When he wasn’t wreaking havoc on opposing offenses as a defensive standout for the Montana State University Bobcats, Aaron Papich was learning the intricacies of the game from his coaches, with an eye toward one day running his own program.
Papich has now spent roughly a decade coaching football, building relationships and enjoying his time as a coach. He’s now taking the reins as the head coach of Powell High School’s football program.
“This opportunity is pretty awesome, to come into Powell and be part of the great tradition of excellence that they have, both athletically and academically, is a big honor,” Papich said.
PHS Athletic Director Tim Wormald said Papich was one of four “highly-qualified” candidates who interviewed for the position, and that Papich impressed with his vision of where he wanted the program to go.
“He [Papich] is really focused on football being a means of teaching kids about life and helping them develop character,” Wormald said. “The committee was really impressed with him.”
Calling Papich a “motivator,” Wormald said the coach brings experience in a variety of different sports at many different levels.
“He [Papich] brings experience as a player and a coach to the table that I think is going to be a good fit,” he said. “He’ll keep an eye on things that are bigger than just Xs and Os. At the high school level, Xs and Os are good, you need to be solid in those. But they’ll only get you so far. You have to be able to motivate and keep the big picture in mind, which is helping kids become young men and be better prepared for life.”
Papich began his high school coaching career as an assistant for two seasons under Jon Vance at Kelly Walsh High School in Casper. He then spent two seasons at Burlington, one as head coach, before working as an assistant last season at Riverton. He also coached a year under former Panther head coach Chanler Buck for a season, giving him an idea of what to expect when he returns to Powell; Buck left the position last month to become Powell Middle School’s activities director/assistant principal.
“Coaching with Chanler [Buck] was an awesome experience, and it helps to already have some relationships formed [in the area],” Papich said. “Going back to Powell will definitely help with the transition.”
Papich credits the impact his own coaches had on him as a young player with giving him the desire to become a coach and a teacher.
“Without football, I don’t think I’d be who I am today,” he said. “It helped me to achieve success in school, and once I got to college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. My coaches taught me the importance of staying focused on my studies and helped me to realize what I wanted to do.”
Papich’s football career with Montana State began as an unheralded walk-on from Great Falls, Montana, and culminated in his being named a two-time All-Big Sky selection for the Bobcats.
Even with all the success he achieved as a player, Papich said he’s most proud of graduating with a degree.
“Having that degree was huge, because it meant I could move forward in my life and begin my career,” he said. “I’ve become a better husband and a better father by having my degree and becoming a teacher.”
As for his coaching style, Papich has a three-tier approach that encompasses personal development, the importance of academic achievement and football performance.
“Attitude and effort, I want that to be the culture in Powell,” Papich said. “It’s all about showing up every day ready to go. When you step foot on that field, you’re giving everything you got.”
The Panthers have a rich football tradition, with eight state titles to their credit. They played for a ninth state title just two seasons ago under Buck, and Papich knows he has some big shoes to fill. But he’s ready for the challenge.
“It’s a great program, and Coach Buck did an awesome job,” Papich said. “There’s tradition and a standard of excellence that’s very high. I want our kids to be successful, but more importantly, I want our kids to be a success in life. That’s really what I lean on.”
Papich said his team won’t be in a hurry to delve into strategy and plays right away; it will start with personal development and academic achievement.
“The Xs and Os, that’s the easiest thing,” Papich explained. “I want to win more than anyone, believe me. But what I’ve learned is that if you sacrifice your priorities, it will end up getting you. It may not be in the short-term, but it will eventually get you. I’m not in a hurry. I want to marinate in our core values, our core beliefs.”
Those values include being a good person, taking care of things in the classroom and maintaining relationships.
“When all those things are taken care of, then we’re ready to play football,” Papich said. “But you’ve got to lay that out there first. Those things have to be there. If you jump right to the football, it’s going to get you. There’s too much going on in these kids’ lives, and I don’t think that football’s the most important thing for them. It’s about priorities.”
Once the players step on the field, however, expectations will be high.
“Again, it goes back to attitude and effort,” Papich said. “The excellence we strive for in the classroom will then extend to the field.”
Papich and his family already have a home here. He said that what he enjoyed the most about his time in Powell a couple of seasons ago was the people.
“People in Powell really stick together and take care of each other,” he said. “That’s what I’m really looking forward to.”
Papich will hit the ground running this summer, beginning with a Panther Pride Football Kids Camp, scheduled for June 4-7.
Pre-registration is taking place at PHS today (Thursday) from 5-6 p.m. There is also a parent football orientation meeting scheduled for Tuesday, June 5 at 6 p.m. in the PHS Gym.