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. This is Joe's final report from the road before the season starts.
Where Joe has visited so far:
Rico White is selling something at Anniston.
It comes across in his July statement that his first Bulldogs football team should go undefeated. He doubled down Friday, in a live interview, saying he expects Anniston to finish “at the top” of its Class 4A region.
His locker room décor includes a “Beware of the dog” sign in his office window, showing out to the players’ meeting and dressing area.
The main grease board includes phone numbers for him and his staff and a simple message … “win, 15-0.”
It’s all right there, in blue marker, sold by a coach who talks the talk convincingly and looks able to back it up. Seriously, like he’s the most imposing-looking dude in the room.
If White suddenly disappears from Anniston’s sideline on a Friday night, look inside those helmets. He looks like he could still play.
From his choice of words on a grease board, in a newspaper and on video to his choice of summer camps, White sells belief. He’s not about what’s been. He’s about what can be.
The question White faces at Anniston is the question the last Anniston coach faced … and the one before him, then one before him and the one before him.
Will White get buy-in?
Will players buy in, especially those who cried when White’s former boss, Eddie Bullock, was fired as football coach and athletics director in May?
Will fans buy in, and not just those who spoke out against Bullock’s firing? What about those who called for Bullock’s firing? White says he’s heard all about Anniston’s “tough crowd.”
Will administrators and the school board buy in?
The answer has been uncertain since a guy named Rodney Bivens won Anniston’s last state championship, in 1994, but say this for White … so far, so good.
The powers promoted White from offensive coordinator.
People who know that fan base best say it doesn’t have to be so tough. Just win.
“I’ve always heard it’s tough coaching here at Anniston. It’s a tough crowd,” said White, who spent three years coaching Anniston’s middle school team before joining Bullock’s staff last season. “That’s what I want. You don’t want to coach for a crowd that don’t care.
“I want you to have high expectations for the program.”
As for the players, there’s nothing like belief to get kids over transition. Take them to camps, like White did at UAB and Jacksonville State. Show them what four- and five-star players look like then let them stack up.
They can dream, can’t they?
The dream feels good for a team that hasn’t had a winning season since 2011 and has only six winning seasons since Bivens’ left 20 years ago. White is Anniston’s sixth coach since Bivens and the latest to sell belief, but he’s a convincing salesman.
His bold talk comes with caveats. He acknowledges that Anniston plays in a region with a history of teams that make deep playoff runs, and why talk something less than going undefeated? It just puts losses in the Bulldogs’ heads before they play the games.
For now, it’s about programming a different feeling in White’s locker room. It stands to reason that playing better begins with feeling better.