New football coach ready to tackle season
Mark Elston has a special place in his heart for small guys that play big on the football field. After all, he stands 5-foot-6, but he has always made it an effort to give the game of football his all. And he does to this day, just from a different perspective.
Last week, the 36-year-old Elston was named Tonganoxie High School's new head football coach.
Now he is ready to take the team to a different level, and has the confidence to do it backed by a lifetime of football experience to pull from his hat. He is no trickster, though. Elston knows his goals and since he was named Tonganoxie's coach, he's thought about little else. The man even has the first three plays of the first fall game mapped out in his head.
"I am pretty organized," Elston said. "It is very important to have some sort of semblance of what I want to do."
Elston is in the process of hiring his coaching staff. Elston also plans to have as many football camps as allowed this summer to get things started with a bang this season.
"I want us to be successful," he said. "There are no boundaries to where I want this team to go."
Elston applied for an assistant coaching position in January or February, he said. He was confident he would get that. However, he found out about the head coach opening and also applied for that position. He was shocked when he realized he would have his first real shot as a head coach.
"I was a little taken back," Elston said. "Since I am not a teacher in the school, it shows that they have a lot of faith in me. It was a little overwhelming at first."
"It's going to be a good challenge for him," said his wife, Lori Elston. "He just needs to get in there and get his hands wet."
Elston has had plenty of coaching experience. He has been assistant football coach at Hickman Mills High School on and off for eight years, where he also spent some time working under his father, Don, who grew up in Tonganoxie.
"He definitely has the experience and knowledge," Lori Elston said.
Without knowing what his team is going to be like, Elston cannot determine exactly what next year's strengths or weaknesses may be. One thing he does know and stresses is that discipline will be one of the keys to a successful team.
"He's really determined, which all the kids really look up to," said Jimmy Walker, offensive tackle and defensive end who will be a senior next year. "We really need someone who can come in and take charge. This change might be exactly what we need."
Elston said he will expect discipline of his players both on and off the football field.
"Football is discipline," Elston said. "Winning is a habit and discipline plays a strong role in forming habits."
To add to the discipline concept, Elston wanted to issue a little warning.
"The coaching staff might have a lot of red eyes and short tempers by the time the season rolls around," he said.
He is referring to the fact that all of them have babies due soon. Elston and his wife are expecting their third baby in mid-May. The couple have two sons, Garret, 5, and Grant, 2.
The family moved to Tonganoxie from Shawnee two years ago because they wanted their children to grow up in a small-town atmosphere. Elston, who established the Tonganoxie firm, Mortgage Sources, likes the fact that he can walk down the street and be recognized. Elston wanted to be able to have a house on the hill in the woods. He has family here. Elston always loved hearing the stories his father told about the town.
Elston said he owes everything to his father. He was only a week old when he attended his first football game. At age 4, he attended two-a-day high school football practices with his father.
"I am fortunate to have had the knowledge of the game," Elston said. "I guess it is kind of my claim to fame. My father has played a big role in my success as a coach. He is very supportive and has provided me with a wealth of experience."
Since he was small, Elston found other ways of making an influence on the field.
"I had to put fear in other people," he said. "I had this chip on my shoulder because I was small."
Elston wanted to be the best. He wanted to prove to his coaches that he deserved to play and that size wasn't everything.
"But, my physical stature did not allow me to go on playing after high school," he said.
Size doesn't matter as long as members of his team go all out each chance they have.
"My team will be based around guys that are going to spill their guts and have the heart to give it their best every play, not just when they want to," Elston said. "It's gonna be 11 junk-yard dogs who have hearts and desires bigger than their ability."
One of Elston's biggest strengths as a coach is his mental approach to the game. He attributes this strength to the many years spent on the sidelines watching while his father coached. When he sits down to watch any football game, he is looking for techniques that he can pick up and pass on to his team. He does not necessarily root for teams as much as he watches the games with a critical eye.
Elston loves watching high school and college football best. But he does like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Oklahoma is his favorite college team.
Aside from football, Elston does have other interests. He loves fishing for starters.
"I would love to fish twenty-four-seven if I could get away with it," he said.
Elston also loves hunting and spending time with his family.
"I can't live without football, though," Elston said. "There is nothing greater than Friday nights when you step onto the football field."