A Football Life: Bobby April III has coaching in his blood
The dye was cast for Bobby April III at a very early age. Coaching football was in his future.
In fact, it was in his bloodline. Bobby April, Jr. played for legendary high school head coach Bobby Nuss at Chalmette High School prior to continuing his playing career at Nicholls State. The elder April would eventually spend 25 seasons coaching in the NFL, becoming recognized as one of the best special teams coaches ever. He was cited as the NFL’s Special Teams Coach of the Year twice, while with the Buffalo Bills in 2004 and 2008.
Bobby III was tasked with coaching responsibilities while playing prep football at St. Paul’s in Covington.
“Defensive coordinator Nick Nunez had me coach up some of my teammates. I knew then that I’d be okay at it. But I really wanted to be an accountant,” April said laughing.
April served as a student assistant under Ricky Bustle at Louisiana-Lafayette and got a taste of the NFL with an opportunity to be an intern with the St. Louis Rams in 2002 and Jacksonville Jaguars in 2003.
Next came a graduate assistant job at Tulane from 2005 to 2006) under Chris Scelfo. While growing as a coach on the field, April also started learning about how to deal with off the field challenges, namely Hurricane Katrina.
“It taught me a great deal about dealing with adversity,” reflected April. “I had a great time there. Coach Scelfo taught me a lot about offense.”
Following his tenure with the Green Wave, young April got the chance to serve on the staff of a 59-year coaching veteran when he was hired by Jerry Glanville at Portland State.
Glanville, who spent 21 of those seasons in the NFL, had served as head coach of the Houston Oilers for five seasons and the Falcons for another four years. He was renowned for leaving tickets at Will Call for Elvis Presley and wearing an all-black attire during NFL games. Albeit quirky, the man could coach football.
As a defensive coordinator in Atlanta in the 1970’s, he created the “Gritz Blitz” that took the league by storm.
“His approach, his strategy. He could visualize each individual and put them in the right position. It was a good experience and helped me a lot with my career,” April said regarding his his seasons at Portland State as the Iinebackers and special teams coach.”
Thibodaux, Louisiana was his next landing spot as the secondary and special teams coach under Nicholls State head coach Charlie Stubbs.
“It was a perfect time for me there,” said April, who coached with the Colonels in 2010. “It taught us how to grind. It was all blue collar work for the players and coaches the way we worked, the way that we ran practice.”
Besides the time spent with the Rams and Jaguars in the early 2000’s, April returned to the NFL in 2011 with the Philadelphia Eagles for a pair of seasons then worked a couple of more with the Jets followed by spending 2015 and 2016 with the Buffalo Bills.
Being in the limelight if the NFL was far from fun and games. It marked a learning process on the coaching ladder for April.
“I had to fill out worksheets, do bed checks, all the entry level stuff taught me to be humble. It puts a lot of responsibility on my plate. I had to earn my role.”
His wide range of duties in the NFL included quality control, coaching the secondary and, of course, special teams. While in Philadelphia, he worked under defensive coordinator Juan Castillo, who had served as the offensive line coach for the Eagles from 1998 to 2010 before being named defensive coordinator in 2011. Due to his background working with the offense, Castillo was an expert on how to attack with pressure and what weaknesses to recognize in protection.
“We studied the game,” April stressed about his time working under head coach Andy Reid. “I learned a lot. It was a masterful staff. I learned a lot about protection and defense.”
His next move introduced him to a new level of defense with Rex Ryan and the New York Jets (2013-’14). Ryan took young April under his wing. The defensive guru had been defensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens prior to landing in the Big Apple.
Like April, Ryan had coaching in his blood. Rex worked as a defensive line coach with the Arizona Cardinals under his father, defensive mastermind, Buddy Ryan.
Under Ryan, April was like a sponge, soaking up all of the knowledge he could.
“It was a great opportunity under Rex Ryan,” he said. “The schematics, my entire defensive philosophy comes from him. He promoted me to assistant linebacker coach. It was a real experience. I was coaching guys who were older than me. I had to prove myself.”
In 2015, Rex moved on to the Buffalo Bills and took Bobby with him. April was tasked with coaching the linebackers. Buffalo had posted a 31-49 record the previous five seasons prior to Ryan’s arrival.
“We had to implement a new defensive scheme. It taught me how to do things from the ground up,” April recalled about the Bills challenge and working for Ryan. “It was an open relationship. I could talk to him openly.”
His next move was back to the college level as an outside linebackers coach at Wisconsin (2018-’22) where he mentored Zack Baun of the New Orleans Saints, among others.
“It is a big step from the NFL to college,” he stated. “You don’t have as much time in college with the players. You have to use your time wisely with meetings, practices, etc.”
NFL edge rushers will press off the corner. In college, there is more responsibility with the position since quarterbacks are more of a running threat. “In college football there is more accountability dealing with mobile QB’s. You have to have edge rushers account for the quarterback more so in college. You can’t let him free,” explained April.
April was fortunate enough to see NFL defensive genius Dick LeBeau in action when Bobby was just 10 years old when his father worked with the Steelers. The younger April also absorbed a plethora of knowledge from his father, who spent 25 seasons in the NFL and 17 more in college. He will utilize all the experience he has stored watching talented men work the sidelines.
This season, Bobby begins a new chapter as defensive coordinator at Stanford under first year coach Troy Taylor. For the 41-year old April, it is a different type of mountain to climb.
David Shaw took over the head coaching job in Palo Alto in 2011 and eventually surpassed legendary coach Pop Warner as the winningest coach in school history but Shaw stepped down following last season. The Cardinal managed just 14 wins combined over the past four seasons. The defense managed only 20 sacks last season, and now graduated players had 15 of them.
The Cardinal currently stands with 28 commitments for the 2024 class, the most of any Division I school. Stanford’s collection of current commitments is also ranked 19th nationally by Rivals, behind only conference rivals Oregon and USC.
Another stop, another unique set of circumstances for April. Stanford has strict academic entrance requirements. Only five new arrivals have come aboard via the transfer portal.
“We can’t really dive into free agency. We don’t put much time into the transfer portal. This staff wants to develop kids for a four-year career. We can spend more time getting kids better. We spend more time on the road than I ever have in any previous stops. We have a very competitive staff. We are going to concentrate on the current roster and recruiting high school players.”
One of Stanford’s 2024 commits is Archbishop Rummel safety Darrius Davis. After growing up on the Northshore and having coached at three Louisiana colleges, April recognizes the different type of athlete produced in southeast Louisiana.
“Kids grow up loving football. It’s not seen everywhere else. The players are passionate. There is so much speed and athleticism. The competition is fierce. It’s a year round process.”
Even though he was seemingly born into coaching football, Bobby April III also takes the passion for the game and competition with him from his local roots at every stop.
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