ST. GEORGE — Halfway through his first season as head coach, Dixie High’s Andy Stokes found himself facing one of those moments when saying just the right thing could make all the difference.
It was the first day of October, still smoldering hot in St. George.
Walt Brooks Stadium was empty and silent, the home game long since lost by the Dixie Flyers. Only three people lingered: Stokes, Flyers defensive coordinator Wayne Alofipo and DHS quarterback Zak Harrah, who had thrown five interceptions on the Brooks Stadium turf earlier that evening against Snow Canyon.
So, a rookie head coach and a rookie quarterback had one of those season-defining moments.
“In 2012 when we won state, we lost to Snow Canyon at the end of the regular season and it was actually a blessing,” said Alofipo, who was an assistant on that team along with Stokes. “That loss and the one this year against Snow Canyon turned out the same way. It kept us humble. It kept us hungry.”
Stokes assured Harrah that things would be all right. He told his frustrated quarterback the story of 2012, how the Flyers swept through the playoffs and won the state title, how they used the loss to fuel an intense desire to get better, to seek perfection, how the loss was actually a blessing in disguise.
“Coach, I promise to work even harder than I have to make that happen,” was all Harrah said.
Dixie hasn’t lost since, sweeping through the rest of region play, then beating Pine View and Tooele in the 3AA playoffs. Certainly, Harrah and the Flyers learned from that home loss. But so did Stokes, Alofipo and the rest of the Dixie coaching staff.
“We’ve built a lot here the past eight years or so and I didn’t want to have there be any kind of drop off when Coach (Blaine) Monkres left,” Stokes said. “The great thing is that even though he left — and he’s a football genius — the rest of the coaching staff stayed pretty much intact. There wasn’t a whole lot of change in how we do things.”
Monkres, who Stokes said is his mentor and one of his best friends, coached Dixie to a pair of state titles before taking a job as the offensive coordinator for Dixie State University last summer.
“I talk to him as much as I can,” Stokes said. “You can never get enough of a great mind like that one. We’re best friends.”
Because Dixie has been so good, Stokes said it was important that the players in the program felt continuity. He has tweaked things to his liking, but the basic philosophy, from practice to game day, has stayed the same.
“Not much has changed, except he’s put his own personal touch on a few things,” said assistant coach Sam Stevens. “Andy was heavily involved in the offense last year and so the system is pretty close to the same.”
Like Monkres, Stokes is a head coach who is not afraid to delegate. Alofipo, who Stokes calls “the best defensive coordinator in the state of Utah at any level,” has carte blanche with the defense.
“Who am I to tell him anything about defense?” Stokes said. “He knows what he’s doing and I let him do it. My role with the defense is to just help him be successful.”
Alofipo said the only time the two may disagree is when it comes down to who gets which players.
“I always tell him that we need to have a draft in the summer and see which players can go both ways and which ones are off-limits,” Alofipo said. “Seriously, we try not to play kids on both sides of the ball. We only have two kids who have gone both ways this year.”
Stokes and Alofipo are joined at the hip in many ways. They both played football at Dixie State before moving on to four-year schools. They both returned to St. George and played semi-pro football. And they both began coaching at Dixie High six years ago with the Flyer freshman program.
“I was 100 percent in his camp when the job came open last year,” Alofipo said. “I told him if he got the job, I would stay as defensive coordinator, but if anyone else got it, I was not interested. We trust each other. We have a nice chemistry.”
Stokes does differ in one aspect from his mentor Monkres — he loves to run the football.
“With Blaine, passing the ball was his default, he loved it,” Stokes said. “As a former tight end and lineman, I love the running game. The past few games, we’ve averaged about 40 runs and 22 passes. That’s what I prefer. Plus, it helps having Tre Miller in the backfield.”
Miller has rushed for more than 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns this season as the lone back in the spread offense.
“One of the things I tell Zak is that he doesn’t have to do it all,” Stokes said. “We have a lot of weapons on this team.”
Stokes, who played tight end at William Penn University from 2001-2004, was drafted with the last pick in the 2005 NFL draft by the New England Patriots, earning him the nickname “Mr. Irrelevant” for that year.
As the Flyers prepare to defend their state title, and perhaps capture their third in the past four years, Stokes has definitely been relevant to his team in 2015.
“The kids love him,” Stevens said. “We all have a blast and we all love each other. That’s one of those things that maybe we don’t talk about much in football, but we do love each other. There’s a family togetherness at Dixie that makes us all work and play harder for each other.”
And that starts at the top.
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