By NICK WILSON-Sports Writer
Posted: 08/13/2009 12:07:42 AM PDT
Everyone has a dream job. Few ever have an opportunity to actually attain it. But former Butte College football player Mark Uyeyama, who is currently the assistant strength and conditioning coach for the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, considers himself among those fortunate few.
"I'm living it right now to be honest," said Uyeyama, who's entering his second season with the 49ers organization. "What do I do everyday? Train the best athletes in the world. The most highly motivated and competitive athletes in the world. The great ones want to be coached and we've got great guys here that are very coachable and understand that my role with the team is important. I'm fortunate to be in a situation with the head strength coach (Duane) Carlisle who basically really helped show me how to be a successful strength and conditioning coach in the NFL."
However, it really wasn't all that long ago that Uyeyama was earning his stripes as a nose guard for the Roadrunners - the 1995 and 96 seasons to be exact - during the era of heralded head coach Craig Rigsbee, who remembers Uyeyama well.
"He was a really good kid," Rigsbee said. "He was tough, motivated, strong, smart and really always wanted to go into exercise science. We always talked about having a great work ethic and coming together as a family. We wanted players to use football and not have it use them. That's what Mark's done. We're pretty proud of the kid."
Though more than a decade has passed, Rigsbee's talks on work ethic, family togetherness and education all resonate with Uyeyama and continue to be at the heart of his approach toward coaching today.
In fact, Uyeyama credits Rigsbee for instilling the winning mentality that has translated to success throughout his playing years in college and his current position with the 49ers.
"Obviously all you ask for is an opportunity and those guys (at Butte) gave me one," Uyeyama acknowledged. "The one thing I can say about Butte College - when you leave there, you definitely leave being a part of something. Rigs taught that. (Butte has) a family and sense of pride which is lost in a lot of places, cause I went to some other schools and that's not always the case. I see guys from Butte College in the NFL, and everybody knows everybody. A lot of those guys that I talk to before games say 'Oh, you went to Butte!' It's a big deal. And that's a tribute to coach Rigs and what he established up there."
After finishing his two years of playing at Butte, Uyeyama transferred to Northern State University in South Dakota on a football scholarship, but once he finished his undergraduate degree in Exercise Sports Science, he knew that he wanted to get into coaching, though the specific capacity was still unclear.
It came to him finally on a Thanksgiving trip to Utah, visiting a former high school teammate at the University of Utah, who insisted that Uyeyama meet the school's head strength and conditioning coach, Chris Doyle. That set things in motion. From there Uyeyama set up an interview and was hired as an intern, but within several months Doyle ended up leaving Utah to head up the University of Iowa's strength and conditioning program where he remains today.
Taking Doyle's place was a person who eventually became an influential figure for Uyeyama, Joe Kenn. Under Kenn, Uyeyama honed his coaching skills, immersed himself in the scholarship of strength and conditioning, and gained practical knowledge for the ever-expanding field.
After two years at Utah, Uyeyama went to Arizona State. He spent four years wih the Sun Devils and then landed the head strength and conditioning job at Utah State.
Once Uyeyama established himself at the collegiate level, he had his sights set still higher, and would make the jump to the NFL in January 2008, when the 49ers took him on their strength and conditioning staff. In the brief time that Uyeyama has been with the 49ers, he already feels that his abilities as a coach have grown by leaps and bounds.
That is due in large part to what he has observed from 49ers head coach Mike Singletary, who's coaching style Uyeyama describes simply as "amazing."
"He's got a tremendous gift to lead," Uyeyama said of Singletary. "Every day you're sitting in those meetings, and just to listen, it's incredible. I take notes at every meeting. To listen and to be a part of what they're trying to build, I couldn't be at a better place. My growth as a coach within the last six months has doubled."
And although Uyeyama has nearly reached the pinnacle of his profession, he remains grateful to those who have helped him along the way, and motivated to stay on the top of his game.
"I was very fortunate looking back and sometimes you don't appreciate it when you're there, but the people I was surrounded by coming up, the people I was with at Utah, the people I was with at Arizona State, Joe Kenn, I was really fortunate," he said. "It wasn't one of those things with me where I was at the right place at the right time, everybody says, 'It's who you know,' and all that stuff. No, it wasn't that. No, I was fortunate to be around great people that saw within me that I had a niche for this field, and basically showed me the way. I'm still learning to this day."