Glendale gets new coach filled with passion

Although his dad had a pretty good run as a high school football coach in the 1980s, Gary Walstrom wasn’t looking to follow in his footsteps.

“I really didn’t think about getting into coaching until I had to go an extra year to Geneva [College],” Walstrom said. “The coach asked me if I wanted to be an undergrad assistant.”

The bug bit the younger Walstrom then.

Now he’s hoping to pass his enthusiasm to the players at Glendale High School. Walstrom recently was hired to be the new head coach of the Vikings, who he was instrumental in helping turn around on the field almost a decade ago.

At 24 – he turns 25 in June – Walstrom will be one of the youngest head coaches in the state. He replaces another of the youngest head coaches in the state, Matt Irvine, who guided Glendale to the playoffs two years ago when Walstrom was one of his assistants.

The Vikings sputtered to a 2-8 finish in 2013, missing the playoffs for only the second time in eight years since Walstrom and Irvine were seniors, and lost 13 players to graduation, including leading rusher Kyle Stewart and starting quarterback Tyler Potutschnig. Walstrom, however, is up for the challenge.

“I felt the opportunity was right this year,” Walstrom said.

Walstrom was one of three applicants for the opening, Glendale athletic director John Matchock said.

“He has a good college background. He played at Glendale. Then he went on to play [junior college ball] at Valley Forge. Then he went on to play at Geneva and helped coach there. He was an assistant coach here for a year. I think all those things played [into his hiring],” Matchock said.

Another factor working in Walstrom’s favor is that he’ll be in the school building. Walstrom just was hired a few months ago as a sixth grade teacher at Glendale, which will allow him to have more contact with the players. Irvine wasn’t employed by the district.

“It isn’t a necessity, but I think it helps,” Matchock said. “You’re in school. You’re able to see the kids. When they get out of school, you get out of school. Plus, if you are from the outside, those people usually have jobs and it restricts their ability to get there on time.”

Walstrom was a standout fullback and linebacker on the 2006 Glendale team that went 8-3 and won the school’s first-ever District 6 playoff game. The Vikings had not finished better than .500 in the previous 20 years.

After that, Walstrom went to Valley Forge Military Academy and then to Geneva. At Valley Forge, he had the chance to play with several Division I football players, including one who actually went on to play pro football.

“Just being around different players and programs really opens up your mind,” Walstrom said. “You learn a lot.”

Walstrom said he’s been pleased with the turnout for offseason weight lifting so far and already has made arrangements for the Vikings to participate in passing camps and leagues at Hollidaysburg and Corry. However, he wants to implement a physical style at Glendale similar to that with which he played.

“We’ll be a run-style offense and an odd-front defense, mainly because that’s what I played and what I’m used to,” Walstrom said. “I want a team that won’t quit. Every game, we won’t ever give up.”

One of Glendale’s other issues in recent years was a lack of coaches. Last year, the Vikings had three assistants. Walstrom hopes to change that.

“I would definitely like to bring more in. We need more than three. I’ve talked to a bunch of guys. I’d like to get it to seven or eight,” Walstrom said.

Walstrom’s father, also named Gary, probably will be part of the staff – the elder Walstrom is retiring as high school principal at Glendale but has remained involved in the football program as an assistant even after his head coaching run ended. However, the Walstroms might have to dig hard to build the staff up.

“All schools are struggling financially. Right now, the school only pays for two assistants. I know, in the past, the boosters have helped and give some money to anyone who wanted to volunteer, but it’s obviously not as much as an assistant paid through the school,” Matchock said. “Being a small school, I think Gary’s going to have to rely on some volunteers.”