Every Season Has a Story: Notes from 7x (Consecutively) State Champion Head Coach Steve Steele

Every Season Has a Story: Notes from 7x (Consecutively) State Champion Head Coach Steve Steele

Steve Steele, the head coach at Riggs High School in Pierre, South Dakota opens up about what it takes to win a championship, and then do it again six more years in a row.

By Jared Frank
April 17, 2024

We’ve heard Coach and Coordinator Podcast host Keith Grabowski say many times on the show that coaching is not a copy-paste function. What works in one program is not guaranteed to work in another. And even within the same program, even if it’s a perennial championship contending program where the only variable is a new season, coaches cannot simply hit control-v, control-c and expect the same results year after year.

At Riggs High School in Pierre, South Dakota, Head Coach Steve Steele exemplifies this adage. Led by Coach Steele, an AFCA 30 Under 30 recipient and selection for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Coaching Academy, the Governors earned a state championship in 2023, the program’s seventh in a row, with a team much different than the year before, than the year before, than the year before… you get the idea.

“Every single group of kids, every single mixture of them, is different,” says Steele. “The same motivations won’t be true one year to the next, so understanding your team and then ultimately building that motivational strategy and team building strategy around the crew you have for one season is the most important part.”

You can’t create something if you’re not given opportunities to mess up.


The personality of every team might be different, but the foundational identity of a program that each team grows out of must remain consistent. At Riggs, the program is built on two non-negotiable core values: TOTD: Turn Off the Dark and FAMILY: Forget About Me, I Love You.


“We’ve done a great job of [instilling family] here,” Steele says, “focusing on what we can do for our teammates that’s not a part of our daily job description.”

The pillar of a football family starts with coaches being servants first, and coaches serves players by teaching resiliency with love, which eventually drips down to the players and a player-led culture.

“You can’t create something if you’re not given opportunities to mess up,” says Steele. “We try and create adversity for our kids. When we put them in bad situations, we want to see bad things happen and force them to react to it. They don’t always react positively, and we have to call that out and explain how they should be reacting.”

Family manifests in seemingly simple behaviors that compound into winning habits, like a senior setting up a drill, instead of expecting a freshman to it.

“Our older guys have a lot of pride in making sure things are set up the right way,” says Steele, “that expectations are what they need to be, and that they’re all doing what they need to be doing, not just doing the fun parts of the job.”


The TOTD mantra is a tool that refocuses the Governors in times of adversity. As coaches, we all understand bad things happen in life, bad things in football games, and a positive response to those bad things is critical for desired outcomes.

“I absolutely, 100% credit two of our state championship games to that mentality,” says Steele. “In one of our state championship games, we were down three touchdowns two different times and still found a way to come all the way back and win it. And a lot of that goes to the fact that our kids never panicked.”

People: The Changing Variable

While culture endures, players and their personalities are ever-changing in a program. Each offseason, Coach Steele and his staff spend a tremendous amount of time evaluating their roster for soft skills, anticipating who next season’s leaders will be, and what types of personalities will mix on next year’s team.

The Governors have fielded many different team personalities with different talent ranges throughout the last seven years of championships, from laid-back teams to hyper-competitive teams to more grind-it-out, hard-working teams.

“[The personality of the team] is a very, very big change year to year,” Steele says. “The important part is finding the right [theme] to get everybody together from that group, and then ultimately chase the same goal again, but chase it a little differently than they did the year prior.”

Coach Steele unveils each year’s rally cry to the team during a preseason camping trip. And by the conclusion of those three days, everyone understands the objective, the plan, and how to get there.

Become the Mountain

The theme of the 2023 season was “Become the Mountain.” The 2022 season brought the Governors an undefeated record, a state-tying sixth consecutive state title, and the program’s first two players ever to go on to play college ball at Big Ten schools.

But while the 2022 team had elite talent and a more easygoing personality, the 2023 team was more businesslike in its demeanor with the expectation of being the best.

“Just the way that things worked out was this also was the season where we could as a program be the best and win seven straight [championships], which no one had ever done,” Steele says. “Knowing that going into the offseason, we came up with the idea of ‘Become the Mountain’… Let’s push together to become the mountain. Let’s become the tallest program ever in the history of the state of South Dakota.”

To become the mountain, the Governors had very physical practices in 2023, by far the most physical practices of the last seven years. When changing a practice philosophy to fit the needs of the players, it’s the coaches who must adapt the most and be on the same page.

“If you have a group of kids that need drill sergeants, you’ve got to adjust and do that,” says Steele. “And if you’ve got kids that need to be able to have more fun and be a little bit more loosey-goosey, you still have to feel comfortable doing that. An important part of a coaching staff is having that blend and having those personalities that can reach the different parts.”

Celebrating Success

The Governors have capped off each unique team from the last seven years with a unique ring from their partner, Signature Championship Rings.

“[Signature Championship Rings] had a lot of options for customization,” Steele says. “They were very, very responsive with us, and looking at a couple of designs, the price point was right for our program. So they won us that first year, and they took amazing care of us. And we’ve gone back every single year.”

Coach Steele and his seniors have been able to collaborate with the Signature Champions team to finalize a ring design in less than one week. After a smooth online ordering process, the rings ship directly to Riggs High School.

“[Ring day] is always one of the most fun days of the year,” says Steele. “The kids are all excited to be able to come up, shake your hand, and get to wear their [ring].”

Best of luck to Coach Steve Steele and the Governors as they go for eight-straight state championship rings in 2024. CC Logo

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Signature Championship Rings is a leading designer and supplier of championship rings, serving over 10,000 teams and organizations. With a focus on quality craftsmanship, easy team ordering processes, and affordability, Signature Champions celebrate every champion and their achievements, making their moment last a lifetime. For more information, visit www.signaturechampions.com/podcast.