Rookie head coach embracing the challenges of JM football
Kyle Riggott and his staff are trying to infuse the Rochester John Marshall football program with as much positive energy and purpose as they can. The 29-year-old Riggott, in his first year as JM's head coach, is doing it while also addressing the myriad challenges the program faces.
ROCHESTER — Ivinn Mom hasn’t missed a single John Marshall morning football workout since they started on June 13.
Approximately 70 JM football players have been showing up regularly for the 90-minute sessions directed by new head football coach Kyle Riggott and top assistants Brandon Stanek and Luke Fisher, all of them coming over from Rochester Century where they’d been assistant football coaches.
Mom refuses to miss out on any of this. The 5-foot-10, 185-pound incoming junior defensive lineman says Riggott and staff have infused him with the kind of energy and desire to commit that he’s never experienced before.
“The energy that all of those coaches bring, we all love it,” Mom said. “With Riggott, there is no negative energy. If we mess up in practice or in SAQ (Speed, Agility and Quickness workouts), he helps us fix it. He won’t ever yell at us. It’s just a good vibe to be with him. Everyone likes him.”
A former standout football player at Century and Minnesota State University, Mankato, the 29-year-old Riggott is trying to breathe new life into a JM football program that has been dormant for years. Previous head coach Kevin Kirkeby, also regarded as an excellent “people person,” had a strong second season at JM when his team advanced to the 2015 state tournament. But JM has struggled ever since, going a combined 12-40 the last six years, including 1-8 this past season when the team was ravaged by injuries.
Kirkeby stepped down after the 2021 season and acknowledged that he’d had his most difficult time ever at JM, with a lack of commitment from many players, much of it stemming from a JM socioeconomic landscape that is much different and more difficult than the one that Riggott, Stanek and Fisher left at Century.
It didn’t take Riggott many days on the job at JM to figure that out, with the lack of family resources at his new school so apparent.
“What humbled me was to see the different needs at a school that is just 2 miles from the one I left,” Riggott said. “The needs are a world apart. Thirty percent of the kids at JM are on free-and-reduced lunch. The number of student-athletes who need help with transportation at JM is way different. And there are so many kids who tell me they don’t have their own pair of football cleats, so we need to find pairs for them.”
Still, Riggott isn’t complaining as he gets his feet wet, including working around the logistical problems JM has this summer, with the school under repair and the weight room off limits.
They’ve tried to make up for that by shifting much of the weight-room equipment to a 20 x 50-foot shed at JM where athletes get their lifts in four days per week. There has also been the matter of navigating around the massive JM construction zone in order to get to the workouts sites.
None of it is easy, and those challenges are just a few of myriad ones that Riggott has faced as JM’s new coach. But with all of it, he sees opportunity for mental, emotional and physical growth as a football program.
“You control what you can control and don’t stress about things that you can’t,” Riggott said.
Still, this has been an adjustment even for Riggott, who has experience at some of this, having worked the past four years at another Rochester school with significant socioeconomic challenges, Riverside Elementary. Like JM, its student population is diverse and poorer than most Rochester schools.
“It is just very different at JM than Century,” Riggott said. “But I embrace that. We are a full-service community school at JM, and I have a vision of being a full-service football program, too. My goal is to provide for families. With football, we want to be the team behind the team. That excites me. We want to lean into that identity that we have at JM and we want JM football to be a provider.”
The 33-year-old Stanek left Century for JM because of his faith in Riggott, a close friend. That came after what he called 10 happy, fulfilling and exciting years at Century.
Stanek believes that JM got the ideal person for this job in Riggott. He finds the opportunity to work for him just as ideal.
“He challenges me to be better as a coach and a person,” Stanek said. “It’s fun to be around people like that. The same goes for Luke Fisher (another Century graduate and former standout football player). Luke is really good at teaching and coaching. The three of us, we all challenge each other.”
They are also challenging their players, doing it in as positive and constructive a way as possible.
Hard work paying off
Mom says the workouts the coaches have provided him and the rest of the players are already paying large dividends.
Riggott believes that the workout regimen and science behind it is different from what most schools offer. Much of what is concentrated on has to do with athletic movement. And it isn’t just football players who are coming to the workouts, it's kids from all sports at JM.
“We are trying to get kids to think about their playing level and skill,” Riggott said. “Instead of measuring bench press (lifts) for every athlete, we measure things like broad jump, vertical jump and movements that you do in all sports. You don’t have to bench a lot of weight to be a good soccer player. You don’t even have to bench a lot to be a good football player. We want our athletes moving fast. We try to measure everything that is relatable, like speed. There has been clear growth that is happening, and we celebrate with the kids when we see it.”
Riggott wants his athletes to have purpose in everything they do. With that, he’s asking for buy in — a willingness to accept the new culture that he’s installing.
“Our word of the year is ‘redefine,’” Riggott said. “We want them to redefine what it means to work hard and redefine what it means to be a JM athlete. We talk about long-term vision. Our mission is to positively impact lives through football and along the way we want to teach leadership, compassion and toughness. We want to give them opportunities to respond and be resilient.”