Leading by example: Westfield High School football coach receives national Power of Influence Award


No stranger to national recognition, Westfield High School varsity football coach Jake Gilbert is a recipient of the Power of Influence Award. He is one of only five high school coaches in the nation to receive the annual honor.

The award is presented jointly by the American Football Coaches Association and the American Football Coaches Foundation. Winners were scheduled to be honored during the Jan. 9-11 AFCA Convention in San Antonio, Texas.

Gilbert, who has now won the award twice, said he was likely nominated this time because of his service background. He has been a Fellowship of Christian Athletes sponsor since 2012. He also created a freshman mentorship program at WHS and a life-ready initiative. He has hosted Special Olympic football clinics, raised money to tackle childhood cancer, led a mission trip to Haiti and helps support the Indiana Blood Center.

Gilber also serves on the Westfield City Council and is president of the Wellbeing Coalition of Westfield.

“I want to build a family in the kids here and long term have an impact during their high school, (and) really even before their high school years, and then continue that influence in their lives as they grow into adults,” Gilbert said. “That’s the goal, anyway.”

Gilbert said he plans to accomplish that goal by being present in students’ lives.

“I want to be a consistent source of love and discipline and commit to them through good and bad,” he said. “We don’t love them based on performance, but we love them based on their character. That’s kind of my jam.”

Gilbert said there are steps to being a good leader.

“I think people don’t care how much you know. They know how much you care,” he said. “The first thing is to care about the people you’re trying to lead. You need to lead yourself exceptionally well before you can lead others. I think it’s important you have some self-awareness and work on becoming the kind of person worthy of someone else following you.

“Practice what you preach. Whatever you think is important, you have to model that for your followers.”

Gilbert, who also serves as the WHS dean of wellness, wants positively influence all students, not only the ones he coaches.

“I try to distance some of the coach stuff here during the school day because I want to be seen as someone that can help any of the kids here,” he said. “I try to connect with kids that maybe need an extra person in the building. I just really want to be someone that’s a positive influence to anybody that needs one here in the school.”

Gilbert teaches a leadership and mentorship class to high school juniors. The class focuses on leadership skills.

“It’s training them to become a mentor as seniors for our freshman mentorship program,” Gilbert said.

When Gilbert was first hired as a teacher at WHS 11 years ago, he was a U.S. government teacher.

Besides Gilbert, this year’s AFCA/AFCF Regional Power of Influence Award winners are Lou Marinelli, New Canaan, Conn.; Gary Rankin, Alcoa, Tenn.; Bill Blankenship, Owasso, Okla.; and Tim Brennan, Bishop Kelly, Idaho.

The Power of Influence Award was launched in 2019, so AFCA Director of Media Relations Vince Thompson said he’s unsure if repeat winners will be become common. Besides Gilbert, Blankenship and Brennan also were repeat winners this year.

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Westfield High School varsity football coach Jake Gilbert pauses with the 2016 state championship trophy after the Shamrocks their first-ever state title.

Gilbert was nominated by the Indiana Football Coaches Association Executive Director Bob Gaddis.

A press release from the AFCA states: “The award was created as a way for the AFCA and AFCF to honor deserving high school football coaches. Coaches who receive this award are recognized for their impact on their team, as well as the legacy they leave with the school and surrounding community. This award is not based on wins and losses; however, it should be noted that coaches of powerful influence have longevity and success. The winners are selected by members of the AFCF Board of Directors.”

Gilbert recently completed his 11th season as head coach at WHS. He led the Shamrocks to a 12-2 record and a second straight appearance in the IHSAA Class 6A state championship game. They lost to top-ranked traditional state power Center Grove in the final.

“That was Westfield’s fourth appearance in the state championship game under Gilbert,” the press release stated. “In 2016, he guided Westfield to the school’s first ever state championship. Gilbert has won several Coach of the Year honors including Indiana Football Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 2013 and 2016 and Fellowship of Christian Athletes Indiana Coach of the Year in 2017.”

For more, visit afca.com.

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Westfield High School varsity football coach Jake Gilbert raises the 2016 state championship trophy.

“Our job is to develop people” 

Westfield High School varsity football coach Jake Gilbert is a leader in the Westfield community on and off the football field. But his success on the field and his approach to coaching have helped shape the community.

“We’re here wanting to be poured out like a drink offering to this community and serve in any way we can,” Gilbert said of the WHS football team. “That role has grown the longer we’ve been here. All the winning on top has just been gravy. That’s been fun, but we also wanted to just make sure we always keep the main thing the main thing. This is high school sports, not the NFL, so our job is to develop people.

“If along the way we can develop some champions on the field, too, that’s a good thing. But ultimately, we love Westfield, and we just want to serve it in any way we can.”