COLUMBIA — It’s just the beginning of the season for the Rock Bridge High School football team. But for defensive coordinator Justin Conyers, it’s the beginning of the end.
In January, Conyers agreed to become the first head football coach at Battle High School, a third public high school in Columbia that will open its doors for the 2013-2014 school year. This fall, he will complete a ninth and final season as Rock Bridge’s defensive coordinator and assistant head coach before taking his traditions across town.
In the heat of Rock Bridge two-a-days, Conyers said the Bruins currently have his full attention, and newly-hired Battle athletic director Matthew Hale said he fully supports that commitment.
At the start of preseason camp on Aug. 6, Conyers made a slight change to the system he and head coach A.J. Ofodile have honored since coming together in 2004. Rather than opening the new season by setting the defense’s season goals himself, Conyers passed the honor to his seniors.
“I told them what they meant to me, because some of those guys have been here since their freshman year, so (I’ve had) four years with them,” Conyers said. “It’s a great group of guys, so I’m really pleased that I get to leave Rock Bridge with this group of seniors.”
The process of setting defensive goals is the only real change to how Conyers approaches his job at Rock Bridge, he said.
The dedication to routine goes back to the coaching staff, a group of friends that has mostly remained intact since it took on the Rock Bridge project nine years ago. Ofodile said he has had only one other assistant take a football job elsewhere, returning after just one season. But Ofodile said he and his staff were thrilled to see Conyers reach the head coaching position he had long coveted.
When Ofodile hired Conyers to be his defensive coordinator in 2004, Conyers said his boss took a leap of faith on a 23-year-old fresh out of college. Ofodile said he did so because the young man he saw was one he trusted to build up young athletes on and off the football field.
“He’s a meticulous guy and a tireless worker,” said Ofodile, who is 40-42 in eight seasons with Conyers. “He’s a guy that puts a ton of time into whatever he does. He’s very detail-oriented and very organized. I think they (Battle) are getting a really, really high-level head coach.”
Ofodile said knowing about Conyers’ new job a year in advance will help make the final year as good as it can be. The Bruins have accordingly accelerated their goals this time around, Conyers said. They're looking to fare better than last year’s 10-9 first-round playoff defeat to Rockhurst that punctuated a 7-4 campaign.
Conyers said he enjoys football for the adrenaline rush it provides him every day of the week. His favorite part of the job is getting to know the players outside of practice, when shoulder pads and sweat aren’t clouding their personalities.
“That’s what’s kind of rough. Even with my younger-class kids, each year you build relationships,” he said. “You have those bonds with certain kids. It’s going to be hard to leave.”
Conyers' appreciation of his student-athletes is a two-way street, senior defensive tackle A.J. Logan said.
“I love having him on defense,” he said. “He relates to us really well. He’s like one of the players. He treats us like family, so I’m glad he stayed with us one last year.”