Scores of Lake Oswego High football players are assembled in the locker room on this Wednesday for the weekly pre-practice message from coach Jeff Young.

Young, afflicted with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), sits in his wheelchair as fellow assistant Frank Everhart reads the first part of the motivational talk, focusing on honor and respect. Young follows, struggling to speak clearly, imploring the players that they have a responsibility to conduct themselves with class while wearing the Laker navy and white uniform.

After a hearty ovation for Young, head coach Steve Coury follows with a summarization.

“Do it not only here, but in the school and in the community,” Coury says. “There’s an honor to being part of the Lake Oswego football program. There’s an honor to carrying on the tradition. Jeff’s message is, keep doing what we do, and doing it the right way.”

Doing it the right way is what Coury has been about for 21 years at the helm of the Lake Oswego program. It’s why Coury dedicated the team’s first state championship last year to Young, who has been with the program for eight years, even has his health has declined.

“Steve is the Pied Piper of Lake Oswego,” says Brian Newcomer, a former teammate at Oregon State and a member of Coury’s Laker staff for all 21 seasons. “He never excludes anyone. If you have something to contribute, you’re on board.”

Coury is most proud of the loyalty he has inspired through two decades of coaching on the Lake Oswego campus. There is a new photo mural on the wall of the locker room with the inscription, “Tradition Never Graduates.”

Part of the Lake Oswego tradition is former players returning for a Thanksgiving Day practice. Since the Lakers have reached at least the state quarterfinals the past dozen years, they’re still going strong on Thanksgiving.

“Last year, we probably had 50 alums come back for that practice, and they talk to our kids,” Coury says. “Some of them go back 18, 19 years ago to our first teams. A lot of them come to our games and keep in touch with me and our other coaches.

“That’s a statement. That’s the meaningful part of coaching to me.”

Make no mistake about it, winning is integral to Coury’s mission in coaching. He’s done enough of it to dispel any notions otherwise.

Under his watch, the Lakers have reached at least the state quarterfinals 12 straight years, including eight trips to the semifinals and four visits to the state finals. But last year’s title victory over Sheldon was a first for the program that has ranked alongside Jesuit’s as the most consistent in the state’s 6A ranks since the turn of the century.

Coury, though, didn’t regard the championship as validation of him as a coach, or the Lakers as a program.

“I never have felt like that, ever,” he says. “As each year went by and we got so close, everybody talked about it. It was never something I had to have before I could leave coaching or finalize my resume.

“It was great to do, because that was the goal. When you start with the goal, that’s what you want to reach. But what identifies our program is all the things you do that makes a difference in a kid’s life. That’s really what a high school program is about. That’s the only reason I do this. I’m not doing this to win a state title.”

Coury savors the feeling of what took place in the PGE Park stands last December after the title game.

“At least an hour after the game, after all the interviews and the celebration and stuff, I looked up in the stands and it looked like everybody was still there,” he says. “People who are a part of the program, people who have been a part of the program, members of the community. They stayed for the duration, till we loaded onto the bus and went home.

“It was a huge compliment to the program and what we have built. There were so many people who were excited for me, but it didn’t have that much personal meaning to me other to me than my whole family was there. For the whole group of Lakers, it was a huge accomplishment. That’s what meant more to me than anything else.”

Coury took the job on a lark. After three years as an assistant coach at the University of Pittsburgh, he moved to Lake Oswego and settled in working in sales, first with Columbia Body & Equipment and then with a carpet company. He turned down an offer to coach the Lakers a couple of times.

“My wife and I had two little kids at the time, and the recruiting and grind of being away from home got to me,” he says. “I didn’t want to miss my kids growing up.”

Finally, he was talked into taking the coaching job.

“I said I’d do it for a year,” he says.

Coury asked two teammates at OSU, Newcomer and Karl Halberg, to serve on his staff.

“I told (Lake Oswego administrators), ‘After this year, you guys need to do it right. Hire somebody in the (school) building,’ " Coury says.

Twenty-one years later, “all three of us are still here,” Coury says with a laugh.

“We’re such good friends,” says Newcomer, who coaches linebackers. “I was best man in Karl’s wedding and was in Steve’s wedding. Steve was best man in my wedding. We’ve been through a lot of tough times together. We’ve always had each other’s back.”

Coury, who does not teach at the school, could not afford to coach high school football if not for his position as Oregon/Southwest Washington sales rep for FieldTurf.

“It allows me the flexibility to coach, and coaching is good for business,” Coury says.

Many of Coury’s coaches have been with him for a number of years. They have all helped build what was once a mediocre program into a powerhouse, but there is no question who is the chief of staff.

“Steve is such a great leader,” Newcomer says. “The kids love him. He gets the parents to buy in. In our program, parents are fans, not coaches. Kids are players, coaches are coaches, and it’s really about family and loving one another. And it’s 100 percent genuine. That’s Steve.”

The 2012 Lakers, ranked No. 2 in the state behind Jesuit, opened the season with a 34-0 win at Olympia, Wash., last Friday. They open their home season Friday night against Centennial without much thought toward defending their state title.

“Our kids never talk about it,” Coury says. “I don’t feel any different than any other year, I really don’t. We’re back to starting again, and these guys want to have their own identity. These seniors want to make it their own deal. Their goal is like it is every year around here. We want to be playing our best ball at playoff time.

“We’d love to end the last game with a win, but there’s no pressure. I feel good about their approach.”

The Lakers return only seven starters, but Coury says that’s pretty usual.

“What’s happened with our program, we play a lot of seniors,” he says. “Guys wait their turn to play and finally get their opportunity.”

Gone are quarterback Alex Matthews, tailback Steven Long and receiver Stevie Coury, the coach’s son. Pretty good talent is on hand, though, and Coury is confident the Lakers will field a contender again.

Coury, 54, is already laying a legacy, with few peers in the state. His record at Lake Oswego is 177-56 — 139-24 since 2000, when the Lakers began a string of 12 straight league championships or co-championships. They are working on a 43-game league win streak.

There have been opportunities to move to the college level, as a Division I assistant or head coach of a lower-level program. He has turned them down, and likely will in the future. His oldest son, J.T., is a member of his coaching staff now, and Stevie will walk on as a grayshirt at Oregon State in the winter. Daughter Abby also is a Lake Oswego High grad.

“I’m content here,” he says. “With it just being my wife (Nancy) and I at home now, maybe things will change, but it would take a lot to get me to leave. We’ve built a great program in so many ways.

“What motivates me is still being able to relate to the kids. What we have is special. The letters, the emails, the calls, the thank yous I get from places like Afghanistan and Iraq. ... you get what I mean.

“For me, that’s the championship, that’s the ring, that’s the trophy — it really is. If my enthusiasm and love for everything I’m doing starts to change, that’s when I’ll bail out of it.”

I don’t see Coury is bailing any time soon. There’s a family to tend to, and it encompasses an awful lot of folks who call Lake Oswego their team.

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