OGDEN — College coaches run in similar circles, so head coaches often make mental notes of possible assistants they might like to one day join their staff.
Jay Hill says that was the case for his most recent Weber State football hires, especially those who weren’t promoted from within. He hired Jared Ursua away from Southern Utah to coach receivers and brought Matt Hammer aboard to coach linebackers from Weber High School.
“Before I ever hired those guys, they were high on my list,” Hill said. “I interviewed Matt Hammer before and knew I wanted to get him hired sometime.”
The opportunity came when longtime assistant Colton Swan went to the University of Utah. Hammer, once WSU’s offensive coordinator, often called offensive plays at Weber High. But he’s stepped in for Swan to coach inside linebackers.
Not too odd, Hill says.
“The best coaches are the ones who can teach, who can relate to people in recruiting and on the field, the ones who can gain the trust of their players and colleagues,” he said, adding that new coaches Hammer, Ursua and Skyler Ridley could “coach any position and all three of those guys would be successful at it.”
Hammer sees the transition from offense to defense as a positive.
“With our defensive staff, my background of being on the offensive side of the ball and bringing that perspective, it’s ‘this is what makes it hard, this is what’s hard to block, what’s hard to play against,’” Hammer said. “That perspective for our coaches and in our linebacker group, I think I can have an interesting, unique perspective that way.”
Hill, who also doubles as WSU’s defensive coordinator, agrees.
“Hammer’s perspective coming from an offensive coordinator to the defensive staff room has been huge. I love having that extra guy in the room that knows what the offense is trying to do,” he said.
So why did Hammer, who once left Weber State for the high school ranks, want to return to Stewart Stadium? Hill, and what he’s building, were at the top of the list.
“Jay Hill is special, the staff here is special,” Hammer said. “You get on some of these staffs — some of the staffs when I was here before, not everybody has the best interests of the other coaches in the building. It’s more the I-me-my attitude instead of us-we-ours.
“None of the guys are afraid of work. It’s important to everybody. There’s a lot of pride in each group. And with that, it makes the unity part we have very good with our staff. That’s been awesome with this transition.”
Time is scarce for college coaches when you factor in recruiting, practice, film study, travel for games and more. Hill has nailed details as far down as the daily schedule in a way that builds program health for coaches and players, Hammer said.
“The schedule part of how organized it is, the things we do, how coach Hill has set it up is awesome. We know exactly what to expect every day,” he said. “When my wife knows what to expect, it’s a lot better that way.”
Alongside Grant Duff, Hammer coaches a linebackers group that is replacing two pretty big spots left by LeGrand Toia and Landon Stice. Hammer said his group does consist of proven guys, like senior Auston Tesch, who have earned their keep but still practice like they’re hungry.
Other linebackers have been eager for their opportunity after waiting their turn behind the two all-conference talents.
“Some of them have grabbed it and run with it, and that’s been fun to be around and to coach,” he said. “Being in a position group where there’s a lot of playing time still to be earned, you get a lot out of your guys every day ... I really like the personality and the people in the group.”
As fall camp has progressed, sophomore Noah Vaea and junior Conner Mortensen have spent a lot of time with Tesch at linebacker on the No. 1 defense.
Hammer left behind his Warriors team after six years at Weber High. He said he’d keep tabs on his former team anyway, but his recruiting assignment (North Salt Lake to the Idaho border) gives him further reason to be an expert on high school players in the area.
It’s something the Clearfield High alumnus takes seriously.
“I grew up in Clinton, so it’s important to me to do my job the right way,” Hammer said. “If kids have the ability and should be here, and we need to recruit them, I need to win those battles to get them here.”