Stephen Sylvanie / Special to the Sun
Friday, Feb. 6, 2015 | 5:45 p.m.
Darwin Rost never lacked confidence. His Palo Verde High football players feed off the poise.
During the 2004 season, the Panthers had the ball at their own 1-yard line late in a game and faced a third-down play needing to convert to extend the game. Rost called a timeout and delivered a message to quarterback Jarrell Harrison.
“He looked me in the eye and said we were going to win,” Harrison said. “You don’t know how many times we came close to losing, but coach kept us together that season. He always kept us focused on the game.”
Palo Verde picked up the first down and won the game. They wound up going undefeated to capture the state championship.
That was Rost’s shining moment during his 19-year tenure as the Panthers coach. He stepped down Thursday as one of Southern Nevada’s most celebrated coaches, winning 154 games, one state championship, one state runner-up finish and five regional championships.
And that was just at Palo Verde in Summerlin, where he was the lone coach in school history.
“You don’t get any better than how I had it here,” said Rost, who will remain as the Palo Verde athletic director. “It was a long haul, but I coached a lot of great kids.”
In a city where high school football coaches typically last just a few seasons, Rost bucked that trend. He found a home at Palo Verde, winning a lot of football games, coaching his two sons and making life-long friendships.
Most of his assistant coaches, including line coach and weight room coordinator Ted Ortale, and defensive coordinator Charlie Jarvis, have been on his staff since they opened the school together in 1996.
He was the longest tenured coach in Southern Nevada — and not just in football but all sports.
Rost started as an assistant coach at Las Vegas High in 1986. He went to Eldorado to coach both football and basketball, and opened Durango as its football coach in 1993. He opened Palo Verde a few years later, quickly transforming the program into a perennial power.
He was old-fashioned and hard-nosed in his approach. And when a player achieved, he was the first person to congratulate him.
“Coach Rost is definitely a players’ coach. The reason he won so much is players wanted to play for him,” said Harrison, who played at Missouri and is considered Palo Verde’s best all-time player.
“Coach Rost means a lot to me. We shared a lot of special memories together winning a lot of games before Palo Verde is what it is today. He leaves a legacy. He taught a lot of kids the right way and instilled a lot of discipline.”
Palo Verde won five Sunset Regional championships with Rost leading the way, including three straight from 2002-’04 when the program was the benchmark for others to strive for in Nevada.
While those titles, and the 2004 state championship, are what will define Rost’s tenure, the coach is equally proud of another accomplishment: coaching his sons, Garrett and Parker.
When Palo Verde opened in 1996 with only ninth-graders and no building — classes were held in portable classrooms in the Bonanza parking lot — Garrett was 2 and Parker was just born.
“I remember his boys when they were little kids and playing in the sand trap on the track,” Harrison said. “He couldn’t wait until his boys were old enough to play for him.”
Parker was a three-year starter at quarterback and had such an intimate knowledge of his dad’s offense from years of watching film together that he frequently called his own plays in his senior season of 2013. Garrett went on to play at Dixie State.
“Coach Smeltzer at Cimarron got to coach both his sons and told me it was something I would really enjoy,” coach Rost said. “He was right. I definitely enjoyed coaching both of mine and watching them come through Palo. It’s been a great time, great school, great school district.”
Rost won 76 percent of his games at Palo Verde, leading them to the postseason every season since 2000. He also coached the junior varsity team, which has never had a losing record.
For players such as Harrison, or Gerard Lawson who played at Oregon State and in the NFL, the winning was only half of what made Rost a coaching legend. The man is what’s more important.
He never stops in his role as a mentor, whether it’s attending a college game of a former player, being invited to a wedding or having a function at his house. That’s why the Palo Verde sideline on game days is packed with graduates.
“He treats us like family,” Harrison said.