After a momentous and unforgettable season, the 2020 Wildcat football teams were honored Thursday night with remarks from the coaches and a special appearance from the legendary former Wildcat coach Bill Bacon.
Head coach Rick Darlington said the motto for his football program has been “Hokahey,” a Sioux term for “it’s a great day to die.”
“What we’re trying to teach our young men is to die to themselves individually for the good of their team, for the good of their brothers,” he said. “The world is pushing people to do what’s best for them, but we want to take it in the opposite direction. We want our young men to do what’s best for other people because we feel that if we can encourage them to be impactful in the lives of others, if they can be significant rather than successful, then they can be blessed by being a blessing to others.”
Darlington said he insisted on having a banquet for two reasons: to recognize the effort his players put forth this year and to give parents a glimpse into what the program is about that they wouldn’t normally be able to witness.
“You show a lot of trust in us for you to let your sons go off and spend the amount of time they do with us,” he said. “You seem to believe in what we’re doing. We’re trying to make them into the type of young men that you would want to have in your homes and lives. I’ve had four sons to play football and daughters to play sports, and the coach is always talked about at the dinner table, and you guys have done a great job in trusting us and the direction we’re headed.”
He also took the time to thank Mayor Cooper; Superintendent Greg Faught; Principal Stan Sauls; Sharon Gammill and her decorating crew of Helen Faught, Karen Powell, Jessica Jeffers, Christina Anderson and Ashley Whittaker; Matt Rowley and Brian Hawthorne; JJ Lawston; Brandon Faulk; Paul Barnes; Jeff Jeffers; Josh Boutwell; Luanne Stone; Tate Fowler; Thomas Mitchell; and the coaches’ wives for all the work they do for the program and school not just during the season, but year round.
Three of five individual awards on the night went to Athletic Director Trent Trawick, Blake Moore and Principal Stan Sauls. Darlington’s remarks on each individual are as follows:
Trent Trawick, EHS Athletic Director
“I don’t know if people say thank you to him. People might gripe at him, or gripe about him, but when you’re in his position you’ve got to make decisions and you’ve got to use wisdom and integrity. I think this guy cares deeply about Enterprise and he makes great decisions. We’re very thankful for (him).”
Blake Moore, First United Methodist Church
“The one thing last year that I really didn’t like about our program was our pre-game meals. It’s nothing against the cooking of them, it was the fact that we were eating them in the cafeteria right after school, so we’re in there trying to recognize players and teachers who’ve made impacts and you’ve got a bunch of kids sitting there playing video games on their phones. I asked Blake Moore if we could have our pre-game meal at his church and he stepped up and made the menus every week. It was a really nice getaway to get over there after school, spend an hour there to fellowship and have a meal and then get back over here for the game. He stepped up big. We’ve thanked him a lot, but I don’t know if he understands how much that really meant to our program this year.”
Stan Sauls, EHS Principal
“You all know our principal is a good dude. We all felt like he was the perfect guy for the job and that he was ready and did a great job. Can you imagine trying to be a principal for the first time in your life at a 2,000 kid high school under a pandemic? I thought that Stan did a phenomenal job, so we wanted to give him this plaque to hang in his office as a way to say thank you.”
The first team to be recognized was the freshman football team coached by Steve Kracht. Darlington said the freshman team is a crucial part of the program and is the first step in having the young players learn how the program works. This year’s team opened with two close losses to “that team other there to the east” (Dothan) and Phenix City, but then went on a four-game win streak with victories over Eufaula, Early County and big-names Prattville and Auburn.
“We’re right there battling with and beating the teams we need to beat on varsity, so I think this year really gave our freshman the confidence that they can play at that level,” Darlington said before handing the mic over to Kracht.
“With all the uncertainty of each day, this group of young men really came together and worked their butts off and completed a very successful season. We also got to take some of our kids and put them with the JV folks to play,” Kracht said. “It was a fantastic season from our point of view.
“I told Coach Kennedy this in confidence, but then he decided to tell the whole group so I guess I can share with everybody. I’ve been coaching ninth grade football for approximately 10 years, and I can honestly tell you this has been the most enjoyable group of young men I’ve had the privilege to work with. The collection of their different personalities, temperaments and abilities all came together in such a remarkable way. I thank each and every one of you for giving me such a great experience. Remember, if you stick together and keep working the way you do, you’re going to see great things.”
Members of the 2020 freshman football team were: Jack Anderson, Brock Byrd, Preston Cook, Nate Cummings, Wyatt Darlington, Max Faught, Mason Forehand, Xavier Henderson, Jace Himes, Ze’marion Holmes, Braxston Sherling, Ben Sheets, Sam Pike Andrew Pickard, Blake Peterson, Owen Newsome, Raymond Mcgoley, Dewayne McClain, Raven Jump and Noah Jeffers. Darlington also recognized freshman Keion Dunlap who played the entire season with varsity.
When introducing the JV team and head coach Justin Jones, Darlington said, “These guys are the future. At one point in the season they were undefeated, which is remarkable, and we’re really, really proud of these guys.”
This year’s JV team started out the season with an 8-game schedule that was shortened due to the hurricanes hitting the panhandle. Out of five games played, the team only lost one and outscored their opponents 80-39. Jones said coaching the JV squad keeps him on his toes because you never know who’s going to play until about 30 minutes before game time.
“There’s times where we had varsity players who didn’t play enough on Friday night that you need to get extra reps or there’s guys that have gotten nicked up that normally play JV that aren’t going to be able to play, so there were two games toward the end of the season where we ended up bringing a group of freshmen up,” he said. “I think that’s a testament to our kids and how hard they work. They’re smart and they’re able to get plugged into any position.
“I enjoy coaching JV, and one of the things I always take pride in is you get to see a lot of their firsts. Whether it’s their first touchdown or getting their first sack or interception, it’s the joy of being a coach for us. Monday nights can be a little more relaxed for coaches, but there’s always great excitement on the sidelines. When someone makes that first, it’s exciting for everyone. We did lose one game to Auburn 13-14. It left a bad taste in our mouth, but it leaves our kids hungry to get back in the weight room and to get excited and work hard for next year.”
Members of the 2020 JV football team were: David Alvaro, Brett Bailey, Jackson, Bailey, Will Benson, Siaosi Blevens, Brison Chatman, Tyscen Cole, Will Dalrymple, Colson Dalrymple, Ben Holley, Mario Hudson, Antonio Jasso, Mykel Johnson, Miles Jones, Michael Lawson, Tristin Leib, Will Lott, Drake McDaniel, Preston Powell, Evan Reynolds, Morgan Smith, Gibson Snell, Nathanial Torres, Sam Whittaker and Aiden White.
Darlington took the time to specially recognize the junior class who he has high expectations for next season.
“They are so crucial to our program. I call them seniors now because they’re going to be the ones we’re counting on to lead going forward,” he said. “As a coach, the third year in a program is where you can really see what it’s going to be like. The culture is set, the work habits are there. The belief to win is there, or should be.
“You expect to see results, so we’re expecting big things out of this next group. A lot of these guys have already played crucial roles on Friday nights, and we’re expecting huge things from them in the next year. There’s a lot of responsibility placed on them, but I know they’re going to come through big time. I’m looking forward to calling them next year’s senior class.”
Members of the 2020 junior class were: Jackson Blount, Zy’air Boyd, Duwayne Buckner, Cam Cowart, Nick Cox, Jamel Filsaime, Eran Foye, Harrison Gammill, Ethan George, Quentin Hayes, Dakaine Leonard, Xavier Moore, Hayden Self, Mills Smith, Josiah Soles, Austin Strickland, Miles Taylor, Keith Warren and Nate Webber.
This year’s team went 7-4 overall and 4-2 in area play with big wins over Carver, Dothan and Davidson to start the season before falling to Phenix City and Prattville with a win over Carroll in between. The team went on another three-game win streak against Smiths Station, Jefferson Davis and third-ranked Auburn before dropping two in a row to Navarre in the last game of regular season and Theodore in the first round of the playoffs. This offense was a force to be reckoned with, outscoring opponents 396-275.
Darlington said the hardest part of being a coach is going from talking to his players every day, at night and on the weekends to having to move on after the season ends.
“All of a sudden and poof, it’s like they’re gone. It leaves a hole in the program because they’re such great personalities,” he said. “We have to let these seniors know how much they mean to us. Seniors, we love you and we look forward to seeing what you do. You always have a home here.”
Each coach took turns at the podium to talk about a specific senior and tell stories about what made their time together so memorable. No tears were shed—although it seemed like a very real possibility as the night went on—but there were many laughs, handshakes and tight hugs.
To give these seniors, coaches and families a keepsake to have for years to come, the Ledger will feature a senior’s photo each week with the coach’s remarks beginning in the Tuesday, Jan. 12 edition.
Members of the 2020 senior class were: Jermaine Adams, Dakotah Barber, Carson Cole, Jalen Cunningham, Bryce Edwards, Cole Hooper, Cole Killingsworth, Colin Lebsack, Kenneth Leib, Lazarieus “LZ” Leonard, Zach Martin, Josh McCray, Arron Owens, Nick Randol, Tanner Rogers, Matt Sheahan, Jared Smith, Javon Song, Jaylen Webster and Justin Winters.
Darlington said he first heard of Enterprise football in 1994 while prepping his Bay High School (Panama City, Fla.) players for a game against Northview High School.
“I heard the Enterprise stories about how tough they were and how they’d dress out 150 guys who would come out through the stands of the old stadium, and it sounded like a great, tough place, and that’s where I wanted to be,” he said, thinking back to when he was first offered the job. He also thought of Bill Bacon who had coached 27 Enterprise teams to 214 wins and two state championships.
“Before I even took the job, I asked to meet with the legendary coach. Everybody knows Enterprise football will always be Bill Bacon,” he said. “To be able to coach at his school, and it will always be his school, I’m proud that we can play in a way that would honor him. Coach will come by and talk to me and I’ll hang on his every word like I’m 15 years old. I want him to be proud of the team that we put out there because of the legacy that he’s left here.”
A man of few words, Bacon had a lot to say on the interactions between the coaches and players he’d witnessed just moments ago.
“The most impressive thing that I’ve seen tonight is in these coaches talking about these young men and the things they had to say about them. Every one of them said they wish they had that guy back,” he said. “I’m hoping that’s true. I remember a reporter talking to a coach one time, and the coach had had a 0-10 season so the reporter figured it must’ve been a young team and one that would get better with time. So he asked the coach, ‘Coach, have you got a lot of those guys coming back next year?’ and the coach said, ‘I hope not.’ But all of these guys have laid a place in the heart of these coaches. You can tell when someone has a true love for their players and the players for the coaches. It’s a real amazing thing.
“This team this year I enjoyed watching play more than any Enterprise team since I’ve been retired. This was a phenomenal effort by a group of young men who would not say that the other team was better than them. As they did every Friday night, they gave it all they had and I know how to appreciate that kind of thing. I hope I was a decent coach, but I also want to think that one of the things that helped me be a decent coach was my players. I loved them just like these coaches love these young men. It was a joy to hear these coaches talk about these seniors.
“I wasn’t around all the time, but I watched all the time and I know what something looks like when it’s headed in the right direction. This program is headed in absolutely the right direction.”
Bill Bacon Wildcat Award
After the 2019 season, the coaching staff decided to give an award in honor of Coach Bacon to the player who “most exemplifies athletic, academic and moral excellence on and off the football field.” Darlington said they didn’t want it to be a “best player” award, but something deeper than that.
“We wanted to have an award that would recognize a young man who was a great player and also a great teammate. Someone who was a great student and someone who was a man built for others who would serve and had great morals about him,” he said.
Describing this year’s winners as tough and unselfish, Darlington announced seniors Tanner Rogers and Cole Killingsworth as the 2020 recipients of the Bill Bacon Wildcat Award.
Killingsworth took to the podium to close out the ceremony by thanking his coaches and teammates for an unforgettable two years.
“Right around two years ago to the day, we started our first workouts and our first day with Coach D and his new staff. We didn’t know what to expect, but we knew things were going to soon change by the way we worked out and did things the right way,” he said. “He taught us you’re never out of the fight in anything in life, whether it’s a game, school, anything you do. He’s taught me and these seniors toughness and to never stop believing. I want to thank him and this senior class and all the coaches. Hokahey.”
Killingsworth and his senior teammates banded together one last time to gather tokens of appreciation for the coaching staff, and Darlington closed out the ceremony.