MUSKEGON — Aaron James knows exactly how to turn a downtrodden football program into a consistent, big-time winner. He was there for every step as Matt Koziak & Co. did just that in constructing a state power at Mona Shores with James as offensive coordinator.
Now it’s time for James to take on a program of his own. The 41-year-old has been announced as Orchard View’s new head football coach and he’s tasked with restoring the Cardinals’ once-proud program.
This is his first head-coaching job, but the 2000 Muskegon High School alumnus has experience with big-time high school football programs and is well-familiar with the blueprint.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work, discipline, accountability, integrity — that’s the big thing. We’ve got to be able to hold kids accountable and kids have got to be able to hold teammates accountable,” James said.
“It’s hard work. We’ve got to take the stairs. That’s one of the mottos we use. There’s no secret to success. It’s hard work, getting after it, day after day, whether that be in the classroom, in the weight room, on the practice field, wherever it is. We have to get after it and we’ve got to compete, and we’ve got to compete like there’s no tomorrow.”
Academically, James is a behavior specialist and 12th-grade academic/attendance coch at Mona Shores. At Orchard View, he will be a behavior specialist and dean of students.
Football-wise, James fills the position at Orchard View previously occupied by Fred Rademacher, who resigned following the 2023 season. Rademacher, who is a John Shillito protege, guided Orchard View to a 9-0 regular season in his first year on the job in 2019, but low roster numbers of varsity-ready players plaqued the program in more recent seasons.
Orchard View canceled the 2021 varsity season because of low participation numbers in the junior and senior classes at that time. In Rademacher’s other four seasons at the helm, the Cardinals posted an overall record for 14-21. Orchard View canceled its final three games of its 0-9 season in 2022 because of mounting injuries and the Cardinals finished 3-6 in the 2023 campaign.
During the Shillito era when the legendary coach guided Orchard View to state finals appearances in 1995 and 1999, and in Matt McDonald’s time as coach when he led OV to its lone state championship and 14-0 season in 2004, the Cardinals employed the wing-T offense.
The offense could look quite different with James taking over at Orchard View. Under James’ watch at Mona Shores, the Sailors have had a lot of success getting their athletes in space.
“We are looking forward to having coach James on board,” Orchard View athletic director Leroy Hackley said. “He comes highly recommended and everyone knows what he has helped build at Mona Shores, so we hope he can bring that same ‘magic’ to OV.”
In his coaching stops at Mona Shores and Muskegon Heights, James coached skill-position players, notable quarterbacks and wide receivers. As a Muskegon Big Reds player, he manned the QB spot.
When Koziak took over at Mona Shores in 2011 with James as a right-hand man, the Sailors went 1-8 in their first season and 4-5 in year two. They made a jump to 7-3 in year three in 2013, the program’s first-ever playoff appearance.
Mona Shores had four 12-win seasons in 2014-2020, two of them capped by back-to-back Division 2 state championships in 2019 and 2020 and two others resulting in state runner-up finishes in 2014 and 2018.
James could sense Mona Shores’ first state title coming in 2019 and the Sailors delivered on it. He knows what it takes to build a championship culture.
Prior to the arrival of Koziak, James, and the rest of the staff at Mona Shores, the Sailors had only two winning seasons in the previous two decades. It took some time, but they built Mona Shores into a powerhouse.
Like at Mona Shores, buy-in from the players, the school district, and the community at Orchard View will be critical.
A coach being supported in his own home is crucial, too, and James has that from wife Anne and their two daughters Arin, 12, and Avery, 9.
“I know it sounds small and it sounds cliche, but if we can get the kids to buy in and believe in one another and hold each other accountable and just compete in all things …,” James said. “I’m talking about grades to running track, baseball, wrestling, basketball, whatever sport they may play. It’s got to be a competition, it’s got to be competing all the time.”
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