When Brett Colby accepted the Kokomo football coaching job on March 5, 2007, it’s likely no one happened to mention to him that the program was in its worst funk ever.

Never, since pads began popping in 1923, had the Kats been saddled with six consecutive losing seasons.

Not that it would have mattered.

Colby was confident in time that his staff would turn frowns to smiles, losses to wins and end a decade of first-round losses in sectional play.

Not even Colby, however, thought the turnaround would come with such haste. Regardless of what happens tonight or beyond in this 2008 season, Colby will be in a class of his own at season’s end. He stands 17-3 overall and 14-0 in North Central Conference play through two seasons and none of the preceding Wildkat coaches — including Indiana Football Hall of Fame inductee Bob Hamilton — enjoyed such a smooth start out the gate.

“Going into our first season, we wanted to have a winning record and finish among the top three in the conference,” Colby said. “We didn’t expect to win them all, but I thought we could be competitive in all our games.”

Colby found that his first Kokomo senior class had even bigger ideas.

Despite not having even heard of a winning Wildkat squad since they were in fifth grade, those 16 players showed they had the moxie to get the program turned in the right direction. They led the Kats to an 8-2 finish and a 7-0 NCC mark produced the program’s first league title since 1996.

“I give those seniors a lot of credit,” Colby said. “Here they were, looking at me as a new coach and they bought in to what we wanted when they certainly didn’t have to. It was a hard-nosed, athletic group that was hungry to win. Those seniors absolutely laid the groundwork for all the success we’ve enjoyed since.”

Colby said his staff has also played a major role in the progress.

“We have several of these guys who played college football, so they aren’t just there coaching, they really know the game,” Colby said. “We have a lot of diversity there, just as our school and community has, and everyone contributes and gets a long so well. Team chemistry is so important and it all starts with our staff.”

Colby will tell you his offensive and defensive schemes are pretty simple. His approach to coaching is simple as well, but tremendously successful.

“It’s always been the same everywhere I’ve coached — it’s about accountability and discipline,” Colby said. “We hold our players accountable for their actions in and out of the classroom. They know they have to do things the right way. You find that as discipline creeps into their lives, what you ask them to do on the field becomes a lot easier. We preached that message [last season] but have found it was much easier to get across this year.

“We’ve lost a few kids along the way, but it’s been their decision. We’re even more stringent in rules and demands on seniors and the starters. That’s where it all starts. It’s important the other players see that group is held accountable for everything they do.”

Colby has been a welcome addition to the school and staff, according to athletic director Mike Wade.

“[Colby] has a simple approach to discipline and we’ve seen the kids toe the line in and out of class and in football,” Wade said. “The kids want to be a part of this football team and we’ve lost very few along the way. From my standpoint it’s fun to see a program where standards are set and kids are held to them.”

Colby can point to his own background where discipline came from a set of parents that included dad Ron Colby, a school administrator for nearly 30 years at Western and an assistant coach with his son the past 18 years at South Newton, Frankfort and Kokomo.

Dad has good reason to be proud.

“Brett’s very opinionated and he’s one who believes in discipline first,” Ron said. “Everyone knows the rules and that if you break them you’ll pay whether you’re a starter or fourth string. He also emphasizes discipline in the classroom and players making their grades. You have to be a good person before you play football at Kokomo.

“What makes me most proud is that he makes practice and game nights reflect life — that is they experience hard work, success and failure. When kids leave our program they know what life holds in store for them.”

Dave Kitchell is the Tribune’s sports editor. He may be reached by e-mail at dave.kitchell@kokomotribune.com.

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