LOGAN – Travis Van Leeuwen knows he is facing a challenge.
For his first head coaching job, the former Utah State wide receiver is taking over a high school football program that has managed just three wins in the past two seasons. After winning the state championship in 2015, the Logan High Grizzlies have gone 3-17 since.
Van Leeuwen was named the head coach of the struggling program earlier this month.
“I’m a young coach, but I really am excited for the opportunity,” he said. “I feel I bring a lot of energy and passion and can really bring great relationships with these players and I think that is what it is all about, is the players.”
Van Leeuwen has a lot of work ahead of him, but he has been a part of turn-around, come-back football programs before. In his first season playing at Utah State, the 2010 Aggies went 4-8 overall and 2-6 in conference. The team went to its first bowl appearance in 14 years during his sophomore season, then won a bowl game and the WAC conference championship the following year. During his senior season, the Aggies won the Mountain West’s Mountain Division title and beat nationally-ranked Northern Illinois in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Van Leeuwen said he wants to build the same kind of culture at Logan High he witnessed first-hand at Utah State.
“I learned a lot from the coaching staff that was here when I was at Utah State so I want to mirror my coaching off of them,” he said. “So the biggest thing is coming in, building a culture, getting a positive mindset with the players and a self-belief that everything we do is positive.”
To help with that, Van Leeuwen is strongly considering fellow former USU players to join him on his staff, and he already has specific guys in mind he believes would be positive role models.
“Why not bring former Aggies?” he said. “With me playing for Utah State and receiving a lot of love from the Logan community I want to be able bring on others like myself, guys with ties to the local communities.”
After graduating from USU, Van Leeuwen began attending NFL mini camps in hopes of landing on a roster, but it didn’t work out.
“I had some good camps but my body was just wearing down,” he said, “so that kind of put an end to things for me.”
After those plans fell through, he took his wife and newborn baby to California where he worked in sales, but it wasn’t long until Van Leeuwen was back at football. He joined the coaching staff at Timpview High, his high school alma mater, but he and his wife felt they wanted to go back to Cache Valley. Without a job lined up, they moved, and soon had another coaching gig.
“I was able to get on Sky View’s staff which was an incredible experience,” he said. “I’ll never forget it, there were so many great memories there.”
Van Leeuwen credited former USU head coach Gary Andersen, current head coach Matt Wells and Sky View head coach Danilo Robinson – another former Aggie – with helping him continue to learn the game. He said he will take things from each and bring it to Logan High.
“What I want to bring to the table is what we ran during my time at Utah State,” he said. “I also want to bring in a few wrinkles of what I learned at Timpview.”
That includes the offensive style familiar to Aggie football fans.
“I want to do a no-huddle spread, kind of like I had when I was at Utah State, with the ability to tempo,” he said. “So we can go up-tempo when we want, we can slow the pace down when we want. I’ve always really loved that style of football.”
Van Leeuwen said he has had the opportunity to meet the team and believes he has talent to work with. Logan High’s roster was a young players in 2017 with a lot of underclassmen playing significant minutes.
One player that wasn’t with the team was Jonny Parkinson, who started at the quarterback spot for Logan High as a freshman, but then left to play for one a top high school program in California. Parkinson recently told AIM Sports TV he was returning to Logan to support his friend who is battling cancer.
“I’m excited to go back and play for Logan High and play with him watching me from the stands,” he said. “I’d love to give it my all.”
Van Leeuwen said he is working on getting licensed to be able to teach Special Education at Logan High.