Jeff Hostetter played on the Hope High School team that finished as state runner-up in 1980 under coach Joe Ross. The championship game appearance marked a successful run that started in the ‘70s.
However, the Lions went through a tough decade after 1980. In the late ‘80s, Hostetter worked the chain gang and watched one of his brothers play. Hostetter was “really disappointed” in what happened to Hope.
Twenty-five years ago, Hostetter took over the Lions’ football team. Hostetter has long run his family’s fertilizer business and was part of the inaugural Rule 10 coaching class of coaches who don’t teach.
“We really slipped off and were never over .500 all the way through the rest of the ‘80s,” he said. “Like everybody, you think you can come in and turn things around.”
Hostetter went 3-6 his first season – the only year he has finished under .500.
Since then, Hostetter has made the playoffs 18 of the last 20 seasons and 19 overall. Hope has an Eight-Man, Division II title in 2003 and four runner-up showings.
Last Friday, Hope defeated Argonia-Attica, 52-22, for Hostetter’s 200th career victory. Hostetter is believed to hold the record for most wins by a Rule 10 coach, according to his brother, Tim, who runs preppower-index.com
“He started as my junior high assistant with the idea that he would move to the high school position the following year,” Steve Riedy, Hope athletic director and current junior high coach, said. “It would have gave us 20-some years of stability for our football program, which most people say would be the No. 1 key to winning. No. 2, being a local guy, he kind of knows the community a little bit better and has a little better feel for what it takes to win here.”
Despite low numbers, Hostetter has benefited from quality kids who are talented and willing to work, a town and parents that support him and the program, and coaching continuity. Hope is tied for ninth in all-time Kansas playoff appearances with 25 and tied for fifth with five runner-up showings. It’s the most among eight-man schools, according to preppowerindex.
“Just being able to consistently win has been a source of pride for the community and the school and has kind of put us on the map athletic-wise,” Riedy said. “We have always been pretty good in all of our sports. Football has just maintained a real high level.”
Hostetter has normally run the option as his base offense and ran and passed effectively over the years. Hostetter has often used the quarterback to run and pass and called the signal caller the most important position. Sometimes, the Lions have run some single wing if they haven’t had a strong quarterback.
Sometimes, Hostetter has forced coaches to change their systems, including current Osborne coach Steve Tiernan. In 2007, Tiernan, then at Baileyville B&B, lost 26-16 to Hope in the playoffs. Hope ran the dive play over and over.
After the loss, Tiernan changed his defense to a 3-3 so he could stop the dive. After that, Tiernan led the Falcons to three straight state title appearances and a championship.
“It worked and the rest is history,” Tiernan said.
Even with the X and O and personnel changing over the years, Hostetter hasn’t changed his philosophy – get the most out of each kid.
“I used to hear graduates on the sidelines say, ‘Man, I wish I would have worked a little harder,” Hostetter said. “We could have been a lot better.’ That was my goal when I came in here,” Hostetter said. “ When these kids came back, I didn’t want to hear them say, ‘I wish I would have worked a little harder.’ Instead, they would be talking about their success along the way.”
“I think if you can get the very most out of each player – which is not easy to do a lot of times – I think you can be successful in any sport,” he added.
Riedy, also a Hope graduate, coached girls’ basketball for 28 seasons and has served as junior high football coach for the last 31 years. The two football programs run similar programs. Ross has four decades of coaching experience and is now Hostetter’s assistant and head boys’ basketball coach after he made several other stops. He married a Hope woman, too.
“We expect to win when we walk on the field,” Riedy said. “When we first started years ago making the playoffs, we won a couple and then we started winning more and more, and it just got to the point where we knew it would be a tough game, but we were going to win.”
This season, Hope is down to just 13 players, including two of Jeff’s sons, Trevor and Trace. However, the Lions are 4-1 with a 36-34 loss to Solomon, one of the top Eight-Man, Division I teams.
A 60-36 victory against Frankfort in Week 2 encapsulated Hope’s success. Frankfort had 22 players and actually outgained the Lions 358-322. Hope ran just 24 plays from scrimmage, but had several big plays, including a kickoff return for a score and a fumble return for a TD.
After the first season, Hostetter grew as a coach and made a choice to play a lot of young athletes that he already knew from coaching baseball. Hostetter played them as freshmen and sophomores. The move paid off.
“We have had our ups and downs,” Hostetter said. “We have had some classes where we have hardly had any kids, only one maybe kid in there playing. So lots of times, you had that roller-coaster where you had to start playing kids at a young age.”
Hostetter had planned to coach just four years. He had another brother who played then and had Justin Coup, now the successful Baileyville B&B coach. Coup was a freshman in Hostetter’s first season.
Hope improved from 3-6 to 6-3 to 5-4 and 9-2 in his fourth year. In 1997, Hostetter believed Hope turned a corner when it started its successful weight program and the players started working hard in the summer.
The Lions finished runner-up in ‘97, ‘02, ‘05 and ‘06 and finished in sub-state in ‘07. Hope won the title with a 48-40 against Hanston in 2003. Because of Hostetter’s profession, the fertilizer business is busy in the summer.
“Kids expected to work hard and expected to win, too,” Hostetter said.
“That makes a lot of difference. … I have had some good assistants around me. You are only as good as the people around you coaching.”