October 22, 2009 8:55:00 AM
Josh Harper credits Rusty Funk with helping him advance through the ranks to become a head football coach.
Harper was an assistant to Funk at Columbus High School and at South Lamar High School in Millport, Ala.
Harper will get a chance Friday to show his mentor what he learned when he coaches against Funk.
Harper, who replaced Funk as the coach at South Lamar, will coach against his mentor at 7 p.m. Friday when the Stallions travel to Marion County in Guin, Ala., for an Alabama High School Athletic Association Class A, Region 7 game.
Funk is in his first season at Marion County. He was released as South Lamar''s coach this past year despite coaching the Stallions to a 9-4 record and the third round of the Class A state playoffs in his only season at the school.
"I learned a lot from coaching with Rusty," Harper said. "I''m also learning a lot from preparing to coach against him, He''s always been the type to answer questions about issues, and I try to keep my coaching bridges established. I''m thankful he''s always been there for me as far as helping me with the Xs and Os and non Xs and Os of football.
"He taught me a lot. It''s hard to pinpoint one thing. He''s a good football coach. There''s no doubt about that. Any time you''ve got somebody like Rusty you can go to with questions about certain things about the game, you better take advantage of it. I''ve been lucky to be able to do that with coach Funk."
Harper was a junior high coach during Funk''s tenure at Columbus High in 2004 and 2005. He was his defensive coordinator last season at South Lamar.
Funk said he would prefer not to have to play against his former assistant.
"Josh is a great guy, and I love him to death," Funk said. "I have what I call mixed emotions. I always want to win and do well, but I always want to see the guys I''ve coached with do well. It''s kind of tough."
Funk experienced a similar situation when he left Columbus and became an assistant at Tupelo for two seasons and he had to face his former team.
"After you leave a good group of boys it''s hard to coach against them," Funk said. "You''d rather not have to, but life doesn''t always work that way."
Harper said he has been constantly reminded this week about coaching against Funk, but he doesn''t want his players to focus on the task at hand or to get caught up in the excitement of facing their former coach.
"We''ve got to treat it like another ballgame," Harper said. "We can''t focus on who''s coaching on the other sideline. If the boys focus on that they''re going to lose. We know who''s on the other side coaching. We know. It''s not been an issue.
"The boys are excited, but our focus is on the individual jobs at hand. The boys know they''re not going to be playing coach Funk on the field. It''s going to be who''s lining up against them. That''s been our focus primarily the whole week."
Harper said Funk is and always will be his friend, but "I want to beat him by 50 touchdowns if I can."
But Harper doesn''t want the game to be about him and Funk.
"Ultimately it''s not going to be about the coaches," Harper said. "I''ve learned so much from him and it''s made me a better coach. Ultimately that helps me better serve my boys. It''s ultimately about the boys. What I like about this ballgame is it''s making me a better coach and I''m able to better help my boys."
South Lamar (1-7, 1-6 region) beat Brilliant for its only region win, while Marion County 2-6, 2-5) has defeated Brilliant and Meek.
There''s a question to which team will have an advantage. Funk knows South Lamar''s players and the Stallions are familiar with what Marion County does, too.
"He''s running the same scheme or a lot of the same schemes (as he did at South Lamar)," Harper said. "They''re not necessarily the same schemes because he doesn''t have the same personnel we had here last year. It allows the boys to be familiar with some things. Sitting down and watching film they''re able to say, ''Hey we know what that play is'' or ''We know that defensive call.'' We''re able to prepare for it in that perspective."
South Lamar has seven returning letterman from last year''s team, so it''s a different team from the one Funk coached.
"They''ve got some weapons I know we''ve got to worry about," Funk said. "I have some better insight into their players than say Berry, which they played last week.
"Their running backs are better than anything we''ve got. Ken Mitchell and Malcolm Willingham can break one on us at anytime, and that''s a fear factor. They''ve got the big kid in Tremaine Willingham (6-0, 265). He''s a man amongst boys when he wants to be. They have the potential to be dangerous."
South Lamar defeated Marion County 55-6 last season.