(Left to Right) Jeremiah Tullidge #7, Ashton McLeod #21, Wayne Brantley, and Alston Poellnitz #12 after a big overtime win over Morgan Academy

The next season, in 2008, our roster grew to 39 players, and we encouraged students from our own hallways to join the team. We also added a few new coaches to the staff. Jarrod Pullen, Ben Ensor, Kareem McNeal, Martin Houston, Gary Shores, and Paul Diaz. The list goes on and on! We had a great off-season, we had a great spring practice capped off by a great Blue/Gold game, we had increased our roster from within our own hallways, and God had blessed us with, in my opinion, the best coaching staff in the league. I stressed our program characteristics by doing a short devotion each day before practice. I really enjoyed teaching our team about the characteristics of a Knight! Courage, Discipline, Unselfishness, Humility, Loyalty, Purity, Perseverance, Honesty, Integrity and Servant Leadership. I was preaching! Coach Nick Saban always says, “first become a champion, then you can win a championship.” My main priority, my focus, was developing champions. I wanted to develop “Maximum Men.” Men that rejected passivity, accepted responsibility, led courageously, and desired the greater reward! I truly believed that if we developed great young men, we would win games as a result. I also dreamed of winning a state championship. There was a tremendous amount of excitement building around the program and school. The players were excited, the school was excited, and the parents were excited! The support from our Parents, Headmaster and our Athletic Director were second to none, the best that I had ever seen or experienced. We went 11-2 in 2008, at that time a school record for total wins in a season, and we put together the longest winning streak in school history with 10 straight wins, we broke school records for points scored, passing yards, total yards, and we finished in the final four of the state play-offs!

Tuscaloosa Academy Coaching Staff 2008 1st Row: Ben Ensor, Jarod Pullen, Skeeter, Kareem McNeal
2nd Row: Martin ouston, Gary Shores, Wayne Brantley, John Copeland, Paul Diaz, Jack Rutledge

“Benaiah son of Jehoiada, a valiant fighter from Kabzeel, performed great exploits. He struck down Moab’s two mightiest warriors. He also went down into a pit on a snowy day and killed a lion.”-II Samuel 23:20
“The men of Israel retreated, but Eleazar stood his ground and struck the Philistines until his hand grew weary and stuck to his sword. The LORD brought about a great victory that day.”-II Samuel 23:10

Wow! Benaiah and Eleazar! Teach the team about these two men and name an award after them. Perfect attendance, scout team player of the week, weight lifting iron man award, etc. This is a great way to motivate! We had started a program called the “Crucible” that off-season. Every Tuesday and Thursday morning at 6:00. It was like a boot camp! Distance runs, sprints, agility, crawls, team building exercises and the like. Players that could make the entire workout every time for the entire off-season were given the Eleazar Award. They received a plaque, a shirt, and a steak dinner! They also won the respect and admiration from everyone in the program! They were the warriors! 

Here are some great questions to discuss with your team after teaching them about Benaiah and Eleazar: 

A great warrior quote: 

“To be a warrior is not a simple matter of wishing to be one. It is rather an endless struggle that will go on to the very last moment of our lives. Nobody is born a warrior, in exactly the same way that nobody is born an average man. We make ourselves into one or the other.” 

Here is a quote from Heraclitus that we would discuss often as a team, I think it addresses courage and what being all in means: 

“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back.” -Heraclitus 

The program continued to grow and improve after the 2008 season but several changes would occur in the next few years. I left Tuscaloosa after the 2010-2011 school year and returned to Atlanta to become the head coach at Landmark Christian School. In 2012 the dream of a state championship in football for Tuscaloosa Academy came to fruition under the leadership of Head Coach Robert Johnson. Coach Johnson has been a huge success at all of his stops. Coach Johnson took the program to new heights during his 8 years at the helm. Even though I was not a part of the team that won it all, I felt a great pride. I somehow felt like that original coaching staff in 2007, Jack Rutledge, Justin Moon, Kenneth Vandervort, John Copeland, Headmaster George Elder, Athletic Director John Rushing, myself, and many others had a hand in it. Most of the players on that state championship team were Junior High and JV players that we had coached during my four years there. Because it was a small school we actually coached all of the players from the 7th grade through the 12th grade from 2007-2010. We were only able to do that because of the courage, commitment, and unselfishness of the coaches and players. It was also an organization marvel! 

Today, the TA program is in the capable hands of Coach Josh Wright. Josh is a friend and a great coach, he loves his players and has a great football mind. He won 3 state championships at Bessemer Academy and he will no doubt win more at TA. I am extremely excited for Josh and his staff, the TA program, and the great things that they are going to do. 

Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”

After 30 years of coaching high school football I have experienced a lot of highs and a lot of lows, a lot of ups and downs, but never have I experienced a season like the 2008 season at Tuscaloosa Academy. It was magical. I do not believe in luck, only preparation and blessings, and that season was full of both. Galatians 6:7-9 is one of my favorite passages from the Bible. I read this passage and taught the team about it a lot in 2008. “A man will reap what he sows!” “You will reap a harvest at the proper time, if you do not give up!” The 2008 Knights planted a lot of seeds, they worked the soil, they watered and they nurtured, they pulled the weeds, and the harvest was amazing. It was magical. To have a truly great season you have to have great people in every area that are unselfish, humble, servant leaders, that are dedicated to the mission of the team. I have never seen this come together at a higher level than it did in the spring, summer, and fall of 2008 at 420 Rice Valley Road in Tuscaloosa, Alabama!

We were coming off a great season in 2007. Not great in the number of wins, but great in the building of a foundation and the changing of a culture. To say that we had a lot of momentum is a vast understatement. Everyone was excited! By the late spring of 2008, about 16 months into this rebuilding project we had gone from 16 players to 39 players. One thing that makes me very proud about the increased numbers is that all but 3 of the new players were already in school at TA before I arrived. The team was being built from within our own hallways. We were using the resources that were available to us. But, not only had our players grown in number, they had also grown as players and as people, they played with great technique, they played fast, they were tough and physical, and they were in great physical condition. Most importantly, they were unselfish, they had great attitudes and they were very coachable! They had put in the work. Our seniors were amazing. As a group our seniors provided leadership, trust, confidence, and unity. They set the tone! They were truly an unselfish group of young men. The 2008 seniors were Win Perkins, Shane Gilliland, Christian Menard, Xavier Houston, Robert McLeod, Hunter Haley, Cory Burt, Omari Horne, Garrett McGiffert, Sumner Rumsey, Charlie Reed, Taylor Conant, and Zach Rives.

Another major improvement was going from zero assistant coaches in January 2007 to nine in the spring of 2008. Out of those nine, we were represented by 5 former college players, 2 NFL players, a former NFL first round draft pick, 8 National Championships, 18 SEC championships, a 23 year Alabama assistant coach, and the best dentist in Alabama! In 2008 our coaches were Ben Ensor, Jack Rutledge, John Copeland, Jarrod Pullen, Kareem McNeal, Martin Houston, Paul Diaz, Gary Shores, and Skeeter Jordan. If I looked like a good head coach, it was because of those men, I stood on their shoulders. Their main concern was the team, nobody had a selfish agenda. That staff was the epitome of iron sharpening iron!

Here are my expectations for the coaching staff: 

Make sure we hold all players accountable in the following areas while we are on the field: 

A few other thoughts:

Staff Meetings:

During the season we will meet at 2:30pm on Sunday afternoons. During the off-season we will meet on Tuesday evenings at 6:30 to clinic, learn, and prepare. The Youth League and Middle School coaches will attend these meetings as well. During the summer we will meet on Tuesday and Thursday evenings at 6:30 to prepare for the season. The Youth League and the Middle School coaches will attend these meetings as well. The meetings with the Youth league and Middle School coaches is essential to the growth of our program!

Matthew 20:16, “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” Be a servant, a mentor, and a leader for the Youth and Middle School coaches!

John F. Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963 on his way to deliver a speech to the Trade Mart. The speech that he was to deliver ended with what I believe are appropriate remarks for a coaching staff. 

“We in this country, in this generation, are – by destiny rather than choice – the watchmen on the walls of world freedom. We ask, therefore, that we may be worthy of our power and responsibility, that we may exercise our strength with wisdom and restraint, and that we may achieve in our time and for all time the ancient vision of “peace on earth, good will toward men.” That must always be our goal, and the righteousness of our cause must always underlie our strength. For as was written long ago: “except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.”

I mentioned above that in order to have a great season you have to have unselfish servant leaders that are dedicated to the mission of the team in every area. We had an abundance. For starters, Wayne Reed. Wayne Reed was our Team Dad. He was our equipment manager, our waterboy, he managed the sidelines, he painted the field and set it up for games, he fixed anything that was broken, and he made sure my son, Bryant, was on the bus and didn’t get left behind in the middle of nowhere Alabama on late Friday nights in the fall because I was already thinking about the next opponent. Wayne Reed became a great friend, a brother, he is the picture of servant leadership, I am beyond blessed and thankful that God saw fit to cross our paths. He makes me a better man.

Wayne Reed and Bryant Brantley

Did I mention that we had an abundance of unselfish servant leaders? Debbie McLeod and Elizabeth McGiffert are two of the most unselfish servant leaders I have ever known. Debbie McLeod is without a doubt the best team mom in the history of team mom’s! It really cannot be put into words. Our pre-game meals were legendary, pep rallies were off the charts, she was great at sending out communications to the other parents, organizing parents to volunteer and work concessions, organizing the spring and fall “Meet the Knights” night, the Captains Dinner and the end of the year Banquet. Elizabeth McGiffert would decorate our campus, the school lobby, and the stadium on Friday’s. She would make you feel so special when you drove into school on Friday mornings! There would be signs, flowers, balloons, streamers, the works! She organized post game snack bags for the team, and she hosted a team party at the lake every year. They would also make sure I had tickets to Bama games every Saturday! These two ladies did so many things that I really probably have no idea the extent of it. They always had a smile and a positive energy that was infectious. They were extremely encouraging, loyal and supportive. They were a major reason for our success!

We could still do two-a-days back in 2008. As we kicked-off pre-season practice our schedule ran something like this, at 9:00am the 9th-12th graders would practice in shorts and t-shirts for two and half hours. At 6:30pm the 7th-12th graders would practice in full pads under the stadium lights for two and half hours. So, our high school boys were getting in two practices per day. The practices were fast, high tempo, we focused on discipline, technique, footwork, agility, tackling, and installing our schemes on offense, defense, and special teams. We focused on doing it right! We focused on accountability! Anybody can go out on the field to practice and do it wrong, a loser can practice and do it wrong. We wanted it done right, the champions way! We practiced the younger boys with the older boys so that we could coach them as well. We wanted them to learn the TA way of doing things. It was also a great laboratory for teaching leadership to the older boys. It gave all of them a chance to lead, a chance to set a great example, and to serve others.

Here are some important lessons about humility and unselfishness from I Timothy 1:12-17: 

“Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.”-C.S. Lewis

Our “warm-up” set the tone, it was a thing of beauty led by Coach Jarrod Pullen, and supervised and coached by all of the coaches. It was the first thing and the last thing that we did in practice that pre-season. To the casual observer it looked like conditioning. I took pride in knowing that players from other teams probably couldn’t make it through our “warm-up”. Coach Pullen had great intensity and energy leading this drill. It was special. We were blessed that early August with some cooler temperatures and some cool breezes late in the evenings. Coach Pullen’s enthusiasm, the cool breezes, and the satisfaction of knowing you had put in some hard work and improved as a player that day led to some very lively and energetic finishes to practices in the evening. I still get chills thinking about how pumped the team would get to finish out the day’s work! 

Every day I would stress to the team that anybody could go out and practice. Only champions could go out and practice the right way. Practice does not make perfect, Perfect Practice makes Perfect! Anybody can do it wrong, it takes a champion to do it right! Every day we did a tackling circuit, we ran the bags and did different footwork drills, we drove the sled, we did an Oklahoma drill, a Special Teams Indy, Kick-off team, and Kick-off return team drills, and we installed our offense and defense. Our “warm-up” started and ended the practice. Everything we did was fast, high energy, and high tempo. We would go as hard as we could go and then take a water break. They bought in, we would practice like our hair was on fire. Then we would rest, drink water and Powerade, and cover our heads with ice water soaked towels. We were conditioning their bodies for a game. Come August 22nd, they would be ready!

Our practice lay-out looked something like this that pre-season:
Period 1: Dynamic Warm-Up/Flex
Period 2: Specialty
Period 3: Bag Drills (Footwork/Ball Security)
Period 4: Team Sled
Period 5: Tackling Fundamentals
Period 6: Oklahoma
Period 7: Special Teams
Period 8: Defense Indy
Period 9: Defense Team
Period 10: Offense Indy
Period 11: Offense Team
Period 12: Conditioning/Flex
Periods were usually 10-12 minutes long. Practice would usually last between 2:30-2:45 depending on water breaks. 

Today, I would use the following plan and have periods of 6-8 minutes. I would also play players on only one side of the ball if possible. 


I love this Pre-Season (August) practice lay-out
Period 1: Dynamic Warm-up/Flex
Period 2: Special Teams Indy
Period 3: Bag Drills (Footwork/Ball Security) or Team Sled
Period 4: Team Offense vs. Air (Screens)/Defensive Pursuit
Period 5: Tackling Fundamentals/Turnover Drill
Period 6: Kick-Off/Kick-Off Return
Period 7: Punt Team/PAT Team
Period 8: Team Offense vs. Air (Install)/Defense Formation Recognition/Alignment Period 9: Indy I
Period 10: Indy II
Period 11: Group (Example: LB/DB work together; QB/WR work together) Period 12: Inside/Perimeter
Period 13: Team Pass
Period 14: Team Run
Period 15: Cross Over Players Walk Through/JV Defense
Period 16: Conditioning/Flex

This is a 2:00-2:15 practice depending on water breaks. I would encourage you that if at all possible to play players on only one side of the ball. Here are the advantages if you are trying to build a program:

During the regular season the practice plan would change depending on the opponent, the health and fatigue level of the team, and areas that we needed to address to become better. But, as a general rule the skeleton of the plan would be similar to the pre-season plan on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday would be more situational and then Thursday a run-through. During the regular season I would encourage a couple of blitz pick up periods for the offense and a couple of routes on air periods for the QB’s and WR’s. I really believe you need to be ready to play when you leave the field Wednesday afternoon. “The hay is in the barn!”

Here are some really important things that I believe need to be coached and stressed on a daily basis. 

“Champions do the ordinary things better than everyone else” -Chuck Noll

Here is the summer and in-season conditioning plan that I have used in the past and that I really believe in to get your team in peak condition. This obviously would accompany your weight lifting program. I would highly recommend hiring a coach on your staff to run your weight lifting program if you do not feel comfortable or equipped to lead that effort. Do not have an ego in this area, it must be done right and it doesn’t matter who gets the credit as long as it is successful!













That 2008 team at Tuscaloosa played fast! We started every game fast. I think it is very important to script your first 10-12 offensive plays and to practice the script everyday that week. These plays/formations should be the 10-12 best you have for this game. These should be your drive starters and first down plays as well. It gives your team an extreme amount of confidence and feeling of preparedness. It also eases your stress and anxiety in regards to play calling. Your first and possibly, second drive are already called. Use what you think are your best plays and get the ball to your best players in good spots. I have had games where the script was so good that we never called a play that was not on the script the whole night! The best game plans have about 22-26 play/formation combinations in my opinion. When you put together your script and game plan call sheet there are a few factors to consider that are very important.

How much can I practice? Can I rep this play out of this formation enough that we feel great about executing it during the game. 

The 2008 season was the most gratifying of my career. We went from the school seriously considering disbanding football at the the conclusion of the 2006 season to going 11-2 and finishing in the semi-finals just two years later. We are competitive and we all want to win and I have one huge regret about that season. When the semi-final game was over I was devastated, we lost, we were not going to the state championship game. It hurt. Because I was down and felt sorry for myself, I didn’t honor the team like I should have on the field after the game. Normally, I do a good job of bragging on people and building them up, but I just couldn’t muster it up that night. Over the years it has not become any easier but I have learned to fake my way through it if necessary. After the last game, give honor to the players and the coaches on the field!

We continued to build the next two seasons and we continued to have success. But, I don’t think we ever re-captured the magic of 2008. After the 2010 season I made the hardest decision of my career. I decided to leave TA for the AD and head football job at Landmark Christian School in Fairburn, Georgia. Landmark is a great Christian school just outside of Atlanta. It is just outside the 285 belt just south of the airport. I had been at Landmark as the offensive coordinator and as a history teacher from 2001-2007. I also served as the principal there for three years. I mentioned earlier that some of the best men I have ever known were at Landmark and I had a lot of friends there. They offered me a great salary, a really big raise from what I was currently making, a few perks, and an opportunity and I just really felt like I could not turn it down. It all added up on paper, but, I must admit, I don’t think a single day has gone by since that I don’t regret leaving Tuscaloosa.

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