Open mobile menu

Inside The Chart: On The Map

by Andy Demetra (The Voice of the Yellow Jackets)

Inside The Chart

On The Map: The upbringing that makes newly minted special teams coordinator Jason Semore unlike almost any coach in Division I football

You’ve read this story before.

Kid grows up a small-town coach’s son. Follows his dad into the business.  Grinds his way up the coaching ladder, establishing his own success.

That doesn’t make Jason Semore all that different from the scores of other coaches’ sons who populate the staffs around college football. After playing for his dad in high school, then lettering in college, Semore has spent the past 17 years hopscotching from Division II to FCS to FBS, from one side of the country to the other, from small-school coordinator to Power-5 analyst and now, finally, to linebackers coach at Georgia Tech. On Monday he was promoted to the Yellow Jackets’ special teams coordinator, a role he also held in 2015 at the University of Montana.

But Semore’s background makes him unlike any coach’s son at the Division I level. Maybe any coach in Division I, period. And the answer lies innocuously at the top of his bio.

Hometown: Ganado, Ariz.

It’s an easy piece of information to gloss over, or skim past, or remain incurious about. Every coach and player has it listed obligatorily on their roster page.

Semore’s hometown is a bit of misnomer. Ganado (population 905), in the northeastern corner of Arizona, isn’t technically a town. It’s a chapter of the Navajo Nation.

Semore spent his entire childhood on a reservation, in a place that’s 93 percent Native American according to the 2020 Census, immersed in a culture few if any of his coaching peers have ever experienced.

“It was unique in that you’re in an environment where pretty much everyone is different than you,” he said.

Ganado is all Semore has known. His grandparents moved there in the early 1970s as part of a Bureau of Indian Affairs program that placed teachers at reservation schools in exchange for paying off their student debts. They lived and worked in Ganado for several years before returning to their native Oklahoma. Semore’s father, Russ, moved his family there after getting out of the Air Force, shortly after Jason and his twin brother, Chris, were born, to be an assistant football coach at the high school.

“The reservation is very different. It’s very small towns kind of spread out in a massive area. There’s almost a million Navajo, and the all live on this sprawling, huge reservation, the largest reservation in the world,” Semore explained.

At an elevation of 6,385 feet, Ganado sits in the rural, rugged Four Corners region of the U.S. Its Navajo name, Lók’aahnteel, translates to “Patch of Wide Reeds.” Cattle and sheep ranches stretch along Highway 191 to the west. Rabbitbrush, pinons, junipers and prickly pear cactus freckle the red clay hills there. Copper colored mesas and escarpments stand sentinel in the distance, giving the area a sense of vast, ancient beauty. Hogans, the ceremonial, low-slung dwellings built with wood and packed mud, can still be found around Ganado, often standing next to families’ regular homes.

“It’s high desert plains. It’s really unique in that it’s not quite the Utah sandstone, but it’s more vegetation than high desert,” Semore explained.

He knows the stereotypes of communities like his. Ganado is rustic, but it’s not bleak or forgotten.  It has its hardships, but it’s not crippled by the issues that afflict so many small reservation communities. Window Rock, the capital of the Navajo Nation, sits 25 miles to the east and has banks, grocery stores and fast food chains, and Ganado has a regional hospital and an airport. The Hubbell Trading Post is a national historic site that attracts visitors throughout the Southwest. Ganado bills itself as one of the more agriculturally progressive places on the Navajo Nation, and the area is renowned for its Navajo rug making. When Semore and his family lived there, the high school had almost 1,000 students from all over the county.

Jason Semore helped lead Valdosta State to the 2021 NCAA Division II national championship game as defensive coordinator before returning to Tech as linebackers coach in 2022. This week, he was promoted to special teams coordinator.

 

It’s a proud, active, close-knit community, though Semore admits the remoteness of the reservation had an effect on him.

“There are no big metropolitan areas. All the towns have one gas station, maybe a McDonald’s or something like that. There was no McDonald’s in Ganado. There’s just not a lot to do in terms of a social life or activities or having a job as a teenager,” Semore said.

The isolation had an upside, though.

“For me, that was an opportunity to really invest in athletics, because you really don’t have any other [social] options,” he said.

Semore poured his energies into football, baseball and track at Ganado High, where his dad served as the head football coach. On offense, Jason starred at running back while his twin brother played quarterback; on defense, he earned first team all-state honors at linebacker. Together, they led the Ganado Hornets to four conference championships in the late 1990s.

Semore has fond memories of the community’s support for their games – even if their closest opponent was a 45-minute bus ride away.

“Out on the reservation, everybody kind of knows that basketball is king. The basketball arenas rival Power Five basketball arenas. But there was an excellent crowd. If you live out on the reservation and the nearest [big] town is Albuquerque, N.M., three hours away, there’s not a lot of social scene,” Semore said.

He and his brother enjoyed the notoriety that came with being local sports stars. But their recognition in Ganado stemmed from other reasons too – the fact that he and his family were not native Navajo.

Jason Semore (8) played high school football for his father and with his twin brother at Ganado H.S. on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona 

 

Yet he insists he never felt self-conscious about it. His family had lived in Ganado for most of the last 30 years. As part of his graduation requirements in high school, he had to take a Navajo studies class where he learned traditional tribal skills like weaving papooses and butchering sheep. Navajo culture was omnipresent, but Semore never felt out of place. He speaks fondly of the friendliness and strong family environment in Ganado.

“The community really sticks together,” he said. “It’s like going back in time when you go back there.  People really value you as a person, and the relationships are close. It’s a cool place.”

Semore explained that many Navajo share the same last name, even though they’re not blood relatives.  Their last names refer more to their clan.

“It’s almost like everybody that surrounded me might as well have asked me what my clan was. It was a really cool experience,” Semore said.

After graduating from high school in 2000, Semore continued his playing career at Division II Adams State in Alamosa, Colo. When his coaches praised him for “living in the weight room,” he couldn’t help but chuckle. He never thought twice about all the time he spent lifting weights in Ganado. What else was there to do?

“When I got to college and I got off the reservation, I really believed that I had a different view as far as what I did with my time,” Semore said.

By the time he graduated from Adams State, his dad had taken a head coaching job at a high school two hours south of Ganado, near the New Mexico border. Semore served as the defensive coordinator. The following year he scored his first college gig, as secondary coach of Division II Colorado School of Mines.

Semore has stayed in the collegiate ranks ever since, meticulously working through a variety of defensive roles. He returned to Adams State to serve as its co-defensive coordinator in 2007, the first of four defensive coordinator jobs he’s held over the years. He met Tech defensive coordinator Andrew Thacker as a defensive assistant at Oklahoma State in 2012, which ultimately connected him to the Georgia Tech staff.

Getting a foothold in coaching is about performance, but it’s also about networking. Even with a dad who coached, Semore knows his background – childhood on a reservation, Division II football – didn’t lend itself to the ready-made connections of other aspiring college coaches. But he says his experiences in Ganado, growing up among the Navajo, taught him how to feel at home in other cultures. And that, in turn, has helped him thrive in coaching.

“Being able to establish relationships came naturally to me, and it was important to me, and it has allowed me to get to where I’m at today,” Semore said.

It’s an experience he wouldn’t trade either. This Saturday, when Georgia Tech faces Pittsburgh (8 p.m. ET, Georgia Tech Sports Network from Legends Sports), the coach’s son from Ganado will continue the next chapter in his career, charting a path few in college football have duplicated.

RELATED HEADLINES

Football Omoregie Uzzi: Hall of Fame Class of 2024

Saluting All-America lineman Omorogie Uzzi, Georgia Tech Hall of Fame Class of 2024

Omoregie Uzzi: Hall of Fame Class of 2024
Football Five Jackets Named Preseason All-ACC by Phil Steele

Singleton, King, Haynes, Williams and Birr round out Tech’s honorees

Five Jackets Named Preseason All-ACC by Phil Steele
Football Tech Football Officially Adds Six Transfers

Six student-athletes – all with Power Five experience – join Yellow Jackets

Tech Football Officially Adds Six Transfers
Partner of Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Legends Partner of Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Partner of Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets Partner of Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets