September 21, 2018 10:31:31 AM
Give Michael Kelly and Wade Tackett time.
In an age when impatience seems to be on the rise, the Caledonia and New Hope High School first-year head football coaches are in a business when it is sometimes difficult to offer tangible rewards of progress. At 1-3 and 0-5, Caledonia and New Hope enter their annual Lowndes County rivalry game with very little to show for their months of hard work, preparation, and study.
Injuries have hit both squads. Personnel changes also have affected the programs as the new coaches try to establish a foundation of expectations and standards. The learning process hasn't been easy, but credit Kelly and Tackett for keeping a positive message and remaining patience through a challenging first several months in their new positions.
Earlier this week, both coaches talked about "learning how to win." Both programs share the challenge because historically they haven't had a lot of success. New Hope has been the more accomplished squad of late, especially under head coach Michael Bradley and most recently under Kris Pickle, who resigned following the 2017 season.
Kelly and Tackett talked about teaching life skills and using football as a vessel to teach those skills. They talked about greater attentiveness in film study, preparation in the weight room, cleaning lockers and the locker room as examples of pieces that will go into creating a winning program. Those details might not seem important to outsiders, but both coaches said they are things that help raise the standard in a program and enable players to change their mind-set.
"Most of them really have never won, so it really has been a difference for them," Tackett said. "I can't tell you what each class has done. I can't tell you what the seniors have done. I haven't researched that far back, but we only have five of them, so we are very, very young. We are getting a lot of experience playing, practice experience, and varsity and junior varsity reps for a lot of players. What we are trying to do at this point is to make sure we keep them on the same path, keep their spirits and hopes up and focus up, and teach them every day is a chance to get better and you have to take advantage of that opportunity."
Tackett has seen improvement since he was hired in May. Like any coach, he would have loved to have had more time to get to know the players so they understood what he wanted once practice started in the fall. He is confident that time will create habits he hope become winning habits and allow the coaches to hold practices that feature more repetitions than teaching. Tackett knows that will take time, but he likes the potential in the school's younger teams.
Kelly is in a similar situation. His team has come closer to having better results in losses to Choctaw County and Byhalia. The highlight so far was a season-opening victory against Lowndes County rival West Lowndes, a team that beat Caledonia in 2017. Kelly, who was an assistant coach at Columbus High under Randal Montgomery, earned a game ball and a Gatorade shower following that victory. He said he wanted his players to enjoy the experience of winning because so many of them hadn't experienced it. Now, though, he said the focus has turned to eliminating the self-inflicted mistakes that have prevented the Confederates from capitalizing on more opportunities through four games.
This week, Caledonia has a chance to end a 13-game losing streak to New Hope. The Confederates have had their share of close calls. There also have been plenty of years where the games haven't been close. Kelly intends to change that. He doesn't want anyone on the Confederates' schedule to look past his team and chalk it up as an easy win. Through four games, he said he has been impressed with the players' work ethic and intensity. Armed with a motto that no team is going to outwork his squad, Kelly has captured the attention of his players with a direct approach that doesn't allow any excuses.
Tackett is doing his job the same way. To both men, accountability is crucial, and it starts with them. They will put in the work needed to transform the fortunes of their programs. They know their assistant coaches will put in that work, too. In time, they feel the Confederates and Trojans will get used to winning ways. It might not happen this season as much as people want, but have patience. Sometimes it takes a few more reps for things to click. Sometimes it takes a big win against an archrival for players to believe things have changed.
At Caledonia and New Hope, that time is now.
"Our kids understand how much ground w have covered so far, but they also understand that is not our end goal," Kelly said. "Our end goal is to put wins in that win column. They don't give many trophies for second place."
Adam Minichino is spots editor of The Dispatch. You can email him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ctsportseditor.
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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