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      Nice guys can finish first

      Whoever said nice guys finish last haven't met Phil Pitts.Some nice guys do finish first. Pitts has the championship background to prove it. But more than that, he's a winner at life. Pitts already feels like he's won the grand prize. "Over the last six years, I've had opportunities to do other things in the coaching profession," said Pitts, a 2000 graduate of Helias and now in his first year as head football coach of the Crusaders. "Ultimately, I'm a man who just loves to be where I'm from and Helias High School is where I'm from. "To be 29 years-old and the head coach at not only one of the best programs in the state, but also the place where I'm home and the place where it's my family's home, it's unbelievable." Indeed, some dreams do come true. "They do, they really do," Pitts said. "My career is right where I want it to be and I'm very happy; Helias is a destination program and I'm there already. I couldn't be a happier human being. "I've been doing this for seven years and I still haven't worked a day in my life, because I'm having so much fun." Pitts was a part of the 1998 Helias state championship football team and the 2000 state championship baseball team. After playing four years in the pits, if you will, on the defensive line for the Missouri Tigers, he came back to Helias and has been an assistant coach for six years, including the last five as defensive coordinator/assistant head coach for the Crusaders. He's played for, and worked with, some high-quality coaches, including: * Mike Jeffries, Pitts' head coach at Helias. "He taught me and everyone else about hard work, dedication, love for your school, love for your program," Pitts said. "He taught me to be a better man, to care about the people around you more than you care for yourself. He taught me that and now I can use it to teach my players ... I don't matter as head coach, it's the program that matters, the team that matters and it's the school that matters. "I'm so lucky I got to play for him and learn those things." * Gary Pinkel, Pitts' head coach at Missouri. "Coach Pinkel and the Mizzou coaching staff have all of my respect," said Pitts, who's team opens the season at 7 p.m. Friday against Harrisonville at Adkins Stadium. "He came in and changed the culture and got kids to buy into everything they were selling. "Football is a unique sport, in that we put in almost 365 days a day a year for 10 or 11 games. Coach Pinkel taught me about the dedication it takes, to be prepared. He taught me about the attention to detail and that you can't let the little things slide. "He crossed every T and dotted every I, and that's definitely something I can use as a head coach." * Chris Hentges, the Helias head coach the last five years. With Pitts by his side, Hentges compiled a mark of 50-12. "One of the biggest things he taught me was how to delegate to other people," Pitts said. "Five years ago when I became assistant head coach and defensive coordinator, he let that go. He found somebody he trusted and he let me do my job. "I can now pass things off to my assistant coaches, because he taught me that." Two of Pitts' new assistants, Lorenzo Williams and Brandon Coleman, were teammates of his at Missouri. This is what you'd call a good hire. "I cherish getting to share those guys with my players, because they're such good people who have done things right in their lives and overcome so many obstacles," Pitts said. "That's the most important thing, our players can learn from that, and then their knowledge of football is amazing." There was another important lesson Pitts learned from Hentges. "He taught me," Pitts said, "that high school kids are going to mess up and do some things wrong." Don't we all. "Absolutely. The easy thing when a kid does something wrong is to be mad at him, but ultimately, I need to help that kid become a better man, a better husband and a better father some day. I can use those moments to teach them and show them that hey, they just messed up on a football field. In the grand scheme of things, that's a small thing. "If I can teach that to them, then maybe they won't mess up as a husband and as a father, which is a whole lot more important." Win or lose on the field, Pitts wins the grand prize. So does Helias.