New Trinidad High School Football Coach Justin Milano said he wants his players to have a positive experience in their high school athletic careers, and not just focus exclusively on wins and losses. Currently teaching Spanish at Raton High School and living in Raton with his wife, Heather, and two young sons, Milano talked about some principles he believed in in a Wednesday, March 3 interview.
The Mighty Miners football squad has struggled mightily in recent years but Milano said he had some of his own ideas about what success meant on the high school level. “More than just wins on the schedule, I just want to create a winning attitude with the kids,” he said. “I think if the kids are having fun, if they treat each other well and treat the members of their community well, then they’re winning.”
Though a Raton native, both his parents graduated from Trinidad High School and his grandfather, Andy Griego, was a celebrated Miners football player and a welding instructor at TSJC, and his paternal grandmother taught at the former East Elementary School in Trinidad. He said he hopes he’ll be accepted by the inner faithful. “I feel like I’m a homegrown boy from Trinidad. My roots are in Trinidad for sure. I’ve just always respected the Trinidad football program. They’ve got a lot of history. It’s a hard-nosed program and I’m just looking to bring that back. I think there’s a lot of kids still out there who can help do that.”
“Numbers have been down the past couple of years. There are five or six returning starters from last year. I did go have lunch with all the students last Wednesday, just to introduce myself mainly and try to recruit students.”
Wins have been hard to come by for the team in the past couple of years, and he was asked what he planned to do to recruit more players and rebuild the program. “I think more than anything I kind of consider myself a players’ coach. I think I can relate to the kids. I love football but I don’t ever want it to be something that’s more serious than life. I want it to be something that they’ll enjoy and have lasting memories of. That’s what I’m trying to sell them on right now. The experience of high school football.”
He’d like to start a one- or two-week spring camp in May, once the spring sports season is concluded. “I just kind of want to get a feel for the kids. Then we’ll start a five day a week weightlifting program in June, and hopefully go to a full-contact camp at either Adams State University or CSU-Pueblo.”
He doesn’t know who his assistant coaches will be at this point. “The positions have not been opened yet. I have a couple of leads on guys out there. I’m going to ask that they apply, some local guys from Trinidad, so hopefully they’ll be interested.”
He was asked for his thoughts on the nature of competition among players, both day-to-day with each other in practice, and later when competing against other teams, and did he hope to learn as much from his payers as they did from him. “Being a coach for a few years, I’ve learned so much from my student-athletes. Every day in practice should be a competition. Just getting to the line of scrimmage, conditioning, individual and unit drills, it should always be competing against each other and competing, more importantly, against yourself. I’m hoping to build that spirit of competition, and translate that to Friday nights for those boys.”
He noted that being involved in high school could be a great experience. “I’m just so excited. It’s a wonderful game.”
He had some ideas about how to play the game that were in line with the proud Mighty Miners tradition. “Trinidad is historically a running football program. These boys have been born to run the football and we are going to run the football. I’d like to run mostly out of the Wing-T formation on offense.
“On defense I’m an odd-front type of guy. I like to run three and five man fronts. One of my favorite things to do is to blitz. I think the kids love to blitz. There’s a time and a place for it, so you can’t blitz all the time, but I’d like to bring pressure as early and often as we can.”
He was asked if he would have any role with the junior varsity or middle school teams. “Absolutely. With the JV team, I want to be as hands-on as possible with them. I’d like to start a young athletes camp for ages five and up. I just want to get some interest there as well.”
He played football in Raton, graduating in 2003. He then played for four years for the Adams State Grizzlies, playing mostly outside linebacker, and earned his bachelor’s degree in Spanish there. He earned a master’s degree in Education from Eastern New Mexico University. He’ll continue living and teaching Spanish in Raton, where his wife teaches biology, and commute back and forth to football practice in Trinidad.
He wants very much for the Miners to beat the Raton Tigers in the annual Coal Bucket Game. “We want to win the games. All of my mentors are still on the Raton football coaching staff. I have a ton of respect for those guys. They taught me a lot. They’ve all been instrumental in helping me get where I am.”
He described his wife, Heather, as the brain and the backbone of his growing family. “When it comes to sports, she’s there for everything. We definitely like to be outdoors. We go fishing a lot early in the summer. We like to go hiking and spend a lot of time in Cimarron in the summer. We’re on the road a lot visiting family.”
He hopes for complete community involvement in the Miners football program. “I know that Trinidad loves their football and, like I told the boys the other day, that it is, always has been and always will be a football town. I know that they’re interested in seeing quality football in Trinidad again, and I’m hoping they will give the guys on our team all the support they can get. I really think that we can do something special.”