Marshall Hart hasn’t had much of an offseason this year.
“There was about a two-week period in March where I was free that my wife didn’t let me leave the house,” Hart said.
The rest of the time, Hart has been planted on a football field, either as the new head coach at Northwest Christian or as the offensive line coach for the Spokane Shock.
The Northwest Christian alum took over the program ahead of the pandemic-shortened spring campaign in February, in which the Crusaders finished 0-5 in the Northeast 2B league. Following a short break, Hart spent his summer with the Shock before stepping right back onto the high school field following Spokane’s Indoor Football League playoff loss to the Frisco Fighters on Aug. 28.
“In reality, it’s been about four years without an offseason,” Hart said. “In the past, the arena season would run from January to June, so I’d usually fly back for high school spring ball and then back to whatever arena team I was with.”
With both of his jobs finally back in the same city and the Shock season behind him, Hart is fully focused on getting the Crusaders back into the state spotlight after a pair of tough seasons.
“We have an amazing senior class. In the past, we’ve had seniors come out and try hard, but this group is really special,” Hart said. “When they were freshmen we made the state quarterfinals with Silas Perreiah at running back, but as sophomores we had a ton of kids leave the school, so we dwindled down to the point where we had a game with only 13 kids on the roster.”
That senior leadership is already starting to yield positive results as Northwest Christian opened the season with a 40-0 victory against Reardan before holding off Colfax 27-24 Saturday night behind a potent rushing attack and timely defensive takeaways.
“Us seniors want to show the younger guys what it is like to have a culture of winning,” wide receiver and defensive back Aaron House said. “We know what it feels like to be on top, so we are craving that feeling again and want to be able to pass it on.”
House, who tore a ligament in his quad in April, watched from the sidelines as sophomore running back Ryan Waters found the end zone three times and then delivered the game-clinching interception with 30 seconds remaining to help the Crusaders (2-0) top the Bulldogs. If House is able to return as he expects in October, he will make Northwest Christian even deeper and more experienced.
Another key to the Crusaders’ recent success is Hart’s belief that any player he coaches, be it high school or professional, deserves to be treated and taught the same way.
“I am very relationship-driven and I try to work as close as I can to all my players so I can understand where they are coming from and they know where I am coming from,” Hart said. “I have some great relationships with my Shock guys too, because I don’t have that college football experience. I’m not a guy that played in the NFL, I’m just a guy that loves football and grew up with the NFL Network.
“I’m a big ‘teach, critique, demand’ guy and that applies for everyone, so I try and give my high school boys the same juice I give my Shock guys, so they know I respect them in the same manner.”
The 27-year-old Hart joined the staff at Northwest Christian in 2013 as the running backs coach before moving to the role of offensive coordinator. In 2016, he got his first job in indoor football when Adam Shackleford hired him as the offensive line coach for the Spokane Empire. After the Empire ceased operations in 2017, Hart spent time with the Nebraska Danger and Iowa Barnstormers before returning to Spokane this year to join coach Billy Back’s staff.
“Some boys really jump on asking questions about my Shock job, and when we have a guy like Davonte Sapp-Lynch they all want to know what it’s like coaching Marshawn’s brother,” Hart said. “I really try to do a good job bringing those Shock guys around the high school boys, especially my offensive lineman and just let the kids pour into them.
“There’s a lot of misconceptions from young men of what it means to be a dude and a tough guy, so I want the kids to meet these guys that have been through it and can really tell them about it, since I don’t have that experience. It’s all about hard work and humility.”
House believes his coach’s experience in arena football has been as much of a physical benefit as a mental one for the Crusaders.
“It’s a huge help in just developing our players, because they have these big guys that were either high-level college or IFL and they know what it takes to get to that next level,” House said. “So having them around has really helped us see the effort and work it takes in the weight room and on the field.”
After losing seasons in the spring and with the Shock this summer, Hart is confident that the third time will be the charm in notching a winning campaign. He credits the talent and drive of players like senior tight end and defensive end Jonny Lester for the turnaround.
Lester, who is listed by 247Sports as a two-star athlete, is being recruited by Washington, Eastern Washington and Montana State. The 6-foot-4, 245-pound tight end and defensive lineman said the Huskies have shown the most recent interest in him playing on defense.
“We’ve been through so much together and we’ve all been beat down together, but this season something is just clicking,” Lester said. “We’re here to win.”