From players to coaches: starting at their roots

The La Quinta Blackhawks have been mentored by longtime and veteran coaches. 

One great high school experience is going to football games on Friday night. The La Quinta Blackhawks are famous in the Coachella Valley for having some of the best games.

From the always exciting flag games that are played against Palm Desert High School, dating back to the 2000-2001 school year when La Quinta won back-to-back CIF championships.

The La Quinta Blackhawks have been mentored by longtime and veteran coaches. 

Brian Gleeson, the offensive coordinator, was a part of the first graduating class: 1997. As a three-sport athlete experienced in football, basketball and baseball, he not only knows how to be an athlete but knows how to coach athletes as well. 

“This school and football helped to teach me discipline, taught me accountability, and made me realize I wanted to give that to other kids,” said Gleeson, who also teaches physical education at the high school. 

Gleeson has learned a lot of discipline from former head football coach and athletic director Dan Armstrong. Armstrong was the head football coach for La Quinta from 1995 to 2018. 

Gleeson said one of Armstrong’s biggest discipline rules was “don’t practice, don’t play.” Gleeson added that Armstrong was hard on discipline and that he was big on the “old school way.” Armstrong knew that if he got everyone to buy into the football program, they would become better football players but more importantly, better men.

“It wasn’t about being a [jerk]. It was about turning young boys into strong men,” he said.

Gleeson also said that over the years, he had to change his approach to coaching as generations went on. He had to be “a little softer” for the younger generations because they couldn’t take it as well as previous generations. 

Eli Salazar
Brian Gleeson

“He was nuts. He was crazy, but kids bought into it and whether they liked it or not, they still bought into the program and bought into what needed to be done,” he said.

Gleeson takes after Armstrong in some ways, such as holding his players accountable–but his strategies differ when it comes to discipline. Armstrong had some particular ways of discipline like getting in players’ faces, calling his players names, ripping them apart in front of the whole team and even the whole crowd when they did something wrong. 

Gleeson is mainly about holding his student-athletes accountable and when they do something wrong. He would get on them and make sure they know what they did wrong to correct their mistakes, but also when they do something well, he would glorify them for that as well. 

When Gleeson was asked if Armstrong praised his players, he said, “Not as much as he should have.”

Love him or hate him, Armstrong was a successful coach, winning back-to-back CIF championships.

Gleeson said he doesn’t have goals per se, he just wants to be better: a better coach, a better husband, and a better father. And of course, better at winning football games. 

Gleeson added that he doesn’t want to set goals for himself because if he set goals and accomplish them, then he would be done coaching.

“I don’t see myself stopping any time soon. I have a lot left in me,” Gleeson said.

Gleeson doesn’t want to contain himself in goals when he can just strive to be better every year. 

“The only goal is retirement,” Gleeson said with a laugh. 

Gleeson had high expectations coming into the 2021-2022 football season as a new offensive coordinator. This was the first year he was on the sideline calling plays.

Gleeson started coaching in 2008 and has been a part of four league championships, but this year, he was nervous, he admitted. This was a new job for Gleeson and he needed to adjust and adapt. 

“I wanted to score as many points as possible every game, but most importantly, no turnovers,” he said. 

Turnovers, for those who are unfamiliar, are when the offense gives the ball to the defense unwillingly. A fumble or interception are examples of a turnover. An interception is when the quarterback throws the ball and instead of the offense catching the ball, the defense does and now the ball belongs to the defense, whereas a fumble is when the offense has possession of the ball and they drop it. The main thing about a fumble is they need to have possession for it to count. 

Gleeson, however, fell short of his expectation with three interceptions and two fumbles. 

The first fumble came from Markus Lafayette in the homecoming game against Xavier College Prep. It was an inside run and what looked to be a not an ideal exchange with the quarterback and running back and didn’t tuck the ball too well and Xavier High School just popped the ball loose and very similarly snuffed the fire the La Quinta was starting. 

Lafayette is known for fighting for every single yard that he could possibly get and was not afraid to get dirty or put his body on the line to get that extra yard. 

“That kid fought for everything and gave everything out there,” Gleeson said. “He played his butt off for us this year.” 

Did Lafayette fight too hard, perhaps? 

“Hell no, sometimes those fluke things happen,” he said. “And I wouldn’t say fighting too hard because I would never say someone is fighting too hard.” 

 That game ended up in a loss for La Quinta with the final score being 20-21.

The second fumble happened in the last game of the season against Rancho Mirage High School. The Blackhawks were having a key drive and were moving the ball very well when Aiden Nsubuga ran an outside run and was dragged down and what looked like him being down before he lost the ball. The run was ruled a fumble and snuffed the fire that La Quinta was starting. La Quinta ended up losing the game 27-28.

“The one that Buga [Aidan Nsubuga] had was a bad call,” Gleeson said, irritated.

Like Gleeson, Patrick Rivenes is also an alum of the LQHS football program, graduating in 2004. He came in as the new head coach in 2018 and had some big shoes to fill and even bigger expectations. 

He has had some ups and downs being the head coach, but this past year, he has had a lot of both. He was undefeated in preseason but then did not come away with a victory in league. 

But he was a part of three very close games that could’ve gone in any direction for either team. The Palm Springs game ended up being a 17-14 loss for the Blackhawks; the Xavier game was a one-point loss for the Blackhawks 21-20, and then the Rancho Mirage game ended in a 28-27 back to back one-point loss. In the last three games of the season, the Blackhawks lost by a collective five points. Rivenes was happy with how his defense performed.

“In those last games, the defense did everything they could. I couldn’t be more proud of those guys,” Rivenes said. “We played good teams and we went out there and played our hearts out.” 

Miranda Muir
Patrick Rivenes

The preparation and the environment at practice were a lot better this year than last year and the year before Rivenes said. 

“Monday and Tuesdays were like pulling teeth sometimes but it was something about the Wednesday night practices. The players just turned the switch on and it was awesome but I just wish we had better Monday and Tuesday practice,” Rivenes said.

La Quinta High School practices were hard and the players pushed past their limit and that was the reason they had a great run game, but also had one of the top defenses too. 

The team also had a lot more team chemistry and had a lot more work ethic. 

The team showed up and knew the expectation and worked to reach that expectation On a daily basis. Throughout the season, there would be guys pushing people to give it all they have in every practice, every workout and every game. The team was also playing like a team. They were not playing for themselves, they were playing for each other. They won together and lost together and no matter what happened the team was together and it showed on the field.

Rivenes is looking to improve the team’s work ethic and team chemistry in the offseason but the main thing that he is most looking forward to in the offseason in the weight room. Strength is a huge factor in football and last year the Blackhawks had a lot of speed and not too much strength so coach Rivenes wants to have the same speed with more strength.

“Our O-line [offensive line] was already one of the best this year and they aren’t the strongest so if we can have a strong O-line we should be able to surpass other teams and should be unstoppable,” Rivenes said.

With the whole La Quinta offensive line being juniors the whole squad is coming back. Along with the quarterback Thomas Ansley ‘23), the wide receiver core with Calvin Miller ‘23 and Makaury Warren 23, and the running back core with Isaiah Alvarado ‘23 and Aiden Nsubaga ‘25. Unfortunately, Warren and Alvarado suffered torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and meniscus but are eager to get back under the lights on Friday nights next year.

“Aiden Nsubaga has that varsity speed, a healthy Makary Warren, a healthy Isaiah Alvarado. We have a lot of weapons we haven’t taken advantage of, and if we keep developing, I hope we have more of a passing game which can open up the run and then the run can open up the pass,” Rivenes said.

With Rivenes taking on the new defensive coordinator, he admitted to needing help from the player and senior leadership. With the defense being senior-heavy, Rivenes needed some players to help him to get these guys behind him. 

He looked to seniors like Jack Hernandez ‘22, Lafayette and Marcus Cochran ‘22. What Rivenes loved about those guys is they led by example.

All three of them led the team and showed the team what being a football player really means. Off the field, the team sees them as the nicest, best guys to be around. But between the lines of the football field, it’s all business.

With the seniors graduating and concluding high school, that means they have another group of seniors next year who need to step up and take the role of being leaders on and off the field.

It also means they need to fulfill the expectations of Coach Rivenes. The expectations for the team this past year were to win league and make the playoffs and unfortunately, they didn’t live up to his expectations. But this year one of his expectations is to be more competitive. 

“I think more competition in the offseason and in the weight room will get us more prepared to compete in season,” said Rivenes.

Rivenes and Gleeson look forward to having a whole team working towards one goal and teaching them to trust the person beside them and learn to hold themselves accountable.