Two seasons into his first varsity head coaching gig, Lincoln Cardinals football head coach Kevin LaFavor has developed just one mantra:
And while LaFavor deflects credit to Lincoln’s all-state talent, prefers halftime discussions to lectures and calls plays behind polarized sport shades and a friendly grin, advancing to successive Class 1 Show-Me Bowls four years after coaching fifth graders suggests the Cardinals’ coach is living his truth.
“So far, it’s working out well,” LaFavor said.
LaFavor was born in Warsaw and lived in Dallas, Texas, for less than two years before his family settled in Calhoun. He played basketball for the Eagles before moving to Clinton his junior year, appointed partial guardianship of his grandmother living with cancer.
After losing his grandfather years earlier, LaFavor said he wanted to make the most of remaining time with his grandma.
“I spent quite a bit of time with her, and understand what I had missed on the first time,” LaFavor said. “Definitely cherish those times with loved ones.”
Finishing his junior and senior years at Clinton High School, LaFavor played football and studied pre-health at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar. He later transferred to Missouri State University, where he roomed with Clinton baseball teammate and Bears pitcher Nick Petree — who later coached at State Fair Community College.
While in Springfield, LaFavor was working part-time as a pharmacy technician.
“That was never the calling,” LaFavor said. “I started coaching some youth sports, and really enjoyed that time. … I did that from Clinton to Bolivar to Springfield. Basketball, football, I coached soccer for two years, baseball a couple years.”
Following the call, LaFavor would return to SBU in pursuit of a physical education degree — and take his classes more seriously.
“I kind of missed that message of what it was about the first time,” LaFavor said.
LaFavor got his first varsity coaching experience during his senior year, assisting the basketball team at Weaubleau. He student-taught at Osceola, helping the junior high baseball, basketball teams and assisting the varsity football team, which defeated the Lincoln Cardinals 31-28 in 2014.
He was teaching eighth graders at Leesville R-IX and coaching fifth-grade football in Clinton when he received a call from Lincoln principal Marc Spunaugle.
Unfamiliar with the phone number, LaFavor assumed his caller was seeking his friend Petree, who was offering instruction to area baseball players — including future Cardinals quarterback, Jackson Beaman.
“‘This is Marc, has Nick talked to you yet?’ That was how he opened up,” LaFavor said. “I thought it was a guy who wanted free lessons.”
Spunaugle said the plan was to groom LaFavor for head coach as an assistant to Adam Curtis, also the athletic director.
“We were transitioning to a long-term solution at head coach,” Spunaugle said. “We didn’t want to turn the program over to someone that we didn’t know.
With the Cards coming off two straight district titles, an opening at Lincoln would have been a sought-after position. Spunaugle contends that LaFavor has done more than simply inherit two trips to the state title.
“It takes the right coach,” Spunaugle said. “I’ve seen gifted teams under-perform. I’ve seen less talented teams over-perform. It all comes down to the leadership. … I don’t think just anybody can do that.”
LaFavor cites the hard-hitting defenses of old-school Nebraska and Oklahoma teams as influences on his style of play. Experience as a lineman helped develop his expertise beyond a passing interest and “arrive violently” attitude, he said.
“It’s what you pay attention to,” LaFavor said. “Luckily for me, I was an offensive lineman. In my opinion, that’s the hardest thing to learn. … I think most Saturday-Sunday guys can work out some route combinations from their couch and figure out how to get open. Learning how to block and what angles to take there is the most difficult thing.”
Indeed, from his experience on the line of scrimmage to his relationship with Lincoln’s finest, LaFavor appears to be an inside man. But after a 46-20 victory over Marceline to earn a second chance at the Class 1 Show-Me Bowl, LaFavor illustrated the perspective and humility that helped lead him to his current position.
“I’ve just been super blessed,” LaFavor said. “The reason it’s so special to me is because I know how many coaches have coached their whole career, good coaches, and haven’t had the opportunity to make it to that game, much less twice.”