Mark Sanders started making Victory Christian’s program better by making it stronger, and he plans to start the same way at Donoho.
The former Alabama offensive lineman, who played under Jacksonville State coach John Grass at Ashville High School, was named Donoho’s new head coach Friday. He’ll take over for Andy McWilliams, the long-time defensive coordinator then two-year head coach who resigned.
Sanders spent the last three seasons at Victory, a program that won one game in four years before he took over. He went 17-14 in three seasons, including an 8-3 finish in 2015 with the program's first playoff win.
He also produced Victory’s first first-team all-state player in wide receiver David Smith.
Sanders plans to bring the same formula to Donoho.
“My thing is is starting out teaching the boys about family, taking care of each other and loving each other,” he said. “We want to get a good weight program installed and get their bodies prepared to go to battle.”
It worked at Victory, which went from roster numbers small enough to forfeit games to reaching competitive status with rosters in the 30s during Sanders’ three years.
“It was just getting the hype up and getting the kids excited about the program,” Sanders said.
Donoho officials noticed. Victory lost 79-6 to Donoho in Sanders’ first season but beat the Falcons in 2015 and 2016.
“He’s got a background in a 1A school in the same football region that we’re in,” Donoho athletics director Paige Faulkner said. “That’s a good thing, because we’re in a tough region.
“He’s very focused on developing young people, not just in athletics, but as well as life lessons and preparing them to be leaders in our community and society once they leave high school. He’s very focused on strength and conditioning, which that’s the foundation of the program for any athletic team, and which is something that we’re looking to re-establish here.”
Sanders got his coaching start at Coosa Christian as an assistant but got out of coaching, working at Verizon Wireless and Honda Manufacturing. He got back into coaching when he and landed the Victory Christian job in 2014.
He counts Grass among his influences.
“Coach Grass is a great guy, great Christian man, loves his players,” Sanders said. “One of the great things I learned from him is just how to love your players and coach for them and just want to see them succeed.
“He does an awesome job of that and does an awesome job of helping them become great young men, and that’s just the legacy I want to carry on.”
At Alabama, Sanders played under Dennis Franchione and Mike Shula from 2001-05. Sanders had an injury-laced career but said he learned from both head coaches.
“They were some really good coaches,” Sanders said. “I think a lot of times, they got some bad rap.
“Coach Franchione left on kind of a sour note with us, but the time he was there, he was a really stern, solid coach. He kind of reminded me a lot of (current Alabama head coach Nick) Saban, kind of how he is, just all about accountability.”
Sanders called Shula “a great guy to be around” and “a good coach.”
“I think a lot of people didn’t think he was that great of a coach, but he really was,” Sanders said. “I picked up a lot of stuff from position coaches and how to be in some situations and how not to be in other situations. It really taught me a lot about what kind of coach and man I want to be.”