Saturday, August 20, 2011

Football Fridays and Living a Dream

As I sat early this morning having coffee, there was a certain feel in the air. It was the Saturday morning after a Football Friday Night feel, even if I hadn't known what day it was, I could have figured it out just by that feeling.  When I was coaching at Valley Head, we had some great kids. A bunch of kids that weren't  use to winning and for the most part, that school had become the laughing stock of Dekalb Co. How I ended up at Valley Head High School was something sort of crazy itself. I was still at Ider, I had been coaching the JV and announcing Varsity games. The head coach of the Ider JV program left and went to Valley Head as the Defensive Coordinator, I stayed at Ider because I was sort of indebted to the Senior class that year. It was the middle of the season and my wife at the time and I were visiting her brother who lived right next to the Valley Head school and I said to her "You know, I'd really like to come down here and coach"...she laughed.."why?" was all she could say after she stopped laughing, and I told her "the atmosphere just feels different around here nowadays, call me crazy, but I believe they can win here." Now little did I know, my name had already been circulated around there as a guy they wanted to bring on board and sure enough 2 days later as My wife and I were talking, the phone rings and it is Rob Hannah, the guy that was the JV coach at Ider...he simply said "Bill, we want you to come to Valley Head and coach the Defensive line" it was the middle of the season and boy, was I caught off guard. It didn't take me long to accept the position after interviewing with the Head Coach Charles Hammon, I could tell this guy was a winner. I fulfilled my duties as P.A guy for the Ider Hornets, like I said, I was indebted to that senior class which included my nephew, and the day after football season ended in 2002, I went to work at Valley Head. As I got to know the kids there, it was obvious I was going to connect with a lot of them. Some didn't have parents, and some didn't have parents worth shooting. We had kids that came from broken homes and never had a positive role model in their life, for me, it felt like home, I knew I could not only help these players win, but I could help these boys become men in the process. We spent the off season hitting the weights hard, Coach Hammon's weight program is proven (those kids that help lead Dade Co. to such a great year last year, had all came up on his weight program) we won every weight meet we went to that off season and it showed up on the field the next year. Working for Coach Hammon  was simply great, he never interfered with what you were doing with your guys, he would always say to all of us coaches "you're the head coach for the position you're coaching." I really was able to grow as a coach in this enviroment, I had 15 players on the D-line so those were my guys...sometimes during a real good intense day, we would shout up to the other end of the practice field at the running backs and be like "hey, why don't you pretty boys come down here and practice with the real men"...I'm telling you, those kids knew I had their backs and  they had mine. Our goal for that season, was to have a non-losing season...they had 13 losing seasons in a row. When the season started I could tell we were gonna be a pretty good football team, we were still 1 year away and still playing way too many 10th graders, but I thought we could be competitive with most everyone on our schedule, and I was right. Those Fridays were the best days of the year for me. All the students would be a little jacked up, the teachers were in a better mood and our players, walked with a sense of pride as they walked the halls in their jerseys (Purple for home games, white for the road) After our pre-game meal, we would bring the guys back in and put them in the field house for lights out, it was a quite time where all the players could relax and do what we liked to call "get their mind right." As for the coaches, Coach Hannah and I would be in our office going over some last minute stuff and talking about how we thought the night would go, during home games, he and I would go sit on the balcony outside of Coach Hammon's office that overlooked the field, and just take everything in. I could always tell when it was getting close...Coach Hammon would summon the trainer with the instructions "Lets get' em taped"...and as the players were being taped up, we would have one final staff meeting to go over any last minute details and I'd go throw up ( a ritual that has been with me for some reason ever since I can remember when it came to football) then it was time to address the team. All the other coaches would take the kids out for specialty warm ups and I would bring the rest of the team out. Now, the speeches I gave are legendary and we would always take the field the same way...I'd get the boys all worked up, and then I'd give the command that they all waited to hear  "Ok its time...Lets strap em on" they knew it was time to put the head gear on and get ready to go do battle, then those words I spoke every Friday night.. "Men, lets get loud and lets be rowdy, because By-God, were about to play the greatest game known to man"...I would kick the door open and they would tear out of that dressing room like their asses were on fire, I always knew when we had the other team, because they would stop whatever they were doing and watch us take the field. Now it is not an overstatement at all when I say, I would get drunk off the electricity in the the season wore on, folks realized these kids were doing something special, so the victory lines got longer...the band played louder and the stands had no empty seats, there was always a moment before every game, as we were waiting for the kids to come through that run through sign the cheerleaders were holding up, that I'd just look around and take it all in and thank the good Lord, I had this opportunity. As the game wore on, we would make adjustments, sometimes strategies would change on the fly, it truly is a human chess match when you are coaching football. After the game, it was time to go to work. When the field house cleared, we would all begin our duties as coaches.. It wasn't all  glamor...each coach had assigned jobs, after we finished, each coach would get their game tapes and after one last walk through to make sure nothing had been over looked, it was off to the Waffle King in Ft. Payne (as was a tradition for the coaching staff after home games.) I'd usually get home between 2:00 or 2:30 in the morning, and since we all had to be back at the field house at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, I would usually work in my office at home, grading tapes, going over what worked and what didn't, etc..until time to go back to the field house..I'd grab a dozen donuts...some coffee and try to get there before the other coaches to enjoy coffee and a donut on that the year went on, the colors on the side of the Mtn. were amazing, and it was just across the road from our stadium, so the view from that deck was unbelievable. And that feeling would be lingering in the air, and I would reflect on how I got there and how many people I owed a big thank you to helping me get there. People like Tim Cagle, who gave me my first chance at coaching, he and I took over a bunch of  7th graders that had never won anything, and took them to the championship game(despite the fact that we lost our QB and best player, Chas Galloway before the season even started, if we would have had him, no-one would have played within 3 TD's of us that year)...Tommy Wells, he has been like a mentor to me, while I was at Ider, I learned so much from the man, truly one of the greatest men I have ever known...Rob Hannah, he saw something in me and recognized the fact that  I could be of some use...and last but certainly not least Charles Hammon...I can't say enough good things about this guy, he is the hardest working coach I have ever been around, 16 hour days are the norm for this man...I wasn't much as a player, but I played with some damn good ones, people like Bobby and Tommy Moore, Wayne Kesler, Jamie Duarte (James Camba) Ronnie Goff (still holds a record at Dade Co. for 2 punt returns in one game, one of the fastest white guys I ever met) this is just a few, but I learned a lot from these guys and of course Coach James Paul, he made me an offer once in world history, he said "Billy, you can do the history and get what grade you earn, or we can talk football and I'll just give you a B for the year...(I got a B in World History that I was truly living a dream, I had the pleasure of coaching some great kids at both Ider and Valley Head. At Valley Head we had the state back of the year, he eventually went on to be the all time leading rusher in Dekalb Co. and still holds the record. We sent some kids to college, others we helped send them down a better path than what they would have chosen on their own. We made the playoffs with these guys, losing to the eventual state champions that year (they had a kid that went on to start @ RB for Kentucky, and another went to Southern Miss and started @ Linebacker) but that season set the tone for the next two years. I got the news 1 month before spring that I was getting a promotion of sorts, I was going to be co-offensive coordinator the following year. So I spent the next few weeks developing an offense alongside our Running Backs coach, designing plays, tagging them (the term coaches use to name the plays) and trying to figure out our personnel. I hit a tree a few days before the start of spring football and the rest is history...Since then, Coach Hannah is back at Ider as Def. Coordinator, Coach Hammon is at Ft. Payne along with Coach Rayford Bethune, who is now the Offensive coordinator, running the system he and I developed....and Tommy Wells, he is still mentoring coaches, he's the guy coaches call when they need coaching...Yep, that was truly a dream period in my life...  Now, Football Fridays are bittersweet for me. You can usually find me posted at the gate were the players and coaches take the field at all Ider home games...all the coaches stop by with a pat on the back, a handshake, or a hug...the players have come to recognize me, the people of  Ider that have known me will usually stop and give me the old "Hey Bill, how are ya?"...well, if you're  asking me on A Friday night, and I'm at a Football game, the answer will always be "I'm doing great"...I may never get the chance to be back on the sidelines, but the feeling is still the same...Football Fridays always make me better and to paraphrase myself " By-God, I got to be part of the greatest game known to man"....If you are a football fan, I hope all of your Football Fridays are great ones, but heed this advice, enjoy them, take them in, and be thankful, because it can all be gone...that quick...Til next time...Peace...Love..and Happiness

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