Professional pedigree – Flathead Beacon

For six months, Glacier High School boys’ football coach Ryan Billiet watched sideways as the school tried, and failed, to find a replacement after Brenden Byrd resigned as coach of the girls in January.

“We’ve been working together for eight to ten years to make sure there is a synergistic approach to the boys and girls program,” Billiet said. “In losing Brenden, we wanted to make sure there was a quality replacement to pick up where he left off.”

The search for Byrd’s replacement has been halted a few times – one top candidate withdrew from the interview process, while another declined the job. In the months that followed, assistant coach Matt Ford oversaw the training of the Wolfpack.

But on July 26, Glacier athletic director Mark Dennehy made the long-awaited announcement: Damion Blackburn will return to the program this fall. His hiring is only final after approval by the school board.

“Right off the bat, Damion has a lot more experience than most of the local coaches,” Billiet said. “He has the basics – he literally helped write the coach development program – and he wants to improve the training environment for the kids.

Billiet first met Blackburn ten years ago when Blackburn started coming to Flathead in the summers to work with the Flathead Rapids club team during summer camps. As a former MLS player, Blackburn had a reputation as a highly skilled player and boasted an enviable coaching resume spanning all age groups. Billiet often took him to Glacier to do short summer camps with the boys’ team and observed his coaching prowess firsthand.

“He has a nice balanced approach focusing on the tactical aspects and having a goal in every session,” said Billiet. “He’s an authority on the ground and he brings such a level to practice. “

Last fall, Blackburn moved full time to the Flathead Valley to take on the role of Technical Director for the Flathead Rapids club team.

“I was told there is a ton of potential in Flathead, great talent here,” said Blackburn. “When I stopped playing professionally and got pretty serious about being a full-time coach, I moved here.”

“It’s a passionate project that matters to me deeply,” he continued. “I think we don’t have enough defenders for our players in Northwest Montana.”

Ady Powell of Glacier, pictured in a semifinal game against Billings West High School at Glacier High School in Kalispell on October 30, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flat head beacon

Blackburn grew up in the Midwest and started acting when he was just four years old, although he “didn’t get serious until he was about eight.”

Blackburn played in high school and the University of Dayton, a Division I program of the NCAA. He calls his college career “decent, but hampered by ACL tears,” although he had enough success to bypass his final year of playing professionally in MLS with the Columbus Crew until a tear. of the LCA, his third, dismisses the attacker.

He then played four years for the Cincy Saints, a now-defunct professional team that competed in both indoor and outdoor leagues where he was the club’s all-time leader in goals and points.

His first foray into coaching was as a teenager, working with local youth teams and he has since developed a diverse coaching resume, including coaching club teams, as a scout. MLS working with football academies and as a member of the United Soccer Coaches national staff.

When he first moved to Flathead Valley full-time, Blackburn spent time practicing and playing each team in the Valley to get a feel for the different training styles and program philosophies, but didn’t expect to become a full-time coach. role in a school so early.

“This is a new challenge that I am delighted to take on,” said Blackburn, a day after meeting the members of the Wolfpack for the first time. “I think the players are excited and I’m excited to be working with them.”

In the wake of a championship last year, Blackburn said there was a bit of pressure and scrutiny on the program during the coaching transition, but he didn’t want his players to worry.

“My main goal here is not to go out and start worrying about winning. It’s absolutely important to win games, no questions, but it’s not our number one priority right now, ”he said. “My main role is to train good people, good football players who love the game.”

Glacier’s Taylor Brisendine charges towards the net in a game against Flathead at Legends Stadium in Kalispell on September 5, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flat head beacon

The Wolfpack graduated a talented group of nine seniors who were instrumental in the 14-4-0 tag team season that culminated in the state title.

Among the graduates were forward Taylor Brisendine, whose timeout goal in the first half of the state final scored the game’s only point, and defenseman Kenzie Williams, the women’s football player of Gatorade Montana year.

“Anytime you lose the State Player of the Year it’s a challenge for sure,” Blackburn said. “But what I would say is I think we have a lot of great footballers – football players – who have had club level opportunities beyond Montana, with regional camps and programs. Olympic development. “

“I think we have a lot of pieces that I’m happy to work with,” he continued. “It will be fascinating to watch the group as a whole and see how they fit together.”

Byrd was one of the mainstays of Flathead Valley football culture, and Blackburn is immediately becoming an additional mainstay for players, coaches and fans.

“He’s so passionate about the sport and it’s just electric to be on the pitch with him,” Byrd said. “It’s his program now, with the flair he brings to it, and it will be a fun program to watch. I couldn’t have asked for a better coach to take over.

Glacier Girls Football Coach Brenden Byrd
Glacier girls soccer coach Brenden Byrd addresses her team after training at Legends Stadium in Kalispell on October 17, 2019. Hunter D’Antuono | Flat head beacon

Blackburn said he plans to meet with Byrd next week to talk about their perspective on the team, compare philosophies and exchange notes in the future.

“I want to develop players who love the game, maybe even have a borderline obsession with it, in a positive way,” said Blackburn. “The goal is to see what the game can do for them and to prepare them for the opportunity to look beyond the valley, at the college level or beyond. We have players here who can open the door to a lot of opportunities. “

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