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Army coach returns from Afghanistan to immediately lead team

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

Dwight Richins is one of the most successful high school football coaches in the state of Idaho. He's won 179 football games across a career in which he's turned Shelley (Idaho) High into one of the state's most successful and productive programs. He has won four state title at the school in his eight years at the helm of the football program.

All of that made his severe case of nerves heading into the kickoff of his team's 2011 season all the more perplexing. Why would a coach of nearly a decade be so afraid of the start of yet another promising season? The answer has everything to do with the letters that can be attached to the front of Richins' name: Lt. Col.

Though Richins' primary job is that of teacher and football coach in Shelley, he is also a military reservist. According to this excellent profile by USA Today's Rick Hampson, Richins was called into duty for the first time in 2010. He spent a year in Afghanistan, working as an Army logistics officer on the war's front line.

When his official tour of duty was done, he returned home and began coaching … immediately. According to USA Today, the coach had his first meeting with his Shelley High coaching staff just three days after arriving back on U.S. soil, before he had completely recovered from jet lag. By his fourth morning back, he was coaching the team's first practice.

Richins' abrupt return to football action from the battlefield flew in the face of medical advice given to him by military doctors. Still, Richins insists it's the only life he knows, even if the stress from football has him working 12 to 16 hours a day and forced him to gain 10 of the 30 pounds he lost overseas within weeks of his return.

"I love the game of football. I think it's as close as you can get to war and still not really go to war," Richins told USA Today. "That's what makes it so awesome. It's total teamwork. It's fighting. It's who wants this game tonight.

"I haven't coached a game in two years. It feels like a lifetime."

The year off was enough time for Richins and the school. Despite missing its talismanic leader, the Russets went 8-3 in 2010 and reached the state semifinals. That was an impressive campaign, but it only set the stage for even higher expectations in 2011.

Richins seems determined to ensure his team reaches another state title in 2012, a feat which he can have a much more significant affect on than he could from Afghanistan, where he tried to follow the team's games across failing internet connections while emailing and phoning in questions to the interim coaches, even during games.

He's more hands on now, even if the transition hasn't always been smooth.

"I feel like a new coach at a new school," Richins told USA Today. …

"Some of it just eats your guts out. … I'm going, 'Maybe I'll go back and ride convoys in Afghanistan. It's a lot more fun.'"

Or maybe he'll help the Russets win another state title. The second option seems a lot more likely, even if it is more daunting to many.

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