Editor's note: High school football practice is under way, and Anniston Star Sports Writer Joe Medley has grabbed his pen, notebook, recorder and cell phone as he hits the road and visits every Calhoun County school’s football practice before the season begins. Check The Anniston Star each day for Joe’s reports.
Where Joe has visited so far:
WHITE PLAINS — For every White Plains football action, Chandler Tyree has an equal reaction.
Defensive back Khalil Williams dehelmets a scout-team receiver during Friday’s controlled scrimmage. Tyree calls Williams aside and high-fives him.
Freshman linebacker Brandon Hahm hovers in shallow coverage and fires, helping to corner scrambling quarterback Jaden Chatman. Tyree, 11 years past his last game yet stout enough to stand up a ball carrier, chest bumps Hahm.
As Tyree helps Hahm off the ground, the first-year head coach praises him emphatically: “Way to be coachable!”
The roughly 90-minute scrimmage in August heat and humidity ends on White Plains’ lined baseball outfield, and the team assembles along a sideline. Tyree walks toward the line of players, calls them and they move forward to huddle around him.
As Tyree speaks, a chorus of quick, low “yes sirs” punctuates his every taken breath.
The coach wants consistent intensity from his defense.
“Everybody got me?” Tyree said.
“Yes sir,” the team answers, like amens from the congregation.
Begin the praise report.
“Jaden Chatman, way to throw the football son,” Tyree said. “Hey, Jaden Harris, way to run the football. Receivers, way to catch the ball.”
Tyree’s words accelerate, and his voice raises.
“Offensive line, way to make it where we can do any of that,” he said. “Offensive line, everybody, everywhere, told me you can’t block a soul.”
Full out shouting, Tyree declares, “They’re wrong!”
His voice echoes across the rural greenery of southeastern Calhoun County.
“I don’t care how big we are, we’re going to get in somebody’s way!” he yells. “Is that right?”
“We’re going to get in somebody’s way and get in their tail and get after it,” Tyree said. “Everybody understand me?”
The amens keep coming as Tyree reels off the house-cleaning list. He urges the team to help volunteers coming Saturday for beautification work around campus. After that, they’re off until Monday.
“You’ve earned it. Everybody understand me?” he said.
Tyree tells the team he’s proud of their crash-course work in helping him and his hastily assembled staff play catchup.
“I’m proud to be your coach,” he said. “I’m proud to have these coaches with me. Man, I ain’t going to lie to you all. We’ve got some, these coaches are working their tails off, trying to put you guys in the best place that you can be to win a football game.
“These coaches love you, and they want to see the best for you. Do you understand that?”
Fired up for football yet, White Plains fans?
Your new coach is, but it’s not all hype. Just a few short hours prior to his post-practice sermon, Tyree’s eyes welled.
That’s what talking about his high school coach’s influence does to him.
Josh Niblett didn’t just give his former linebacker and captain a reference for the job.
Josh Niblett didn’t just coach him before going on to Hoover glories.
“The biggest Godly influence in my life, growing up, was Coach Niblett,” said Tyree, coming off a year out of coaching to focus on ministry. “The impact that he had in my life is a big reason why I’m where I’m at today.”
Tyree tells the story of a car accident during his senior year at Oxford. He suffered cracked ribs but refused to miss practice.
Still, discomfort reduced him to a rare loaf in warmups. Niblett called out from across the field.
“Hey Tyree, ain’t nobody going to feel sorry for you,” Tyree said, paraphrasing Niblett. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself.”
The message was clear. If the head man can call out a team leader, then he can call out anybody.
“But I knew that he loved me. That was the biggest thing,” Tyree said. “If we’re in this for any other thing other than loving our players and making a difference in their life past football, then we’re in it for the wrong thing.”
Not the first hire, yet Tyree sure sounds like a good hire.
The message may yet list at market price, but a team that numbered 24 healthy players at the end of last season and 53 now appears to buy the messenger.