By MIKE HUTCHENS
Messenger Sports Editor
The process of changing the culture within the South Fulton High School football program began immediately after Eric Knott was hired in December.
That task is still ongoing.
The new Red Devil head coach — admittedly old-school in his ways and philosophies — recently completed his first session of spring practices and quickly came to the realization that his ways are not for everybody.
“We had 40 kids at one time. We ended up the spring with 27, and I’m OK with that,” said Knott, who served five seasons as an assistant coach to Kelly Spivey before moving up to the lead role when Spivey resigned and ultimately was hired to be the defensive coordinator at his alma mater in McKenzie.
“The offseason was about changing the culture. We talked about addressing the entitlement that was rampant through the program and the complacency that was here. The kids are so used to getting something for nothing. Now, they have to earn everything — from the name plates on their lockers to nice practice gear we have for them and on down.
“They’re wearing some gear from the early ’90s now, and when they come around and earn it, they’ll get the good stuff.”
Knott insists he’s identified the core players and ones he can count on to make up his first team and lauded the efforts of a number of upperclassmen who’ve been receptive to the words “accountability” and “responsibility.”
“Our juniors- and seniors-to-be have done a great job embracing the changes and the responsibilities of being leaders. They’ve accepted the challenges we’ve put before them and have had great attitudes,” the 40-year-old new SF skipper said. “They’ve done a great job of policing themselves. When practice was bad, they knew it and said, ‘We’ve got to get better and correct these things.’
“That really made me swell with pride. We laid down a lot last year. I don’t think that’ll be the case this fall.”
Knott, who was also an assistant under Kevin Ward at Camden, Don Coady at Westview and was the head coach for one season at Dresden, said his first spring practice agenda with the Red Devils produced some — but not all — the answers he was looking for.
“We wanted to find out who could play and who would be there, and we did. We have about 13 or 14 who want to play and we know can play,” he continued. “We wanted to put in our base offense and defense and we did that, too.
“We also wanted to identify our backups, and we didn’t get that done. There are not a lot of viable options behind our starters, and the rest — other than those 13 or 14 — are trying to figure out how to play and if they really want to.”
South Fulton did not scrimmage another team in its allotted practice time, Knott and staff instead using that time to teach technique — both in the weight room and on the practice field.
The team has made significant progress in the strength department.
“We had a lot of timidness from being weak last season, and we’ve addressed that,” the coach continued. “We will be physical, and physicality starts in the weight room. When you’re bigger, stronger and are in shape, you’re more confident.”
Personnel-wise, Knott singled out a handful of Redmen he said emerged as leaders heading into the summer.
Ryan Moore, who’ll inherit the starting quarterback job from four-year starter JaQuay Garmon and also start at free safety, heads that list. Moore — a senior-to-be — was a two-way starter a year ago, scoring four touchdowns as a runner/receiver and finishing third on the team in tackles from his secondary post.
Tyler Morris (wingback/linebacker), Hunter Wade (FB/LB) and Corey Pinion (FB/LB) also drew praise from Knott for their spring work.
Up front, guard/defensive end Landon Nevil was identified as the most-improved player by the coach.
“He’s only played two years, and a light has gone on with him, so to speak,” Knott said.
Mason Pullen (OG/DL) has gotten considerably stronger, according to the Big Red skipper, while projected starter at center, Gatlin Hopkins, had a “tremendous spring.”
Knott has junked last year’s offense that leaned heavily on the pass for a spread-option scheme that will be run-oriented.
“We want to do a lot more downhill running,” he said. “We have some questions along the offensive and defensive lines and may even start a freshman and two sophomores there.
“We’ve spent a lot of time on the defensive side, too, getting more physical. We’ve made their assignments clear. They will do what’s asked of them if they want to play.”
Summer commitments include two passing get-togethers with Gleason and also 20 workout sessions.
The Devils will scrimmage Gleason and Ballard Memorial prior to opening the 2013 campaign at Bruceton Aug. 23.
“I feel better at this time than I did last year,” Knott concluded. “The things we have done in the offseason and this spring are not going to change. We will still work on fundamentals a good amount of the time.
“We won’t be as good at the first of the year as we will at the end. We want to progress, not regress.”
Sports editor Mike Hutchens can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in The Messenger 5.29.13