Strain has made Woodland into contender
by Brandon Miller
bmiller@annistonstar.com
Nov 20, 2012 | 4936 views |  0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Larry Strain is moving to White Plains High. (Photo by Stephen Gross)
Larry Strain is moving to White Plains High. (Photo by Stephen Gross)
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WOODLAND — Larry Strain wasn’t always a coach, but he’s always been a builder.

Years ago, it was houses.

Today it is football programs.

On Friday, Woodland will be in an increasingly familiar spot: deep in the playoffs. It’s a spot the Bobcats have been in nine of Strain’s 14-year tenure at Woodland.

Though there are Strains all through the athletics program at Woodland — recently on the girls basketball team with a nearly all-Strain starting lineup — the family name also carried weight in another area.

All the way back to the 1950s, Strain’s grandfather was in construction. His father and uncle followed suit, and after a stint as an assistant at Handley, Larry did, too.

In the mid-1990s, while Strain was still at Handley, he and his two brothers, Dave and Shane, decided to open up a business of their own, Strain Asphalt and Paving.

During that four-year break, Strain felt the need to coach again. After applying for the Woodland job in 1999, he was hired as the football coach.

“Sometimes it’s just the way the good Lord wants you to get back in it,” he said. “I feel like that’s really what the difference was. I was in construction, and not only that, but I felt like this was a place I needed to be at the time.

“My kids began to get old enough to get into sports and I wasn’t happy with what was going on in the county at that time. That’s the reason we ended up moving here.”

Courtney and Trae, Strain’s oldest kids, were eligible to attend and participate in athletics for Woodland because Strain was a faculty member. From there, more of the Strain family made the move, as well.

“My two brothers actually had to move and build houses in the Woodland school district in order for their kids to go here,” Strain said. “They did that and my first cousin, Wayne Strain, he had two boys that were going to Randolph County at that time. He actually moved himself so his two boys ended up playing for me at Woodland, as well.”

With Strain’s predecessor, Ronnie Prince, compiling a losing record in his eight years with one playoff appearance, Strain had some more building to do, this time on the field.

“I’m not saying they weren’t successful in the past, but the first year I got here I had 16 players, and I got hired seven days before my first game,” Strain said. “That was a pretty big adjustment with a lot of stuff that I had to do once I got here.

“Most of the time a guy takes over a head coaching job somewhere a lot of times it’s going to get a little worse before it gets better. Especially trying to change things and do things different.”

Not having many upperclassmen in its first two years of the Strain Era, Woodland went 5-5 and 1-9, which was the first of four consecutive losing seasons, despite making the playoffs in 2001-02.

“Back when my son played, he had to start when he was in eighth grade,” he said. “And, you know, you’re not going to be very successful when you have eighth and ninth graders on the field against a bunch of seniors, especially in the region we were playing in.”

However, in 2004, things clicked for Strain and the Bobcats. The attitude and work ethic Strain had pushed on the team came full circle as Woodland went 11-4, making it to the state title game.

“Our kids started believing in what we were doing and realized that the hard work that they were doing up to that time was beginning to pay off,” he said. “We were definitely the Cinderella team in 2004. We were the No. 4 seed and ended up playing in the state championship game against Leroy.”

With the upperclassmen in 2004 also experiencing the highs of the season after a dismal 2-8 record just a season before, Strain’s plan and motivation was set in to place and has not slowed down since.

The Bobcats have made the playoffs the past eight consecutive seasons since falling in the state championship, including winning their region 2007 and this year.

Competing in the third round on Friday night for the second straight season, Woodland (10-2) faces a familiar opponent, third-ranked Reeltown.

The Rebels (11-1) have defeated Woodland the past five consecutive meetings dating back to 1976, including three times in the last two years.

“Our kids, every time we’ve played them, have not won one of the games, but they’ve always been knock-down, drag-out games,” Strain said. “Our kids know what to expect, especially when you have to travel to Reeltown.”

However, the work ethic Strain has invested in the 2012 ninth-ranked Bobcats has led Woodland to win several games this season, including then-No. 1 Fultondale, that it was an underdog in, with Reeltown just being the next one on the schedule.

“They’re used to being there,” Strain said about Reeltown. “They have all their scores and records from each season posted down at the end of the stadium. It shows the success that they have and how tough they are.”

Sports Writer Brandon Miller: 256-235-3575. On Twitter @bmiller_star.

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