WELLBORN — Twenty-two years after graduating from Wellborn, coach Jeff Smith returned in an attempt to turn around the football program following back-to-back 1-9 seasons. After making the playoffs his first three seasons as head coach with progressive improvement each season, Smith continued the trend in 2012.
“The biggest change that has happened out here is when we got out here four years ago, the kids hoped that we could win,” said Smith, who was voted Class 1A-2A Coach of the Year by his peers. “Now we expect to win.
“... They were very team-orientated, they were very unselfish, didn’t have any prima donnas, they just wanted to go out there and win on Friday night.”
Smith’s fifth Coach of the Year award, and second in the past two years, comes after the Panthers went 9-3 and made it to the second round of the playoffs, falling to 2A state champion Tanner. It’s been one of his favorite seasons as a coach “by far.”
“We’ve spent a lot of time with these kids,” Smith said. “I have 16 seniors this year, and when I got here they were all going into the ninth grade. I spent as much time with these seniors as I have with my own family these past four seasons.”
The highlight of the season for Wellborn came during Week Four when the Panthers defeated No. 6 Fultondale, 44-31, at The Hill.
“We went out there and we just weren’t going to lose to them,” Smith said. “Whatever it took, we were not going to lose that game. It showed.”
Throughout the season, Smith’s well-known wing-T offense lived up to the hype. The Panthers set the school record for most points in a game — 73 against Victory Christian in Week Three — and also scored 70 and 60 points against region opponents Pleasant Valley and Vincent, respectively.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily the wing-T, I just think it’s what we do,” Smith said. “The kids have been wrapped in this offense and they know it, and whenever you know what you’re doing, you’re better at it.”
Despite losing nearly 40 percent of the 2012 roster to graduation, that won’t hold Wellborn back next fall.
“I feel like our best years are still in front of us,” Smith said. “We’re going to keep working and doing the things that got us right here. Then we’ll continue being successful.”