Russ Koenig is head coach of the girls' flag football team at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind (FSDB) in St. Augustine, Fla. In late March, he became the first recipient of the girls flag football edition of the Jaguars' Whataburger High School Coach of the Week honor following his team's 32-12 victory in their season opener over Baldwin High School. As the winner, the FDSB Dragons were rewarded $800 to use towards their school's athletic program and Koenig also received free Whataburger for a year.
Koenig developed a passion for youth football at a young age and went on to play tight end collegiately at Gallaudet University. On hand to present the award was Jaguars Director of Player Development and Youth Football Marcus Pollard, a 14-year NFL veteran at the same position.
"Russ represents all that this award embodies," said Pollard. "Passion and creativity, he brings all of that and more to his student athletes at FSDB. On behalf of the Jaguars, it's my honor to recognize him for going above and beyond in growing the game of football."
As a coach, Koenig is hoping to pass on more than just skills and technique.
"What you learn from the field, it really does apply off the field and even applies to other sports - commitment, dedication, sportsmanship," Koenig said. "Of course, we really want to improve their skill set, techniques and their basic understanding of the sport."
The 2019 FSDB girls' flag team consists entirely of underclassman, the majority of whom are just learning the game for the first time. All participants are hearing impaired, which often prevented them from participating in neighborhood youth sports growing up. This season they've scored in every game they've played, an improvement upon last year's record.
"My philosophy changes depending on the season and next year it might be 'You must be the champion! You must win this year!'" said Koenig. "For now, we're just encouraging the team, helping them to learn and appreciate the sport as a whole."
Playing the game of football without the benefit of hearing presents an entirely new set of challenges for these students according to Koenig, who himself is also hearing impaired.
"The hearing have an advantage because the coach will tell the players what to do even when they aren't looking at the coach because they can hear them," he said. "Sometimes I have to get my players attention like 'Hey, look at me over here, tap your friends next to you, have them look at me so I can talk to them.' We practice to constantly look at the coach for that direction. That's one of the things we're working on this year."
Coach Koenig isn't letting anything slow down his team. His offensive features more than 90 plays, including a few tricks up his sleeve. He's created an entirely visual playbook based on pictures instead of words that has helped the girls with comprehension and retention of the offense. Each player sports an armband that they can easily reference mid-game.
"They are a special team of girls and they are going to be learning throughout the season," he said.
FSDB is a member of the Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA). Girls flag football is one of 11 team sports in which students can compete with public and private schools across the state and nation. School coaching personnel work with about 300 student-athletes each year. For more information about FSDB athletics, please click here.