PINEDALE – The turf pulsed with energy as the Pinedale High School Wrangler football team hit the gridiron for the first day of the season on Monday, Aug. 15.
The team executed a final drill as practice wound down. The Wrangler offense and defense snapped into motion and athletes on the sidelines shouted encouragement despite the midday heat.
Head coach David Thrash blew his whistle. The Wranglers hustled to the middle of the field, took a knee to listen to the coaching staff, then rose up and let out an enthusiastic team chant before heading to the locker room. Several players remained on the field, tossing the ball back and forth.
“Things went well,” Thrash said following the season-opening practice. “We’ve got a good group of guys out that want to play ball. They are listening and they want to get better and are ready to have a lot of fun this season.”
Thrash, who is also principal at Pinedale Middle School, accepted the position to lead the Wranglers last spring, filling the gap left by Clay Cundall after Cundall’s resignation as coach.
Thrash recognized the Wranglers’ grit and determination under Cundall’s three-year tenure despite the team being “dealt some short straws” in terms of numbers and injuries.
“Coach Cundall and his staff did a great job teaching that mental toughness,” Thrash said. “They knew the game of football. I am proud that I get to step into their role and try to carry on, but also add my strengths, my talents, to help build that Wrangler way.”
Thrash’s primary goal is laying the foundation for a “significant program” that will “carry on the legacy of getting up and fighting that next play, that next down and that next game to turn things around.”
Best of both worlds
Thrash played football through high school and expressed an interest in coaching. While studying at college, Thrash met his wife and his “priorities changed.” He focused more on a career in teaching.
Upon graduation, Thrash accepted a teaching position in the state and began to pick up coaching positions. The Sublette County School District No. 1 (SCSD1) hired Thrash as Pinedale Middle School’s activities director in 2019 and he “stepped away from coaching” for several years.
Working as the activities director placed Thrash in a good position to get to know many of the Wranglers on his team when they were students at the middle school, a step up as he gets to know them again as football players.
The “itch” to lead young people on the field or on the court persisted. Thrash became principal at Pinedale Middle School last spring and when the head Wrangler football coach position opened, he decided to take the plunge.
“I love sports and I love what they teach kids and the opportunities it puts them in,” he said. “The opportunity to step back into coaching, to throw my hat in the ring and try to take over the (Wrangler football) program, was something I prayed a lot about, talked a lot about with the wife and was lucky enough to get the position.”
Serving as principal and head coach are “big roles” that both demand significant attention, Thrash explained.
The key to balancing academic and athletic leadership involves the “phenomenal” staff at the middle school and the assistant football coaches, along with “a very loving wife,” Thrash said.
“I get to coach football and be a principal,” he added. “I can’t think of too many ways that it gets better than that.”
Looking into the future
During the years he served as a teacher, coach, activities director and principal, Thrash learned there are multiple forms of leadership.
“There is a time and a place where you have to put everything out there and say, ‘This is what we need to do. This is how we’re going to do it.’ Then there are other times when it is all about collaboration and input.”
On the football field, that collaboration means relying on a strong coaching staff.
“I need their input to be successful,” he said. “I need their knowledge and their skill in order to help these kids be successful.”
Thrash also hopes to instill strong bonds among his players on the football field.
“High school sports put young people in positions where they learn the skills of what it’s like to be on a team and have the guy beside you count on you to step up to the challenge and be successful. And also fail, and learn to work through that.”
Team sports like football allow young people to “work through” obstacles and become “the best version of themselves” on the field and later in life, Thrash explained. Trust is crucial, and players must learn what it’s like to care for the guy beside you instead of every man for himself,” he added.
Thrash also defined teamwork as the ability for each player to “lay it on the line and get back up, play after play, and continue to get better as a group.”
Thrash got down to business immediately upon assuming his new coaching position, holding an informal, “in house” team camp the previous spring. He and the coaching staff continued to get to know the players over the summer at weight training sessions.
The slate is clean as far as the starting lineup, Thrash told the Roundup. The coaching staff is closely watching how players interact in different positions or groupings on the gridiron.
“We’re evaluating the kids and trying to put them in the position on the field that best helps the guys around them – to increase their ability to perform and boost their talents,” Thrash said.
The energy and excitement the players exhibited on their first day is a positive sign as a new season begins.
“I’m looking forward to the newness of everything – the new staff, a new season and a lot of new faces out that haven’t been around football in awhile. I’m also looking forward to getting to be around this group of kids and their attitude and enjoyment of life.”
Thrash thanked previous coaches he served with or played under for their inspiration. He also gave a shoutout to the SCSD1 administration.
“The group of principals that I work with now are what make this one of the greatest jobs in the world,” he said.
Thrash expressed gratitude to his family who “enjoys the game enough to be willing to allow me to do this.
“If I didn’t have their support, it wouldn’t be possible.”