Q&A with Kelly Walsh Head Football Coach Aaron Makelky heading into the 2021 season
David Graf welcomed Kelly Walsh Head Football Coach Aaron Makelky to the Wyoming News Now studio to talk about what he’s learned during his three years as the head coach at Kelly Walsh, his love of football and what Trojans to keep an eye on this season before the season kicks off on Aug. 27.
CASPER, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) - High school football season is right around the corner, and Kelly Walsh football kicks off their season on Aug. 27 at Cheyenne South. The Trojans are coming off a semifinal appearance in last season’s 4A State Playoffs.
David Graf welcomed Kelly Walsh Head Football Coach Aaron Makelky to the Wyoming News Now studio to talk about what he’s learned during his three years as the head coach at Kelly Walsh, his love of football and what Trojans to keep an eye on this season.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
DG: Thank you, Coach Makelky, for taking some time here, coming down to the studio, and being willing to talk to me. I really appreciate it. I just wanna know you’re heading into your third season. What are some of the things that you’ve learned while the head coach at Kelly Walsh?
AM: I appreciate you having me, David. I don’t know how much time you have to listen to that list of things I’ve learned, but there’s a lot of them. One that I’ve learned for sure is the importance of an offseason and being organized outside of the August to November schedule. Whether it’s coming in and transitioning, or all the things going on last year that kept us from getting kids together in groups and doing camps and the normal stuff. That’s a big one, and I think one is how much our kids and our school and our community want to be better and want to raise the standards of what Kelly Walsh football is. So I think those are probably the top two, but there’s a long list.
DG: I know this is your third season as the head coach at Kelly Walsh, but you’ve been coaching football for a while now. What is it about football that you love so much?
AM: I think the biggest thing is I grew up around it. My dad was a head coach in small-town Montana, and I’ve done a lot of thinking and reflecting on that. I think a big one is I saw how much enjoyment and fulfillment he found in the pursuit of building up young men and teaching life lessons and being successful on and off the field. I think the challenge. I’m a history teacher, so I’m one of those nerdy guys that read a lot, so I think there’s a lotta strategic and tactical back and forth. If they do this, how do we do that? And how do you get our kids prepared for the unknown? A huge one at Kelly Walsh is just the opportunity. I think our coaching staff it’s not me, it’s all of us. We just have the mentality that we’re builders. We didn’t come to maintain something. We came to build something up and do something new and add on to what’s already there, and highlight what’s good that’s there, but bring in some other things. And so I just think the challenge that’s what gets you out of bed every day and makes it an exciting job.
DG: You mentioned developing these young men, and a common theme when you talk to the graduated seniors from Kelly Walsh last year is that they all said, ‘Coach Makelky, he really invested in me not just as a football player but as a human being.’ Why is it so important to you to make that kind of commitment to these kids?
AM: Well, at the end of the day, they’re going to graduate and go on and do other things, and those guys aren’t going to put on football uniforms with us. It’s a pretty empty thing if all you did was win football games. Now, of course, that’s what we’re going to be judged by, and that’s a huge measure of our success, and it is an important measure, but it’s not the only one. Working through a pandemic with them, a lot of us probably had this with colleagues or coworkers, or kids, you have a different relationship with those kids because the adversity that they had to overcome just to show up and have a season was different than anybody I think ever. But that class was special in that they said, ‘Hey, we want to be leaders. We want to be successful. Tell us what to do, and we’ll do it.’ We’re going to miss that. Those guys are great, so I hope they take those lessons with them to college, their job, career in the military, trade school, whatever they go on to do.
DG: Last year, you highlighted QB Trenton Walker as a Trojan to watch. Who is a kid on this year’s team that people should be paying attention to?
AM: There’s a list of them. The one that other people are going to tell you is Cam Burkett, and the physical tools that he has are remarkable. I’ve never coached or coached against a kid that has the combination of size, speed, athleticism, ball skills, football IQ and the big one is selflessness that Cam has. I’m going to give you another name that I think is really gonna turn some heads and people when the season’s done are gonna say, ‘I didn’t know who that guy was.’ But they will, and that’s Chase Ortberg. He’s also gonna be a senior. He’s a big, tall, rangy, athletic guy. He’s a track athlete, a hurdler. He has a skill set that we’ve seen this summer and at some camps. We did some lineman competitions and some other things in his position area that he dominated. He’s a guy that I think people need to pay attention to besides some of the obvious ones like Cam Burkett.
DG: You haven’t beaten Natrona County during your first two years in Casper. What would a win over the Mustangs mean to you and the Kelly Walsh fans?
AM: It might be kind of a cop-out answer, but on the sequence of things we’re focused on, that’s pretty far down the list. The way we approach it, David, is until we get organized and get in a stance and line up and run our base plays we don’t think about any opponents. And then until it’s game week, like Cheyenne South, we’re not going to worry about them until the week of that game. But I’m not naive, and I know that it’s bigger. It’s more personal. There’s family ties, there’s buddies you went to middle school with, and guys who date your girlfriend now, and whatever all those other things you get in a rivalry across east to west side of the same town. It would be big, and I have no idea what that’s going to look like. It’s a couple of games into the regular season, and it’s at their place, so we’ll see if they fly any helicopters in this time and do all the cool stuff. There’s a lot of pomp and circumstance when you play there, and it’s a cool venue, but we’ll see. That’s something Week 4 that we’ll worry about because if we don’t do all this stuff now, we’re not just going to magically show up and beat a great, dominant program, and one that has historically been better than us lately. So we have to focus on ourselves for a while, and then, we’ll get to that.
DG: Really appreciate you taking the time and coming in, and good luck heading into this season.
AM: Thank you for having me, David.
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