One theme kept surfacing during Nathan Yates’ interview for the vacant head football coach position at Riverbend High School.

Yates spent a dozen years as an assistant at Massaponax—six as the Panthers’ defensive coordinator. That was ample time to know that the Fredericksburg area was where he wanted to lay down roots.

“I was really eager to get back there and to get back to working with the people I knew,” he said.

After a two-year stint as an assistant at North Allegheny (Pa.) High, Yates is coming home. The Spotsylvania County School Board approved his hire on Monday night. He succeeds Clark Harrell, who resigned after one season.

At Massaponax, Yates was privy to every aspect of the Panthers’ football operations. From pregame scheduling to the particulars of an offseason program, head coach Eric Ludden didn’t hesitate to delegate duties.

“I would trust him with anything and everything,” Ludden said.

Ludden and Art Walker, the two head coaches Yates worked under at the high school level, are fixtures in their respective communities. Walker belongs to the Football Coaches Hall of Fame, while Ludden has led Massaponax since the school opened its doors in 1998.

“He’s learned from them and sees the value in making a place home,” Riverbend athletic director Tim Stimmell said. “And that’s what he wants to do with us.”

Despite his lengthy tenure with the Panthers, Yates won’t be installing the triple option at Riverbend. He envisions a run-heavy attack out of the shotgun, most closely resembling the single wing.

On defense, the Bears will present either a 33 stack or 4–2–5 fronts.

“My defensive philosophy is to be really aggressive and apply a lot of pressure,” Yates said. “That way, you make teams adjust to you and not the other way around.”

After Harrell resigned in April, Riverbend launched a head-coaching search that drew 21 applicants. Nine were granted interviews, and five returned for a second conversation. Yates stood out from the jump.

“The first thing was he showed how much he cared about kids,” Stimmell said. “That was certainly something that was really important to us. Not just as football players, he wanted to see them succeed as students, as people. That was his primary mission.”

Yates, 37, brings an innovative edge to a program in desperate need of change. Following a deluge of transfers, the Bears stumbled to a 1–9 mark in 2018. His blueprint for a turnaround is two-fold: establish trust with players, and surround himself with a staff that shares his vision.

“My goal is to put the kids first, and the wins will come with that,” Yates said.

For his part, Ludden sees just one downside to Yates’ return.

“I think he’s going to make our district even tougher,” he said.

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Joey LoMonaco: 540/368-5045 jlomonaco@freelancestar.com @joeylomonaco

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