Union High was a collection of individuals until Fridrich and his captains brought everyone together to become Oklahoma state champions.

We like to highlight the best of the best, and that’s our goal with the Hudl Champions series. We want to tap state champion coaches and gain insights that can help others get an edge on Friday nights.

Coach: Kirk Fridrich, Union High School

State: Oklahoma

Record: 11-2 (Class 6AI)

Championship score: Union 57, Norman North 43

On the surface, all was good for Union High School through the first half of the 2016 campaign. The Redskins won their first two games, lost a close battle to Jenks, then blasted their next three opponents by a combined score of 161-6. They appeared to be cruising.

But coach Kirk Fridrich could see all was not well. Some Union players were playing more for individual glory, and the team lacked the family-style chemistry that helped it win four straight state titles from 2008-11. That missing cohesion manifested itself in the 30-27 defeat to Norman North on Oct. 14, and Fridrich knew he had to get his group to truly come together.

“A team can be divided by several things,” he said. “It can be offense versus defense or special teams. Or certain guys are getting more playing time than others. Or potential Division I guys are getting more attention than other kids that wish they were. You’ve got to find a way to balance that and hold it all together and get those guys to play for a common goal, to put their other desires aside.”

Fridrich could see the cracks in his team weren’t fractures - they could be mended. So he called upon his team captains, the individuals who could see the bigger picture.

“They might not see it as well as the head coach does, but they trust what the head coach is saying and believe in what we’re doing,” Fridrich said. “That group of guys is the one you need to pour yourself into and allow them to lead the rest of the team. At times, there are going to be guys on the team that aren’t going to pay attention to what the coach is saying or don’t trust what the coach is doing.

“You’ve got to get those core leaders on your team that can influence the rest of that group.”

The captains brought the team into a room just before the playoffs began and “addressed some internal issues and called some guys out.” The issues disjointing the team turned out to be simple misunderstandings and were easily mended before Union rolled into the postseason.

“I think when we left that room, we were a cultured unit,” Fridrich said. “Everything you do matters, and everything you don’t do matters. To get kids to realize that, sometimes it takes kids time to develop, whether it’s athletically or from a maturity level, they all come from different backgrounds.

That’s the last thing the rest of the 6AI field wanted to hear. Union won all three of its playoff games by at least 14 points, culminating with a 57-43 victory over Norman North, avenging the earlier loss.

Fridrich knew the Redskins would run into adversity at some point this season - almost every team does. How that team responds is what will define it, and Fridrich’s leadership and willingness to empower his captains propelled the Redskins to their first title since 2011.

“That (adversity) doesn’t necessarily have to be in the form of a loss, but something along the way is going to force you to answer two questions: 1) How much do you love the game? And 2) How much do you love your teammates?” Fridrich said. “If you can get those answered by the time you get to the playoffs, you’ve got something special. If you can get that passion back and get them to play for each other, you’ve got a group of kids that can do just about anything.”

Have you own creative ways to get your team to completely buy in? Leave any tips or suggestions in the comments below.

Previous Hudl Champions

Jason Negro, St. John Bosco (Calif.)

Todd Peterman, DeSoto High (Texas)