The Wildcats of Richfield High School will meet their new head coach Monday, June 25.
Jason Hitchens was announced last week as the new head football coach for the RHS football program.
“It’s kind of an unusual transition,” Hitchens said. He completes his current teaching job in California, Friday, June 22, and is set to be in Utah the following day.
“It’ll be the first time I get to meet my players,” Hitchens said. “Three or four months from now it’s going to be the norm. I’ll be the coach, they’ll be the players and we’ll be family chasing success.”
Hitchens comes with a football coaching pedigree that would be hard to match, said Rich Barton, athletic director for RHS.
Hitchens served as an assistant coach at Mater Dei High School. Later he successfully led his teams as a head coach to four semi-finals and five league titles in nine years.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” Hitchens said. “I started with a very successful program at Mater Dei … that’s bound to rub off on you.”
At St. Margaret’s he went 14-0 and won the school’s first CIF state title. At Corona Del Mar he took a program that had previously gone 3-7 to a 10-3 record and its first league title in 22 years. That team advanced to the CIF semi-finals. His overall coaching record was 71-33-2.
He said coaching in southern California gave him the opportunity not only to work with great coaches, but to face them on game nights.
“That competitiveness forces you to bring the A-game,” Hitchens said. “I’ve been mentored by quality coaches.”
For Hitchens, football has been a lifelong endeavor. He started playing tackle football in the third grade, and remained on the field through high school and played five years in college — attending Portland State on a football scholarship.
After college, Hitchens worked as a government contractor, and for a sheriff’s office in Oregon. However, something was missing — the game. So he moved to southern California and began his teaching and coaching career.
Hitchens said he stepped away from coaching in 2011 to focus and devote more time to his young family.
“It was a difficult decision,” Hitchens said. He said years spent developing a team culture and then turning it over to someone else was a hard thing to do.
“I felt like I was turning over the keys to a Ferrari,” Hitchens said. “I felt like it was more important to be a better husband and father.”
Now that his children, ages 13, 11, 10 and 8, are a little older, Hitchens said he was looking for a more family friendly environment to continue to raise his family. The Orange County of his youth has transformed during the past 40 years, transitioning from a place filled with orange orchards to urban sprawl.
Also, he’s ready to get back into the game.
“This is different from any other position I’ve taken,” Hitchens said. “In the past I’ve been able to take my assistant coaches with me.”
While Richfield is going to be very different from southern California, the principles are the same.
“Football is football,” Hitchens said. He said any program’s aim is to take the players, their skills and their strengths and maximize them for success.
“It’s not what you do, but how you do it,” Hitchens said.
“We feel very fortunate to hire coach Hitchens, who is making a family first decision to leave California and raise his family here,” Barton said. “He had multiple coaching offers in California that he turned down because this is the community that he wants to live, teach and coach in. He will be an outstanding educator and coach for the Wildcats.”
Hitchens is taking over the reigns of the ’Cat program from Eric Thorson, who is currently helping the team start its summer conditioning. The team began with its annual run to the R, which is located west of town, Monday morning.
“We’ve greatly appreciated departing coach Eric Thorson’s leadership and coaching,” Barton said. “Over the last four years he has established a great culture and foundation. We respect his family first decision to move on to Preston, Idaho, which is his wife’s hometown and is within 30 minutes of his family. We have no doubt that he will continue to influence students and student athlete’s lives for good in Idaho.”