Kyle Jones remembers well the heyday of Auburn Riverside wrestling.
Actually, it’d be pretty hard for the Ravens’ new wrestling head coach to forget the days when Auburn Riverside’s program was synonymous with grappling glory.
That’s because Kyle was a crucial part of those days, a heavyweight, laying the groundwork in his final year of prep wrestling in 2006.
That’s the year Kyle took home seventh-place at 189 pounds, defeating Moses Lake’s John Fackrell in the battle for seventh with a pin at 2 minutes, 16 seconds. Not bad for a three-sport athlete, who also lettered in baseball and football that year.
The success of that team that season set the stage for Auburn Riverside’s fifth-place finish the next year at Mat Classic XIX.
Although Kyle had graduated and was attending Central Washington University by the time, his younger brother, Eric Jones – today a Raven assistant wrestling coach – won the first of his two state championship titles and Michael Mangrum snagged his second title of three.
For Kyle, previously an assistant wrestling coach at Auburn High School, it’s now about using this past glory to inspire the new generation of Auburn Riverside wrestlers.
“It’s been good [taking this job], it’s a little surreal,” Kyle said. “I’ve been enjoying it because it’s a real welcoming, positive environment. The kids are really buying into what we’re trying to do. It’s fun. It makes it easier to relate to kids who are coming through Riverside now, just like I did.”
He admits it was a little hard for him to leave Auburn, where he not only worked with Trojan heavyweights but also was an assistant on the varsity football squad. Plus, he got to work closely with his dad, Bob Jones, Auburn’s athletic director.
“It was difficult leaving, but Riverside was one of the positions I was willing to leave for,” he said. “I always said, even when I was going through Riverside, that I wanted to be a teacher and wanted to coach, similar to my dad. Riverside was where I wanted to be.”
Kyle said he applied two years ago for the Raven head football coach job, “to get experience about the interview process.”
Although he was unsuccessful – the job went to Bryant Thomas – the experience paid off.
“When this job came open it was kind of no-brainer for me,” he said. “This was the spot I wanted a chance at. Other schools would have been harder to try for, but this one I knew I wanted to give it a shot.”
Plus, the chance to coach with his brother, Eric, was appealing.
“I’ve had to coach opposite my brother, who is one of my assistant coaches now,” he said. “It’s fun having that family connection and being able to work with him.”
Together with Eric, and assistant Shawn Martinson, Kyle said, the key was bringing his wrestlers up to a higher level of skill and getting them to buy in.
“I think the biggest thing we’ve tried to do is start showing that example of things we were doing that were successful then,” Kyle said. “When I’m working out with kids, I’m showing them the level, the pace and the intensity they need to get at. I don’t think a lot of our wrestlers have had examples that have had as much success as my brother or I had. We had to lead them to that.”
“In practice we’re elevating the expectations, which has really helped them in their growth. We’re seeing a lot of growth that I don’t think they had in years previous. The kids are really buying into that. There are so many little techniques in wrestling that without them there is no way you’re going to be able to be ready for a match if you don’t get that practice time and focus on what you’re trying to do. It’s one of the sports that is unique in how much of an individual sport it is, with technique, and how much of a team sport it is at the same time. Practice is extremely vital; you can’t get enough practice time.”
Although no longer wearing the green and gold of Auburn, Kyle said he still relies on his dad and Trojan football coach Gordon Elliott, as well as others, for advice on the ins and outs of coaching.
“I’ve got my dad in Auburn,” Kyle said. “I’ve got Gordie Elliott over at Auburn as well, we’re close. He’s been an extremely big mentor for me as well. I’ve also used Tony Davis in Tahoma (football) as a resource because he’s got great knowledge and background. Matt Harshman at Sumner has been a great help in preparing me. And I’ve got Sean Martinson, who has been here a number of years. He’s got knowledge across the board in various things, to help prepare me for things outside of wrestling that come with head coaching. Those are the big mentors for me.”
Also key is the wealth of experience brought by his little brother. Eric, Kyle said.
“I don’t know if they’re aware just how good he was,” he said. “They know he was a two-time state champion, and when they wrestle with him he tries not to use all of his skills, because then it just doesn’t benefit them. I think they’re realizing more this year because he’s been able to show more, and they’re realizing how knowledgeable about the sport he is. I’m a bigger guy, and I work with our heavyweights more. He can work and relate more to the lightweights because that’s where he wrestled. We have a great group of coaches that way, from top to bottom.”
Kyle said he was optimistic about the improvement of his wresters and fully expects to make some noise at the league level towards the end of the season. He added that he was even more optimistic about the potential for the program as a whole.
“I hope that we are a top program around,” Kyle said. “That we did things right, that there was never a question of integrity about how we were running the program. And that we impacted kids, not just wrestling-wise, but that we gave them some skills they could take off the mat. I really want to build leaders, in whatever they go into, as well as building wrestlers. Yes, I hope that we are highly competitive for years to come and in title contention in our league, our region and at state. But we’re also going to be leaders in our community around us and an example of some place parents want to send their kids.”