New coach brings high expectations to Kirtland Central football

When longtime coach Jeff Schaum was a graduate assistant at Florida State University he learned from the late Bobby Bowden

Steven Bortstein
Farmington Daily Times

KIRTLAND — When a new football coach takes over a program, it's a good idea to find out a little about where they're from.

The man leading the sidelines at Kirtland Central High School this season might be new to some, but he comes with quite a backstory.

Jeff Schaum, a coach for nearly 40 years both in New Mexico and Florida, will take over a Broncos team with loads of talent and an expectation for doing things a little differently than in the past.

"The system I'm bringing with me is the same as I've used before," Schaum said. "The differences will be in how willing our players will buy into the system. So far, here, our kids have bought into the system."

And the system, as Schaum refers to it, comes from time spent working on the sidelines with one of the sport's most revered coaches.

Schaum worked as a graduate assistant early in his career at Florida State University, learning from Bobby Bowden, who spent more than 30 years coaching the Seminoles and is considered one of the greatest college football coaches of all time.

Jeff Schaum (right) with Bobby Bowden, in this photo taken just days before the 2010 Gator Bowl, Bowden's final game as head coach of the Florida State Seminoles. Schaum worked as a graduate assistant under Bowden early in his career, and is now the new head coach at Kirtland Central High School.

"Everything I do, I try and pattern that after (Bowden)," Schaum said. "The mentoring, the organization, the relationships you have with players and coaches. Everything I've done has been based on the template which coach Bowden gave me."

Bowden is credited as the second winningest college football coach of all time, amassing 377 victories and two national championships in a head coaching career that dates back to 1959. Bowden passed away this past Sunday at the age of 91 after a lengthy battle with pancreatic cancer.

Schaum recalled a coaching retreat he attended while working for Bowden in 1985, meticulously taking notes and learning offensive and defensive strategies from Bowden as well as other coaches.

"I was very fortunate at the time, to have the opportunity to learn from that man," Schaum said.

When Schaum stepped out on his own, he achieved a great deal of success, particularly in the challenging prep football state of Florida, where he earned a 47-45 record overall that included stops at Jefferson County and Lakeland Victory Christian, where his team reached the postseason three straight times between 2009 and 2011.

Schaum arrived in New Mexico with the expectation of being an administrator at Newcomb High School in 2019. 

"I wanted to step out of the coaching spotlight at the time," Schaum said. "I wanted to get into administration and took the job as athletic director and assistant principal."

As the 2020 school year progressed, and the likelihood of a fall football season began to unravel as coronavirus shut down many athletic programs, Schaum's job description began to change.

"As spring football rolled along, there was a sudden vacancy at the head coaching spot and I was asked to take over," Schaum said. "The first time I ever saw the kids was our first day of practice."

Like many football programs which got off to such a late start, the struggles to maintain a successful season were many and the numbers of players were few. At the beginning of the 2020 season at Newcomb, they had only 11 players in uniform.

"We had kids my first day who couldn't even run a lap," Schaum said. "By the end of the season we got the numbers up to 23 players, but it was rough."

Newcomb failed to win a game last season, going 0-4, but getting back on the sidelines and growing from the experience at Newcomb recharged the coaching batteries.

Kirtland Central's head coaching job opened up shortly after the conclusion of the shortened 2020 season with the announcement of Greg Jenks stepping down from that job after six seasons and a 33-25 career record.

"I met with the people at Kirtland and saw the facilities they had in place, and thought this was the place to be," Schaum said.

Schaum inherits a team that includes some talented young athletes, including a strong running back in Zakk Thomas and multi-sport athlete Kragen Cadman.

"(Thomas) has the uncanny ability of being able to make a one-step cut," Schaum said. "He's a very gifted athlete and he's got the speed and the athletic ability to process things very quickly."

Kirtland Central’s Zakk Thomas fights for extra yards against Aztec’s Hunter Riddick on Saturday, March 13, 2021, at Bill Cawood Field in Kirtland.

Cadman, who played a pivotal role with the Broncos boys basketball team last season in addition as a wide receiver on the football team, will likely be filling the role as starting quarterback when the season opens at home Saturday, Aug. 21 against Silver. The Broncos had a pair of starting quarterbacks last season, Elijah Jenks, who will not be returning this season and Troy White-David, who graduated earlier this year.

"(Cadman) has stepped into an unknown situation and has done a great job," Schaum said. "He's shown a lot at practice so far and has learned the offense. He has a great grasp of what we're trying to do."

The Broncos opened the spring season last March with an impressive 3-0 start before dropping their final two games, losing 50-0 to Grants before losing the season finale to Silver 40-7.

Schaum is confident that as the roster size increases and the team comes together in practice before the season opens, the Broncos will find a way to be competitive within their district, which includes Shiprock, Gallup, Aztec and Bloomfield, the likely favorites to repeat as District 1-4A champions.

"We've got 57 kids on the roster now, so it was completely different to the situation we all had to face last spring," Schaum said. "And we have the benefit of having kids who've been playing football in the youth leagues since the fourth or fifth grade, so they have a pretty good concept of what's going on."

Schaum, perhaps conjuring up another lesson from the Bowden playbook, is eager for the challenge he and the Broncos team face this season.

"I can't wait to see what happens," Schaum said. "The facilities are phenomenal and the coaches I have on board have all come on board, so I'm anxious to see how much we've improved."  

Kirtland Central Broncos 2021 Football Schedule

Saturday, Aug. 21  Silver at Kirtland Central

Friday, Aug. 27  Kirtland Central at St. Pius X

Friday, Sept. 3  Kirtland Central at Taos

Friday, Sept. 10  Kirtland Central at Piedra Vista

Friday, Sept. 17  Kirtland Central at Pagosa Springs

Friday, Sept. 24  Grants at Kirtland Central

Friday, Oct. 1  Gallup at Kirtland Central

Friday, Oct. 15  Shiprock at Kirtland Central

Friday, Oct. 22  Aztec at Kirtland Central  

Friday, Oct. 29  Kirtland Central at Bloomfield

Steve Bortstein can be reached via email at, via Twitter @DTSBortstein or on the phone at (505) 635-2680