August 2, 2009 12:37:00 AM
Brad Butler knows the Heritage Academy football program can accomplish big things.
He was a member of the football team''s coaching staff in 2005 when it advanced to the Class AAA Division II title game.
Now it''s Butler''s job to help the Patriots get back to that level.
After an offseason in which many of the players accepted the demands Butler and his assistant coaches placed on them, the Patriots took their first steps last week to rebuilding a program that wants to compete for championships.
With two weeks to go before the season-opening jamboree against Pickens Academy and three weeks left before the season begins against Oak Hill Academy, Butler believes things are going in the right direction.
"I think now that more has been demanded of them and they have put that time in I think it is going to change their attitude," Butler said.
Butler was named in February to replace Lee Davis, who went 5-17 in two seasons at Heritage Academy.
Last season, Butler worked as offensive line coach at Heritage Academy. He feels his first stint at the school and his work last year helped him transition into his first head coaching position.
Butler said he will be more "hands on" and that he will expect his players to work hard. He said he wasn''t a talented athlete when he played but that he prided himself in listening to coaching and giving his all.
If the Patriots do those things, Butler believes good things will happen.
"We''re not going to make Deion Sanders out of little Jimmy who runs a 5.5 (in the 40-yard dash)," Butler said. "It is not going to happen, but he can be a good football player if he is willing to make the effort."
Butler said he has seen that effort in the offseason from many of his players. He admitted to being a little skeptical that the players would have that kind of commitment because the program slipped from one that played for a state title in 2005.
"A lot hadn''t been demanded of them so they kind of got in that mode where they just show up Friday night and play football and that is just what we do," Butler said
Things started to change at the end of last season. The Patriots started a weight training program in the morning right after the season ended. Butler said solid participation and commitment to the program have put the team in good position as it enters another week of preseason.
"I think the kids wanted it," Butler said. "I think they were kind of starved for it. They have done a great job in the weight room and come a long way."
Butler also will use his experience as strength coach of the Dallas Desperados of the Arena Football League in 2008 and his work as a graduate assistant at Mississippi State from 2006-07, and his experience as offensive and defensive coach at Starkville Academy, his alma mater, from 1998-2004 to help the Patriots rebuild.
Butler played for his father, David, at Starkville Academy, and graduated in 1995. His father also was the football coach at Winston Academy in Louisville and Central Academy in Macon.
Heritage Academy will have to raise its level with a smaller roster. Butler said the Patriots have 29 on the varsity program, which is down from recent years. Instead of being disappointed, Butler said he is proud of the "special" players who remained committed to the team and helping reverse the program''s fortunes.
"They are going to play hard and they are going to reap some benefits," Butler said. "The thing that bothered me about last year is when we did lose a ballgame (it was like) ''So what,''" Butler said. "The coaches were hurting but the players weren''t. When I think back to teams I was a part of in the past, when we got beat it hurt. When that starts happening I know we''re on the right track. We''re not going to win them all, but every time we get beat and I ought to look into those players'' eyes and it ought to hurt them some because they put in enough effort that it means something to them now."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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