Navarro coach Donnie Slatter was lucky as a kid. He knew what he wanted to do before he left high school.
Slatter was a football and track athlete at Edna, a 3A school in a town of 5,500 people northeast of Victoria.
“I was a quarterback, a running back, outside linebacker and a safety type, just kind of moved around,” Slatter, 50, said. “A lot of times at small schools you play multiple positions.”
He discovered his passion for football at an early age, enjoying the team aspect of the sport.
“It was being with teammates, the camaraderie,” Slatter said. “I remember growing up and playing touch football with my friends, and then just continued with it into high school.”
The love of the game led to a decision while he was still a teenager.
“At some point in time, probably about my junior year, I knew I wanted to be a coach,” he said. “I loved football, I loved being around the game and I had some great coaches growing up. I wanted to stay around it, work with the kids and help them to become better people.”
He turned that decision into a lifelong pursuit — and he’s been a coach ever since.
Slatter graduated from Texas A&I Kingsville (now Texas A&M Kingsville) in 1992, and immediately thereafter got his first coaching gig in his hometown.
“Some of my coaches that I had in junior high and high school were still there,” he said. “I got to work with them in a different aspect — instead of being a player, I was now a coach. Knowing them personally for five or six years really helped — the process, the learning, it all came really naturally.”
Of course, coaches at small schools pull a lot of double duty, so besides coaching the junior high, freshmen and JV football teams, he also coached baseball, basketball and track.
“The first couple of years out I was just trying to get as much experienced knowledge as I could,” he said.
From Edna, Slatter moved on to Halletsville, where he was a football and track coach, but this time just at the high school level.
Brad Wright, a former player at Texas State, offered Slatter his next job at Karnes City and in 2000 Wright took the job at New Braunfels Canyon and Slatter followed him there. Wright would later take the head coaching job at Texas State.
“Being able to find Brad and get hooked up with him was a good move for me,” Slatter said. “He’s got a great football mind, and I ended up at Canyon for 10 years. It was a great opportunity at a larger school. We played against New Braunfels, Alamo Heights and Lake Travis, all those years they were winning state championships.”
He got to coach against many players that went on to the next level and into the pros, including Johnny Manziel, who was at Kerrville, and Malcolm Brown, who played for Steele and went on to the University of Texas.
“I saw a lot of great talent there,” Slatter said. “There were so many great players coming through the Texas high school football chain at that time.”
In 2010, Slatter took his first head coaching job at St. Joseph’s in Victoria, a private school in the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools (TAPPS) league.
But after a couple of years, and with a growing family, he decided that the time demands as head coach and athletic director at the school were too much.
“The school was great, the kids were outstanding, but with my family it was tough,” he said. “Between practices, being at softball and volleyball games on the weekend, it was difficult.”
He reconnected with Wright, who had left Texas State and was coaching at Waller, but he and the family missed the New Braunfels area, and he found his way to Navarro, where he’s been for the last seven seasons.
“We had been away for three years and we missed the area,” Slatter said. “The position opened at Navarro and I was able to get the job.”
While at Navarro, he’s been a football coach, basketball coach and more, and most recently has taken over the golf program at the school. He currently is the defensive coordinator for the Panthers football team.
Slatter just had his first golfer make the state tournament in May. Maddie Reyes finished tied for 11th at the tournament held in Kyle at Plum Creek.
“It’s such a great place,” he said. “It’s great for the kids, the parents, and the teachers and administration are just top notch.”
About the kids
Slatter’s motivation remains the same as when he was kid and made the decision to be a coach.
“I enjoy the people we’re around, the game, and enjoy seeing the kids mature and grow up,” he said. “That’s the biggest thing, to be able to help these kids and their growth.”
Teaching an athlete how to perform on the field, and seeing the understanding when they finally get it, makes coaching special for Slatter.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it,” he said. “I see these kids in junior high, and then the next thing you know, they’re big, strong, and fast, and they’re going off to play college football. It’s those types of moments that’s rewarding. It’s great to say you had a part in that and you helped to get that kid to the next level — that’s huge.”
Slatter has taught P.E., history, government, economics and more in his career, including special education and a behavior program while at Navarro.
He’s married to Shana, who works for the New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce, and they have three children who attend Navarro. Derek is a senior, and their twin girls, Riley and Reagan, are both sophomores.
Slatter never considered going to coach at the next level, even when Wright took the head coaching job at Texas State.
“For me, it would be good,” he said. “But as a coach it’s not about me, it’s about the kids.”