrined into the NFL Hall of Fame, and Philippi Sparks, who went on to become a fixture in the New York Giants’ secondary in the 1990s, Klassen said.
“I then decided to give high school coaching a try in 2007 because I needed to accomplish more in my coaching career,” he said. “I started as defensive coordinator at Chandler Prep High School for a couple of years.”
He and head coach Duncan Aepli started the program there, Klassen said.
“The school was in a shopping center, so they did not have a weight room or weights,” he added. “They did, however, have a little store where they stored their uniforms and said I could use that as a weight room.
“However, they did not have weights, so I put an ad on Craigslist saying that I needed weights and am willing to pick up any unwanted weights for my football program. I went from one corner of the Valley to the other putting weights in the trunk of my Grand Am for the kids.
“One of the kids I coached in youth is now a coach over there and he said the place and program (have) evolved big time since then.”
In 2009, Klassen said he then went to Higley High School to coach with Coach Jim Beall for a couple of years as his freshman, JV, offensive/defensive line coach, as well as his defensive backs coach on the varsity.
During the 2011-12 season, he went to Payson High School, where he was a volunteer offensive/defensive line coach for the first year, Klassen said. The next year he was given a stipend and asked to be the varsity defensive coordinator offensive/defensive line coach.
He also was also the head JV baseball coach, as well as the assistant varsity baseball coach at Payson, Klassen said. He was doing his student-teaching when he finished at Payson, which did not have a special education job open, so in the 2014-15 season he went to Show Low High School to teach.
“That is where I was the freshman and JV defensive coordinatior and offensive and defensive line coach, as well as the defensive guy in the booth for the varsity,” Klassen said. “I was also the JV baseball head coach at Show Low during the 2015-16 season.
“I went to Bradshaw Mountain in order to be with my wife at the time in the same district.”
He was the freshman offensive and defensive line coach, as well as varsity assistant defensive coach, Bradshaw Mountain head coach David Moran had asked him to step up to varsity full-time for the next season, but he was hired at Miami High School the next year as the head football coach.
At Miami, he took over a team that had lost 19 seniors and 99 percent of them were starters, Klassen said. “I came in with only five seniors and only a couple had played before,” he added.
“I brought on Chris Starkey from a high school in Missouri to be my offensive coordinator,” Klassen said. “As the locals put it, we had a very successful season for what we had to work with. We lost to No. 7 St. Johns with one second left on the clock, on what became a very controversial call, or we would have made the playoffs.
“Our final ranking was No. 17, and as we all know the top 16 go to the playoffs. Had it not been for Alchesay High School being section champs in their section, we would have punched our ticket.
“Had we not been in the 2A East and been put in the 2A South like every other sport at Miami, we would have won the section, and in my opinion, went far in the playoffs.
“We might have even won the 2A Central.”
Klassen said he also was the JV head baseball coach at Miami, as well as assistant varsity baseball coach, where the Vandals captured the 2A South section title.
“I have had two kids commit to colleges and a third is on the verge of committing,” he added. “I learned a lot from last year and feel that I am now in a place where I can take off with the talent that is in place at River Valley.
“When I was at Payson, we played River Valley at River Valley and the thing I remembered the most about that visit is how nice the people were to us.
“Thererfore, when this job opened up, I told my offensive coordinator, we want to go to this place, because the people are nice and they always produce big, tough and fast kids.
“This fits right in line with the style of coaching me and Chris are accustomed to. I started to get to work almost immediately after I was offered the job.
“I think we have a good coaching staff put together, it is a good mix of young and kind of old, but most of all, we have some alumni on staff who can help us win and carry on what coaches Mark Ruckle and Paul Ducchaineau has built here at River Valley. I am excited to get started and I know the kids are very excited.”
WEIGHT ROOM STANDS OUT: “I loved it when I was looking around, except that the weight room is about million times better,” said Klassen about his first impression of the River Valley campus.