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Former York High football coach Eric Lauer got an up-close look at Penn State’s football operation before the Fiesta Bowl. And he came away impressed over the other teams he’s seen over the years. Here, he poses with the bowl mascot, Spirit.

What makes Penn State football different? The secret’s in the practice details

, fbodani@ydr.comPublished 1:00 p.m. ET Jan. 1, 2018 | Updated 9:49 a.m. ET Jan. 2, 2018

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — At the end of the final practices of the season, the Nittany Lion coaches pushed their running backs and receivers through a well-worn, mundane drill one last time

They were trying to make them fumble then, so they wouldn’t during the game.

It was a simple and yet powerful message to the players.

It also was one to a former York High football coach who was watching every moment of that workout last week leading up to the Fiesta Bowl victory over Washington. Eric Lauer, a former Bearcat player and then head coach, was talking about the behind-the-scenes secrets to Penn State’s success.

The bowl season is one of the best times for coaches like Lauer, who has lived around Phoenix for the past decade.

He’s now the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach here at powerhouse Mountain Pointe High. Each December he and the other prep coaches in the areaattend team practices leading up to the Fiesta and Cactus bowls.


They get to meet the college staffs and observe and learn.

It’s all about developing relationships and helping improve their own systems.

And Lauer said he was a bit surprised at James Franklin’s operation. He said it was the most efficient and well-organized of any school in the seven or eight years he’s been watching teams come to town.


He said the difference was in the little things, the details. No wasted minutes. The never-stop, upbeat body language. And the willingness to continue drilling well-worn fundamentals at the end of the season when time is precious.

Like that ball security drill, something Lauer doesn’t remember other schools working on like that during bowl week. 

The Nittany Lions, by the way, set a school record by losing only three fumbles all season. They fumbled only eight times overall, though two did come in the Fiesta Bowl after not playing for a month.

The Penn State Nittany Lions are reaching out to the Scottsdale community during Fiesta Bowl week. And they’re doing it with kickball. Selected players had fun Wednesday with local kids with cancer and other serious illnesses. Frank Bodani

Saquon Barley, for example, did not fumble over his final 21 games, covering 377 carries.

The Lions also were one of the least-penalized teams in the nation.

More: Penn State’s problem-solving earns high marks in Fiesta Bowl victory

“It’s something you kind of think as a coach, ‘Let’s spend time doing something else.’ But they’re doing to do it because of how important it is.

“Sometimes we blame the kids (for mistakes in games), but are you really coaching up what you want to see on the field? If you don’t want the ball on the ground you’ve got to practice that.

“It was just the attention to the small stuff and everybody being hooked up and locked in to what was supposed to happen. You could see it and you could smell it.”  


Lauer said he had no previous connection to Penn State beyond watching the program on TV while growing up or through former teammates and friends who went there. He had never met Penn State coaches, never attended their football camps.

He knows other staffs better, like the Washington Huskies and USC Trojans, because they recruit Phoenix regularly.

He was impressed with Penn State’s urgency and enthusiasm — things missing at times from other teams. He said the continual positive energy Franklin and his assistants show their players during practice and before the Fiesta Bowl can resonate much deeper than most realize.


Lauer said he saw the reinforcement throughout, from hugs and handshakes and pats on the back. There were one-on-one teaching moments. There was yelling and whistle-blowing but no cursing.

Every staff member was “up on his toes, bouncing … running the entire practice,” Lauer said.

“You could tell these were things they were doing for a while. This wasn’t a show.”

He said it was almost as if the players were searching out those interactions.

“It was like, ‘It’s game time, I get my hug.’ It’s coaching from love, not coaching from fear. And when I get that I’m going to just play that much harder for you.

“When you’re coaching in love, in accountable love, there’s nothing greater.” 


Mountain Pointe’s Rashie Hodge cuts inside of the tackle attempt by Desert Ridge’s Stephan Gomez.  By Corey Cross, Special to AFN

On the doorstep: MP ready for seventh semifinal in eight seasons

Posted: Thursday, November 17, 2016 11:03 am

Way back in 2009 when Mountain Pointe made the semifinals for the second time in school history it was a huge accomplishment.

It has since become an annual event for the Pride football program.

That doesn’t mean this year’s appearance, the seventh time in eight years, is any less appreciated. It just means Mountain Pointe has a chance to further the program and that this game is never the end goal.

“We have a good thing going,” associate head coach/co-offensive coordinator Eric Lauer said. “We have a coaching staff that gets it done. We have kids that know what it means to play for Mountain Pointe and rise to that level. The foundation is pretty strong because every team leaves something behind and expectations are high.

“The kids know we expect to be right here where we are right now.”

The top-seeded Pride (12-0) takes on No. 13 Red Mountain (8-4) at McClintock on Friday in the 6A Conference semifinals.

This year’s senior class remembers all to well the vision of the last year’s group shuffling toward the team bus parked on the south side of the Desert Vista campus after falling 31-21 to eventual champion Centennial.

Heads were down, helmets were left on to hide the reddened eyes, and hugs with consoling family members seemingly lingered longer than halftime of the Pride’s final game of the 2015 campaign.

The end of a season, especially for seniors wearing the maroon and gold for the last time, is never easy to accept.

“We were crying before it was even over,” Pride senior offensive lineman Justice Hudson said. “We thought we were going back, but it didn’t happen and now we get our chance to make sure it doesn’t happen like that again.”

For most programs a state semifinal berth is seen as widely successful season.

Not at Mountain Pointe.

A loss in the semifinals as the Pride have been dealt after making the title game in 2012 and the championship year of 2013 means they didn’t further the program in their minds. They held serve, met the standard but did not get back to the championship game.

“I was a just a sophomore and I remember thinking I’m never losing that game again,” junior defensive end Khalif Ravenell said. “Here we are back in this game, and I think we’ve positioned ourselves to win it all, honestly, but we have to go out and do it.”

It won’t come easy against the Mountains Lions after putting together a pretty good hot streak.

Red Mountain has won four of five including wins over No. 4 Skyline and No. 5 Brophy in the postseason.

The offense is led by all-purpose junior Lance Lawson, who has played quarterback, running back and slot receiver, as he has totaled 2,260 yards and 28 total (25 scored, 3 thrown) touchdowns.

“He’s special and runs with a purpose,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan. “He is going to be a challenge to stop. He plays a little of everything and they have good quarterback (Austin Duffy). They’re a good team that’s playing well. Anybody in the final four is good.”

The defense, which is lead by senior defensive end Andrew Brown, has 32 sacks, 66 tackles for a loss and 13 interceptions, has the task of slowing the Pride offense, which averages 471.6 yards a game through 11 games, including 317.3 on the ground.

The Pride offense may get senior quarterback Noah Grover back from a broken leg, but sophomore Nick Wallerstedt has done everything that’s been asked of him if Grover has to stay on the sidelines.

No matter who is behind center Mountain Pointe has a chance to make its third state title game in five seasons. Everyone in the program is hoping to adjust Thanksgiving plans around a week of football practice.

“It’s quite an accomplishment,” said Vaughan, who has made the semifinals in 11 of his 12 years of coaching in Arizona. “It is more about the process than it is the result. The process takes the pressure off and the result should be good.

“It’s a game of moments and hopefully you have more moments than the other team.”

– Contact Jason Skoda at 480-898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.

– Check us out and like the Ahwatukee Foothills News on Facebook and follow @AhwatukeeFN on Twitter.


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Mountain Pointe assistant coach Eric Lauer.  AFN File

Pride coaches, AD help driver in need after accident

Posted: Wednesday, November 16, 2016 12:41 pm

It was supposed to be a quick jaunt up the road to McClintock High to figure out some of the logistics of Mountain Pointe’s semifinal game against Red Mountain.

All went well so Pride associate head coaches Eric Lauer and Aaron Frana and athletic director Mike Griffith headed back to Mountain Pointe.

The trip became so much more shortly after leaving the school parking lot as they came upon a truck upside down on the sidewalk near the intersection of McClintock Dr. and Southern Ave. just after an accident.

“Coach Lauer saw the truck first and said we had to help,” Frana said. “We got out and ran over to see what we could do.”

They stopped in the middle of McClintock. Frana and Lauer came up to the vehicle along with two other adults who were nearby while Griffith made the 911 call.

The driver was still in the vehicle, but was pinned in the vehicle, which was leaking gas. The two coaches and the other men pushed the pick up truck so it was upright and the man was OK.

“We didn’t do anything you wouldn’t do,” Lauer said. “The guy was OK. He had a prosthetic leg, and couldn’t get out the way it was. He had his seatbelt on so he was stable when we flipped it back to the right side.

“He was kind of in shock. The other guy really clipped him and flipped him over. He was pretty lucky.”

So many others just drive by slowly figuring someone else would help or make the 911 call, but they had the gumption to do something.

“It was a flashback to another time when I stopped and the driver was ejected, and didn’t make it” Lauer said. “It’s reminder of how quickly things like this can happen. Car accidents like this make you feel so violated because you are supposed to be safe in your own little bubble. When you see something like that you just want to help anyway you can.

“It’s the principal of paying it forward. Someone does something good for you and in return you do something good for someone else.”

* Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or Follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda


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Head Coach Norris Vaughan is focused on bringing Mountain Pointe High School its second Arizona state football championship. (Photo by Ben Halverson/Cronkite News)

Mountain Pointe football coach Vaughan turned Pride into powerhouse

BY BEN HALVERSON/CRONKITE NEWS | October 14, 2016 @ 3:16 pm

PHOENIX – In 2008, Mountain Pointe High’s football team finished with a 2-8 record and wasn’t even regarded as the best program in Ahwatukee, much less Arizona.

A year later, the school hired Norris Vaughan as head coach and the Pride flipped their fortunes, finishing with a 12-1 record and advancing to the the state semifinals.

Vaughan has continued to build on that quick turnaround, transforming Mountain Pointe into a perennial playoff contender.

The Pride, after a 7-0 start, sit atop the Class 6A rankings this season as they prepare to take on second-ranked Desert Ridge High in Mesa Friday night.

Since Vaughan took over, Mountain Pointe has an 82-15 record, reaching the state playoffs every season and creating a culture of winning at the school that has stirred support throughout the community.

From flags to stickers to school colors, it’s hard to go a Friday night in Ahwatukee without seeing the signs of support for Mountain Pointe football.

Vaughan and the Pride delivered the school’s first state championship in 2013, finishing that season 14-0 and ranked No. 5 in the nation by MaxPreps. Vaughan was named Arizona coach of the year by several publications and the Arizona High School Coaches Association that year.

Though the results are hard to ignore – Vaughan’s teams have reached at least the state semifinals in all but one season – Vaughan said he immerses his coaching staff and his players in the process of building a great football program first.

“I’m concerned about results but I don’t concern myself with results as much as I do the process,” Vaughan said.

“I let (the players) lead. We want them to grow and become successful people as much as, or more than, successful players. We try to develop their character, class, courage, and it all starts with commitment. Through practice you develop confidence and if you do all those things, that equals champions. That’s our philosophy.”

Assistant coach Eric Lauer, who is in his 12th season on the Pride’s coaching staff and eighth under Vaughan, said he saw an obvious change in the culture when Vaughan took over the program.

“Attitude is a choice, attitude is huge,” Lauer said. “That’s the thing that probably changed here first. They were tired of losing and when (Vaughan) came in, (the players) said ‘what do you want us to do, coach? Because what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working.’

“It turned things around right away.”

Vaughan said the players have bought into his philosophy, and he credits their change in attitude for making the program dominant.

Senior quarterback Noah Grover, who recently was lost for the remainder of the season because of a fractured femur, said that, under Vaughan, there’s a sense of pride when players take the field to represent Mountain Pointe football.

“It means a lot,” Grover said. “The atmosphere around here, and the guys in the locker room, it’s amazing.”

Congratulations to Coach Lauer for winning the “Class Act” award at the Tempe Diablos Excellence in Education Awards Ceremony on Monday, May 2nd! 

Class Act ~ A dedicated, active classified employee who makes a positive impact on students.

Tempe Diablos

[David Jolkovski/AFN]

Mountain Pointe fullback Luis Ascencio and his family came to Ahwatukee from Mexico and made it a second home.

Translating to success: MP’s Ascencio better understands language, plays

Posted: Thursday, October 8, 2015 4:15 pm

The barriers in front of Luis Ascencio on the football field these days are more elusive but nowhere near as difficult to overcome.

The Mountain Pointe lead blocker has no problem picking out someone to hit.

Defensive linemen or linebackers, it doesn’t matter.

Picking out certain words, at least a year ago, that told him what to do, now that was difficult.

The language barrier – along with football terminology – kept him from fully understanding what was expected of him.

“I’d ask him, ‘You understand?’ and he say yes, but I don’t know if he did or not,” Pride coach Norris Vaughan said of Ascencio’s development. “He just wanted to hit someone. Now he understands and still wants to hit.”

Ascencio was born in Guadalajara before his family made their way to the states so his first language is Spanish.

“It was hard learning the offense and Coach Vaughan’s accent was different, too,” Ascencio said of his Georgia born coach. “I said yes, but sometimes I wasn’t sure what to do.”

Despite being slow to pick up on some his responsibilities, Ascencio last year averaged 7.4 yards on 22 carries.

A year later, with the language barrier behind him, he is paving the way for Pride’s leading rusher Marcarius Blount, who is averaging 158.5 yards a game, as the Pride (6-0) travels to Desert Ridge (5-1) on Friday.

“He is doing a great job opening up holes,” Blount said. “He’s thick for 175 pounds. I’m running through some big holes he’s made.”

Ascencio, who is 5-foot-8 and 175, had to adjust to a more sophisticated style of football once he got to the states.

“It’s really different,” he said. “It’s all about hitting (in Mexico). Here it is about technique and hitting.”

His assimilation to the game has allowed Ascencio to see the field with the confidence of his coaches.

“We even talked about getting someone to translate,” associate head coach and offensive coordinator Eric Lauer said. “There are no worries now for the most part. He is doing a real good job. He is actually a good part of our team with his attitude and the way he works.”

At least when they can get Ascencio out of the weight room. There are a few youtube videos of his strength in the weight room that shows just how strong he really is under those pads.

“I love to lift every day,” said Ascencio. “Any day you get stronger you are better.”

Everything is better for Ascencio these days.

“I struggled the first semester,” he said. “Last year was hard. I have more friends, I got the football down in spring ball, and everything is a lot easier.”

Especially now that the only barrier before him is the opposition’s front seven.

“When you are a senior you have a different mentality so I am tying to do everything I can,” he said. “This year I know the plays better, and I understand.”

• Contact writer at 480-898-7915 or follow him on Twitter @JasonPSkoda.