By the time he left Sudbury in 2010, pursuing employment opportunities in Alberta, Geoff Richer had already established a reputation as an engaged and devoted local football coach.
And though it would take a few years to fully to get his feet back under himself as he settled down in his new home of St Albert (just on the outskirts of Edmonton), the now 45 year-old father of two is doing the same and more, on the gridiron front, out west.
Ironically, it took a little happenstance to even set these wheels in motion in the first place.
Born and raised in Sudbury, Richer attended Lasalle Secondary for grade nine, transferring to Lockerby Composite the following fall after moving in with his father across town. "I wrestled at Lasalle, but Lockerby didn't have a wrestling team and I wanted to find something to do," he said.
"I liked the idea of a combative sport, with a little bit of physical contact."
Very much a student of the game of football since his start in coaching with the Joe MacDonald Youth Football League (JMYFL), Richer was anything but knowledgeable about the sport as he strapped on the shoulder pads and helmet for the very first time.
"I knew nothing; I came in pretty green," he said. "I learned the game on the fly. I remember the coach asked me about playing running back, and for some reason, I thought that was the person who caught the ball - the receiver. I told him that I didn't think I had very good hands, so they put me on defense."
"Of course, a few weeks into it, after a few games, I realized what the running back was and figured out that was what I wanted to play."
In fact, Richer would go on to bulldoze his way as a member of the Sudbury Spartans backfield for the better part of 13 years, including his rookie campaign as a member of the 1991 team, the last local squad to capture an NFC (Northern Football Conference) title.
As a student of Mining and Engineering Technology at Cambrian College, Richer would enjoy his first chance to give back to a sport that he had come to adore. "My last year of high-school is when the JMYFL was formed," he said. "I knew they were looking for younger coaches, guys to help out, so I teamed up with Dave Janakowski and we coached the Central City Blue Devils."
Within just a year or two, Richer was back on-site at his alma mater, eventually accepting the role of head coach with the Lockerby Vikings, enjoying what amounted to a nine year stint with the team in the early 2000s. "The enjoyment of seeing plays executed properly, putting something on paper and seeing it come to fruition on the field, that's kind of like a high, it really gets you going."
"That was the driving force for me, early on. As I got older, I started to love even more seeing the players' development."
And there few better places in the country to witness elite football talent development than Wild Rose Country. In the first high-school game he attended out west, merely as a fan in the stands, Richer recalls garnering a very rapid appreciation for the phenom that is Chuba Hubbard, now a star running back with the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
"I was blown away by the level of play," said Richer. "It's just not where Sudbury was, at that time, in terms of the level of football. Where Sudbury was still running four down football, here, it was 100% pure Canadian football. There were guys coming out of the shotgun with multiple motions."
"I was actually intimidated at first."
It wasn't until his youngest son, Ryan, reached the age of ten and decided to pick up the sport that Richer would return to the sidelines - though the family on-field connection would last only one year. "As much as I liked the car rides there, the car rides home, it was not a good experience coaching my son," he admitted. "I'm way too easy with my own kids."
And though he had come from the SDSSAA coaching ranks, Richer was not completely prepared for the intensity of youth football with a group (Capital District Minor Football Association) that can more than hold its own against the likes of the GTA, Montreal and Vancouver.
"In the minor football system here, at peewee, ages 11 and 12, you have coaches with headsets, videotaping games and going through game film," he stated. "I could not believe the level of organization for a minor level sport."
Thankfully, he found his niche, albeit a different one from the persona that he exhibited in his early days in northern Ontario. "I think my whole coaching has changed quite a bit," he said. "I think I was a little more driven by the competition when I was younger. At high-school, out here, you do what you have to do to win the game. That's what your mindset is as a high school coach in Alberta."
"Certainly, we still coach to win in minor football, but the ultimate goal is player development and growing the sport. That's what I have become more about. I want to make sure every kid gets a chance to learn the game and experience the game. It's one of the things that I really like about the association that I am in (St Albert Minor Football Association)."
"We have certain policies and guidelines with regards to playing time. It's all about having fun, growing the sport and developing football players. I think I have really grown around that mentality, that philosophy."
"I can't remember the last time that I ever yelled at a ref."
By his own admission, Richer was never a strict disciplinarian, even dating back to his time at Lockerby. One of his greatest sources of pride, to this day, is the litany of former players who have followed his footsteps in coaching: Kevin Garbuio, Jason Cecchini, Ben Hotson, Jamie Corkal, Neil Petrin and J.J. McKnight - to name just a few.
And it's certainly not as though his efforts have gone unnoticed - or unrewarded.
This past summer, the Sudbury native had been named as one of the head coaches of a regional team that would compete at the Alberta Summer Games. And though that initiative has been postponed to 2021, Geoff Richer remains as committed as ever.
"I'm not looking at coaching university or anything - but I do love coaching."