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Q&A with Ryan Knowles, Sandpoint High School Football Coach

On the attack, on and off the field By Abigail Thorpe | Photo by Jason Duchow Photography

Coach Knowles Sandpoint

Ryan Knowles played football for Sandpoint High School, graduating in 1997. He went on to play football for the University of Idaho, receive an education degree, and pursue his dream job: coaching. A year and a half teaching and coaching in Seattle, working as a graduate assistant coach for the University of Idaho football team, and then 12 years of coaching at Colgate University in New York later, Knowles had an opportunity to come back to coach for his home high school team. He, his wife and two kids moved back four years ago, and he’s been building the program ever since, carrying on the family coaching torch.

When he’s not focused on all things football and the team, you’ll find Coach Knowles with his family, fishing, riding UTVs and enjoying all that Sandpoint has to offer—there are not many places you can go from swimming in the lake one day to a 7,000-foot peak the next. That’s Sandpoint for him.

Q. What do you love most about Sandpoint, and what stands out about the community here?

A. Just being from here, a tremendous source of pride. I heard this from a lot of different people—you've got to move away sometimes to know what you had. When I got back here, I realized we vacationed here every year that I was gone. For the opportunity to coach a team that helped build me and live in a place that we vacation, it’s kind of an unbelievable opportunity.

Moving to New York, I didn't know anybody. My wife and I had to carve our life out of nothing. Moving back, it’s the opposite. We have all of our family around us, I have a ton of friends around here. The community is so supportive, they’re excited—it shows in everything we do. When I need something, I have a bunch of resources to go and talk to about getting it done. I have the energy, I just don't always have the resources, but the community does, and they provide that. It's been a great relationship so far.

Q. What have been some highlights of your Bulldogs coaching experience?

A. The first year is always tough. I got here late, so I didn’t really have an off season. My dad was the defensive line coach for the first two years. That was definitely a highlight being able to coach with him. The first year was tough, but our ability to beat Lakeland that year and get in the playoffs—that was a really big deal for that team at that time. It was a big step for us as a program, we needed that, and the boys played really well. The following year we had a solid team that really helped turn the tide as far as the culture. The following year was COVID. I will never forget the COVID year—that team showed up the day we were allowed to come back, ready to work. We went all the way to the semifinals that year and really stepped up. And last year, that was a fantastic team. We fought tooth and nail all the way to the state championship.

When I first got here, to think we would be the first-ranked team going into the playoffs and being in the state championship—I wanted to do that, but I wasn’t sure of the path that was gonna get us there, other than hard work. I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take, and the boys bought in and got us a long way last year, and the expectation is even that much higher this year.

Q.What is most exciting/rewarding about serving as head football coach?

A. For every time I lie awake at night worrying about football, there's four times I worry about these boys not being the best people they can be—although it's a little mind numbing thinking that I can raise 140 boys on top of my own two kids. They all get a little piece of my mentoring every day, and that's very rewarding to me. It’s not about the monetary compensation—and every coach across the country will tell you that—it's about the influence.

Q. What do you hope to help your students achieve in the year to come, both athletically and personally?

A. I have a vision I want to see out of this thing all year long. A team is from August to November, but our program is all year long. This whole process about taking a ninth-grade boy to a young adult as a senior. I like to facilitate that process of getting them to mature and get ready for the real world.

I want to teach them to be on the attack in everything that they do. In all my years of coaching, the best players and teams I've been around, they don't just play football, they do more. They get great grades, they hold jobs, they hold relationships, they handle their business. I’m really trying to teach these kids to attack life, go do everything. Don’t say, “I can’t do this because I’m doing that,” do both. Our motto this year is “sick 'em”; it fits us, it fits our Bulldog mascot, it represents everything I want out of them as they approach their jobs, college, a trade school, the work force, personal relationships. Be on the attack, demand a lot of yourself, expect a lot, don’t just settle. Don’t sit back, go get it.

Q. What role has sports played in your own life, and how has this impacted your work in the community?

A. I've been a jock my whole life—I like sports, it's always been an escape for me. Football has always been a game changer for me. It's always just been who I am. It's why I coach. I know every kid I coach isn't going to coach someday. I hope that they think about it. I hope they love the sport as much as I do. I’ve got a big group of my friends around me—there's guys coaching with me right now that I graduated with, years in front of me, years behind me.

I try to help out [in the community] as much as I can with the boys. I think it's really valuable for them to get out there. We try to get guys out with the Long Bridge Swim to help out with that. We always volunteer to help out with the Bonner County Fair. Lost in the ‘50s has always been a big fundraiser for us. The boys did a Toys for Tots drive last year and raised $10,000 for the kids. I'm always looking for opportunities to give back—I really challenge them to get out and do this stuff.

Q. Any particular person or experience who has influenced you most and helped shape how you approach work and life?

A. I'd say my dad. He's always been a rock to me, backed up bySatini Puailoa, my high school coach.Nick Hull—he gave me my first job as a college coach—was a tremendous influence on me and how I try to run a team and a defense. I'd say my 12 years at Colgate were really influential on me in a lot of different ways. The whole experience in general was invaluable. From an influential standpoint, I’d say my family and my dad.

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