For 12 years, Eric Lauer donned the Mountain Pointe colors as one of the top assistants to both Phil Abbadessa and Norris Vaughan.
He helped build the Pride football program into a powerhouse, gaining national recognition after an undefeated season and state-championship season in 2013. He helped the program stay at a high level until 2018, when Vaughan stepped down as head coach and Rich Wellbrock was hired as his successor.
Lauer took over at Marcos de Niza shortly after, turning that program around and breaking through to the playoffs last season as the No. 15 seed in 4A and upsetting second-ranked Canyon del Oro.
Now as a 2020 season filled with uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic approaches, Lauer once again dons Mountain Pointe’s colors on a daily basis.
This time, however, it’s as head coach.
“This is a place I became so familiar with and a place I cared about,” Lauer said of Mountain Pointe. “To get the opportunity to come back here, it was definitely exciting. I appreciate wearing this logo and we want to get the respect back, but the only way to do that is with hard work.”
Since Lauer’s arrival, there has been a complete overhaul of staff. As many as 10 coaches across all three levels of the program are on campus teaching, a point of emphasis for both Lauer and Athletic Director Aaron Frana, who has been helping coach the offensive line during summer workouts.
Last year, only Wellbrock was on campus.
“It’s huge,” Lauer said. “These kids need to see their coaches. And it’s not just the football program, either. Baseball, basketball, cross country, most of these coaches are on campus now and it will make a difference.”
The several new coaches on the varsity staff this season include Kevin Ramsey, who previously was the head coach at Clark-Atlanta University and the first African American defensive coordinator in the SEC. He will take on that same position for the Pride and be a physical education teacher on campus.
Mike Gibbons, a social studies teacher, will be the offensive coordinator while Giovann Melendez, the school’s equipment manager, is an assistant.
Kenny Lacy, who was one of the top offensive tackles in the nation in the 2013 class out of Mountain Pointe returned to coach the offensive line.
“It’s been a blessing and I’m excited to give these boys a chance to do something bigger than themselves,” said Lacy, who played at UCLA after Mountain Pointe. “That’s what coach Lauer gave us a chance to do here and now I want to turn around and give it back to them. It’s special. I feel thankful to be here.”
Lauer has already shifted the culture in the Mountain Pointe football program. He coined the phrase “Embrace the Chase,” which has different meanings for each player and coach but leads back to one general thought of doing their best every time they step out onto the field.
Devon Sparks, a junior running back and defensive back for the Pride, said the new culture set forth by Lauer and the staff has been easy to embrace.
“Everyone knew things were going to change,” Sparks said. “All we can do is grow from it. I’m pretty happy with the change. This is so much more than just a regular football season with everything going on, but we have really come together.”
Sophomore running back Robert Moore III, who transferred from Chandler in January, said the coaching staff and players have made him feel at home. He became accustomed to the familial atmosphere from his time at Chandler. Now, Moore feels the same type of energy surrounding the Mountain Pointe program.
“Everyone has come together as a family and we all have one main goal,” Moore said. “It’s important to all of us.”
Lauer’s was able to build a relationship with his players through a computer screen due to the virus. It wasn’t until early June he was able to once again come face-to-face with his team in a limited fashion. Tempe Union has since moved onto the second phase of the district’s return-to-play plan, which involves larger groups and the use of shared equipment such as footballs.
Since then, their relationship has grown.
“Last Wednesday, we got better, and I sum that up with trust,” Lauer said. “Last Wednesday, they began to trust us a little more. I can date and mark that. That’s what you look for every so often. In any program, you hope to have players believe in your process, let us establish the culture and as they relax, they give you more.
“We got that out of them and that’s exciting.”
It has become clear that Lauer’s presence has already shifted the direction of the program. Numbers across all three levels are up, athletes from other sports are joining the team and those from other schools looking for an opportunity have chosen Mountain Pointe. Frana said he’s even received calls from parents who share their excitement for the program’s direction.
Expectations are high for those in the program, but not in the way that would reflect in the win/loss column. Lauer aims to set the tone for players both new and old to give it their all on a daily basis in the classroom and on the field.
So far, they’ve been able to do just that.
“I would expect teams to see discipline and accountability from us right away,” Lauer said. “Of course, I don’t know what that will look like on the scoreboard, but I expect fans to see a new group.
“Once we really start to get going, I want to see us get better every week. That’s my expectation right now.”