It’s another high school football preseason and Lance Uehling, after a three-year layoff, is back on the field in the hot summer sun as an assistant coach.
This time, however, he’s wearing a new cap without the black-and-gold.
After years as a football, wrestling and baseball coach at Apache Junction High, Uehling is helping with Imagine Prep-Superstition’s football rebuild.
“These are AJ kids, first and foremost,” Uehling said. “They’re part of this community. It doesn’t matter what school it is.
“I love the Prospectors – I am a Prospector. I graduated from Apache Junction High School in 1990. I’ve coached there on and off with the youth wrestling and football programs.
“This opportunity came; I don’t have the best schedule, doing what I do, and I wouldn’t be able to make to Apache Junction High for their practices. Apache Junction football is a year-round thing and you need to be committed,” he continued.
“You have to give these kids 110 percent of your time. If you don’t, it’s unfair to the program, it’s unfair to the kids, and more importantly, it’s unfair to the school.”
Giving a shout out to Coach Vance Miller and the Prospectors’ coaches and players, Uehling added, “I’m proud of them, but there’s also this team (Imagine Prep). These are Imagine Prep kids of Apache Junction. Coach (Jeremy) Brigham offered me a job that could work with my schedule and I took the opportunity to get back to coaching football.
“Some people may say that I switched schools, but I haven’t switched schools. I’m just branching out,” he added. “I love Apache Junction. We have Prospectors and Panthers. They’re just kids of AJ. This is a building block for them.”
Uehling also welcomed the opportunity to coach alongside Brigham, the Panthers’ new head coach and a Valley native who played four years in the NFL with Oakland.
“He’s been to the top. He’s been to the dance (Super Bowl),” Uehling said. “I don’t know how much longer I can do this physically, but I’m going to give these kids everything I have.”
Brigham said, “He’s great at developing players. We have similar personalities, and I see similarities in our coaching styles, which is really refreshing. I think he’s good for some of the other coaches too.
“He’s an experienced coach, and he’s an AJ guy; he’s lived here his entire life. Not only is he super knowledgeable of football, he’s also knowledgeable about people and has great people skills. His life experiences hits home with a lot of people.
“It’s real enjoyable to work with Coach Uehling. It’s fun to work with people like him and it’s a joy to spend time with him. It’s one thing if you respect a coach in X’s and O’s, but I’m really enjoying my time really enjoy working with all of my coaches, and Coach Uehling.”
Uehling last coached football three years ago, before taking a break to watch his children play sports.
“My oldest boy, Mark, was wrestling in college and selfishly, I wanted to see my kids performing,” Uehling said. “Mark was in Rhode Island, Michael graduated from Kansas Tech, and you only get a snapshot with your kids. I took that opportunity during those two years to focus on me and my family and watch my boys play at the next level, and watch Mady in volleyball.
“It doesn’t last forever.”
Imagine Prep-Superstition is playing 8-man football this season. But as Uehling explains, “football is football.”
“The field is a little bit smaller, it’s going to be a quicker game, and this is my first time ever coaching 8-man football,” Uehling said. “That really sparked me, because instead of going back to the bread-and-butter, you have to educate yourself. I look at what other schools are doing in 8-man, and it comes down to speed.
“I’ve also learned that in 8-man football, you’re always one man short of a perfect defense. “
Uehling also wanted to thank Alex Murphy, Apache Junction High’s varsity baseball coach, for bringing him back into coaching last spring.
“I’m very grateful to Alex. He pulled my out of coaching retirement,” Uehling said. “He sparked my fire to return to coaching.”
As a coach, Uehling said the time invested in working with the kids is well worth it.
“Coach (Glenn) McMinn changed my life. I don’t know where I would be in life without him,” Uehling said. “He taught me, it’s easy not to look back and pull a hand up. It’s easy to keep on climbing. The true testament of manhood is to pull somebody out of a situation, or change a life toward the positive. He did that for me, and if I can do that for one kid, it doesn’t matter what the school name is. I feel like I’ve done a lot.”