TORRINGTON – When Mark Lenhardt arrived in Torrington in 2011, he knew he faced an uphill battle. He won one game in his first two seasons.
Eight seasons and two trips to the Class 3A State Championship game later, Lenhardt has resigned his post as head coach of the Blazer football program on Wednesday morning, accepting the same position at Rock Springs High School – a Class 4A program.
Lenhardt has led the THS program since 2011, amassing a 45-30 record and capping off his time in Torrington with back-to-back trips to the Class 3A State Championship games in Laramie.
Lenhardt came in wanting the see the program succeed, and it started with changing the culture.
“Our first few years were rough trying to establish a culture, trying to get the kids to buy into what exactly we wanted to do,” he said. “The first year, in 2011, it felt like we didn’t have the talent to compete. The next year we saw huge strides made. Then we had some bad luck with some injuries.”
Those first two years the Blazers went a combined 1-14, going winless in 2012.
“We were playing better football and the games were competitive,” Lenhardt said. “We lost to Worland, blowing a 17-point lead, but you could see flashes and signs of improvement that year.”
Despite that, Lenhardt saw his team on an upward trend.
Then in 2013, the Blazer program turned a corner.
That season, they made the playoffs for the first time in four years.
“We beat Buffalo on the road. We played the best team in the state in Powell. We were playing them very competitively into the third quarter.”
And they did that with a large group of sophomores.
“That’s when I began to think, okay, we are heading in the right direction, and we’ll be okay here,” Lenhardt said.
He was right.
Since the loss to Powell in the first round of the playoffs in 2013, the Blazers have had five straight winning seasons, a record of 41-10 during that stretch, and two state championship appearances.
“Every single year we put a product on the field, I can honestly say at the end of the season, we were better than when we started,” Lenhardt said. “That is ultimate goal. That’s a credit to the coaches and players. Our summer program has been huge.”
Dream comes true
As Lenhardt’s time comes to a close in Torrington, he’s feeling many different emotions.
“I’m very excited to get started in Rock Springs, but I’m also very sad to leave Torrington,” he said. “Everyone here has treated me like gold, and it’s been a top-notch place to work. I wish the Torrington football program, athletic department and the school nothing but the best.”
Rock Springs is coming off a 3-7 season but is just two seasons removed from reaching the Class 4A semifinals.
“Rock Springs has a big appeal to me from a football standpoint,” Lenhardt said. “There are a bunch of tough kids there. It’s a blue-collar community, like Torrington. I love the one town, one team thing. You aren’t competing against another high school in town. If you can get the program built, you are going to be rolling kids in.”
It was also a dream of Lenhardt’s to coach at the 4A level.
“As a competitor, I’ve always wanted to see how I could do and what I could accomplish at a higher level,” Lenhardt said. “That’s no knock-on Torrington. I played 4A football growing up. My dream was to be a 4A head coach and work in a school with 1,600 kids.”
The change will also allow him to be closer to he and his wife’s family, who will be moving to Pinedale and eventually retiring there.
“As happy as football makes me, my ultimate joy is seeing my kids spend time with their grandparents,” Lenhardt said. “I can’t reiterate how bittersweet this is. I’m really, really, really going to miss Torrington. I miss the kids. I’m going to miss the parents. It was a really great thing we had going, and I think it will continue to be that way for somebody else.”
Even though, Lenhardt and the Blazers didn’t accomplish the ultimate goal of hoisting a state championship trophy at the end of the season, Lenhardt felt like he, his coaching staff and players accomplished much over the eight years.
“It had gotten to the point where I felt like we had really, really accomplished a lot of things. I am sad we never finished off the ultimate goal of winning a state championship, but we were fortunately able to achieve a lot of goals along the way,” Lenhardt said. “I love Torrington and love this place. I’ve had very, very, very good assistant coaches that have worked with me. The stability on our staff over the last eight years and the support I’ve received from the community has been incredible. They have allowed me to do my job, and I have done everything I can to serve the people of Torrington and give them my absolute best even if it meant sacrificing from my own family and time. It meant a lot to me to see those players improve and get better.”
Not done yet
Lenhardt will have one more opportunity to work with four of his players – Scotty Woodruff, Josh Kingsley, Brandon Bennick and Casey Britton –this summer at the 2019 edition of the Wyoming Shrine Bowl in Casper.
“It will be good to work with those players that I’ve coached one more time,” he said.
Lenhardt will join good friend Aaron Makelky, who just accepted the position at Kelly Walsh High School, on the sidelines that weekend.
In good hands
Despite losing a large group of seniors to graduation, Lenhardt feels like Torrington will continue to be a strong football program moving forward.
“I honestly feel as though it’s in a good place,” Lenhardt said. “It has a good structure. There are a lot of good assistants that are ready to take over or move forward if that’s the choice that is made with the administration.”
For Lenhardt, the decision to move on was about following his instincts.
“At the end of the day, you just have to go with your gut,” he said. “My gut told me that this was a good opportunity. I know there have been rumors floating around town. That’s part of coaching. I can honestly tell you, I’ve turned down opportunities to stay in Torrington. I love this place.”