Feb. 12, 2014
This season, 2nd Lt. Kyle Nazarek, a 2013 graduate, has served as a volunteer assistant/director of operations for the lacrosse team while awaiting his departure for pilot training. Nazarek, a four-year letterwinner for the Falcons, heads to Columbus AFB, Miss., this weekend to begin his pilot training, following in the footsteps of his father, who was a navigator in the F-111 and received the Distinguished Flying Cross during the Gulf War. Recently, team manager Alex Lee sat down with Nazarek to talk about his experience working with the lacrosse program after graduation.
What did you think when the opportunity to contribute to Air Force men's lacrosse as a coach presented itself when you were assigned casual status after graduation?
I was extremely ecstatic when I found out I could stick around on casual status. Hearing the final whistle during my last lacrosse game of my career was a sad moment, but being able to continue my time with the program after graduation was extremely exciting news.
As a coach that just went through the program yourself (both as cadet and player), do you think you brought a perspective that the other coaches on the coaching staff perhaps didn't have?
I think being a recent graduate of the lacrosse program really helped my coaching style. The current coaching staff has a limitless amount of knowledge about the game that I will never learn, but it's been a while since they have been on the receiving end of the coaching as a college player, especially a college player that maybe just ran down to practice after a long math test or meetings with squadron advisors. Seeing different coaching styles over my last four years and responding well to some, I'm able to find a coaching style that the guys will respond to well while standing in the same position I was just recently in. The defensive unit that I coach during practice seems to enjoy practice and has been playing extremely well lately against our starting offensive players.
During the government shutdown, there was a period of time where you served as head coach because all of the civilian coaches were furloughed. What was that experience like?
It was unlike anything I have ever experienced. During your four years at the academy you get phrases thrown at you like "one day you better be able to lead 60 subordinates and know how to handle every situation" or "you need to step up as a leader if you want to succeed in the Air Force." Well, I was certainly thrown into that environment very quickly after graduation. I had a lot of pressure on me because I wanted the coaches to know the team was being productive in their absence. The hard part was that unlike in the military where there is a rank structure between the subordinates and leaders, down on the lacrosse field I was afraid the guys would look at me as a peer and someone that was just a teammate, especially since half of them are older than me. It was really comforting to know the guys respected me and the decisions I made regarding the practice plans every day. Not only did they practice hard and listen to me as a coach, they stepped up and held each other accountable. In the following weeks, the team went on to beat Colorado College and Notre Dame, looking at the unofficial scores. I'd like to think the team got something out of my practice time.
How do you think the experience of coaching the team will contribute to your development as a USAF officer?
I think every officer has a unique leadership style that makes them successful in their own ways. Having the opportunity to coach lacrosse allowed me to fine tune my leadership style. Not only did I have a blast being able to coach the defensive unit on the team, I learned a lot about myself and what leadership techniques produced the best results.
You're leaving just after the season begins. What are your feelings about the team both looking back at the preseason and looking forward at the season? Any emotions involved?
Even though I'm excited to start training for my real Air Force job, I'm still really sad to leave the team. I've seen this team transition from a group that was made up of a sophomore through senior class plus a group of kids straight out of basic training to a cohesive unit of men ready to take on any NCAA team. I've seen them sweat and gasp for air up many mountain slopes in the fall, I've seen blood shed on the lacrosse field while they work hard day in and day out. I am extremely excited to see their hard work pay off as they head into this season. I still have bitter feelings about our overtime loss to Denver during my senior year, so it gives me the chills just thinking about how this season opener game with Denver was set to be the only game I catch this year. I see this as a symbolic capstone to my time as a leader of the team.