THE GREEN, GREEN GRASS OF LOUISVILLE
The winning coaching philosophy at Louisville High School is that if ainít broke, donít fix it.
By Kim Goss
Published: Fall 1998
It took high school football coach Tony Stanford almost 16 years to settle on the perfect job: coaching at a school with talented athletes in a community as passionate about the game as he is. He could have done this quite a bit sooner, except for that old "grass is always greener" trait of human nature.
Coach Stanford became an assistant coaching at Louisville High School in 1985. He found success but wasn't quite ready to grow roots, so he decided to search elsewhere for that elusive "perfect" job. A few years later he came back to Louisville again as an assistant, left once more, and then finally returned six years ago to assume the responsibilities of head coach. This time, he says, it's for good. "There's something about this town and these kids that kept me coming back--they enjoy a winning tradition and they love football!" says Stanford. "Louisville is a football town, and our goal every year is to win a state championship."
Located in the central part of Mississippi, Louisville is a Division 4-A school with an enrollment of 710. Although small, the school enjoys a reputation for winning big. These are "The Wildcats," and their major-league approach to the game has enabled them to capture five state championships since 1985 and make the playoffs for 14 straight years. "We've got a great tradition here at Louisville and our coaches do a tremendous job for us," says Stanford. He adds that although the parents like to win and can get pretty vocal at games, it ends there. "Up in the bleachers they'll say just about anything in the world, but I've never had anyone come in and go crazy in my office." That's one of the benefits of being able to"walk the talk."
Muscling in on the Competition
If there's one secret to the school's success on the gridiron, Stanford believes it's a commitment to consistency that begins at nearby Eiland Middle-School, where Stanford serves as athletic director. "We start our kids in the seventh grade with the weights and our football program," says Stanford. "By the time they get to be seniors they've had five years of the same weightlifting program and the same football plays, and I think that's what makes us a little better than some of the schools we play." Stanford adds that this basic coaching philosophy hasn't changed since he first came to the school--although it has seen four head football coaches--especially in regard to the strength program.
When Stanford came to Louisville in 1985, the team didn't have an organized strength program and he started implementing the BFS system. Showing him the way was Bigger Faster Stronger. "I had received the BFS magazines over the years. I got all the booklets about their flexibility, agility, dot drills and strength program--everything that they were doing we started incorporating into our program. We've been using it ever since."
When asked what it was that was so appealing about BFS, Stanford replied, "You're always getting stronger and you're always meeting goals and trying to do better." These are factors he says are especially important with the age group he coaches. "High school kids like to have success, and if they're having success at something it means they are working real hard at it."
Going to the playoffs every year makes for a long season, but despite their on-field longevity each year their injury rate is practically nonexistent. In fact, they've only had one knee injury within the last ten years, and it happened on the practice field to a player who had transferred from another school. "I think a lot of this has to do with our strength program. Our kids are real strong, and that takes us through the season." As for weightroom injuries, Stanford can recall only one--an injured finger. That was in 1986.
Best of the Best
Much of the nuts-and-bolts coaching in the weightroom is handled by John Mullins and Wayne Jones. Mullins is a health teacher, and Jones teaches biology and driver's education. In describing their coaching styles, Stanford says Coach Mullins is "mellow" and Coach Jones is "excitable," and their contrasting personalities have brought out the best in his players. The core lifts the football team uses at Louisville are the squat, power clean, and the bench and incline press. Stanford says he likes the incline press because "it feels like a natural movement for football."
To foster continual results, Stanford encourages his players to compete in high school powerlifting competitions during the off-season. "It gives them something else to look forward to; instead of just lifting weights for football, now they're lifting for some type of competition."
Like most successful coaches, Stanford stresses the importance of teamwork and sharing the credit for every win with every player. However, he is proud of the fact that several players are considered candidates for scholarships. "We've got two players I know are going to be recruited heavily: Michael Goss, a wide receiver and running back; and Emmitt Ellis, a defensive end."
Weighing 185, Goss benches 320, squats 385, deadlifts 485 and runs a 4.5 forty. Last year he caught 34 passes for 1,004 yards, scored 17 touchdowns, and rushed 30 times for 420 yards. "Michael is probably the best athlete in the school. He also plays baseball, and probably will be drafted by the major leagues after his senior year."
Weighing 260, Ellis benches 340, squats 450, power cleans 250, runs a 5.2 forty, and last year was responsible for 102 tackles. "Emmitt uses his hands probably as good as anybody I've ever seen. He also has good upper body strength on the field. He works hard in the weightroom, but he's definitely got a lot of natural ability."
Also of note in the weightroom is defensive tackle Elliot Carter, their strongest player according to Stanford. At 5-foot-ten and 250 pounds, Carter benches 360, squats 500 and deadlifts 485.
Continuing the Tradition
If there's one thing Stanford would change about his weight program, it is the size of his weightroom. "I don't think you can ever have a big-enough weightroom--no matter what you build, sooner or later it's too small. We've got a 3,000 square foot weightroom, but we work out every day and we have 60 kids at one time, sometimes as many as 80."
For its athletes, the school has weight training classes as part of the curriculum. "We're spending maybe a week or two every nine-week period to introduce the kids to the weights and what they can do."
With his panoramic view of the team over the past 13 years, does Stanford think the athletes have changed much? "They've changed over the years, but still they're looking for discipline. If you discipline a player and treat him right, he'll usually do whatever you want." As for his advice to other coaches, Stanford says, "You've got to love kids because you're going to be around them all the time."
Has Tony Stanford finally settled down? "I've got 22 years in," says Stanford. "I'm not going to coach forever, but I'm happy where I am and I'm pleased with what we're doing. When I do retire, I'll finish here at Louisville."