April 22, 2009
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
STEENS -- A new football season has brought a new sense of excitement at Immanuel Christian School.
The Immanuel players have two more reasons to look forward to the 2009 season: Shawn Gates and Daniel Merchant.
Gates and Merchant took the field Tuesday looking to bring a new energy to the football program on its first day of spring workouts.
Gates, 24, takes over for Billy Thomas as the football team''s new coach, while Merchant, who was an assistant football coach at the school last season, will work as defensive coordinator and special teams coach.
"I want to see what I can do to help the program win a championship," said Gates, who accepted the job two weeks ago. "I know the steps it takes to get to the level you need to be. You can be the best player you want to be as long as you give it all you have got, and that is all I ask from my guys."
Gates trains as a kickboxer and professional boxer at Miller''s Tae-Kwon-Do in Columbus and works as a personal trainer. He attended Immanuel in 1999 and 2000, and also will work at the school as a weightlifting instructor.
Gates, a 2004 graduate of Heritage Academy, was an all-area and all-conference pick on the team that was state runner-up in MPSA.
He went on to play football for one season and to coach one season at East Mississippi Community College. He also played football at North Greenville University (S.C.) in 2006.
In 2007, he worked as an assistant coach at Heritage Academy before moving on to work as an assistant coach for the Mississippi Mudcats and Immanuel High School.
This year, he had earned a spot in the Georgia Force''s camp before the Arena League suspended the 2009 season.
Billy Thomas, who coached the football team the past three seasons (1-8 record in 2008), said Gates and Merchant will help the program grow.
Merchant, who is working as a student teacher at Immanuel while he completes work on his bachelor''s degree at Mississippi University for Women, will work full time as a physical education teacher at Immanuel in the fall.
Merchant worked in 2007 as an assistant football coach at Sulligent High (Ala.). He coached the Immanuel baseball team to a 3-16 season this year, and recently was hired as the full-time baseball coach.
"Coach Merchant and coach Gates are going to do a good job taking us over the top and where we need to be," Thomas said. "I think we are headed in the right direction. These guys are excited, and that''s what it takes. They want to be here all day and working hard."
From the beginning, Thomas, who also coaches basketball and track and field at the school, considered himself a "fill-in" who was helping build the foundation for the football program. Thomas is a member of Immanuel''s board of directors and works full time in his food brokerage business.
He will remain at the school as basketball and track and field coach.
Last year, Thomas said the school tried to find a new coach before the start of the season. He said Gates'' work last season helped him transition and build relationships with players.
Gates'' father, Greg, and Bruce Baudoin will work as assistant coaches with the football program.
Merchant said he and Gates are excited to build a program at Immanuel.
"He is a hard worker," Merchant said. "I think he can turn the program around and get us back on track."
Gates is equally confident. He feels the work he has done with the players since last season has helped them get stronger and faster. He believes that work has pushed the football program forward.
"We have to trust in each other, we have to work hard, we have to lift weights, we have to run every day, and we just have to maintain ourselves," Gates said. "We have to work hard every day and the Good Lord will bless you."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.