Tuesday, August 17, 2010

SPORTS>>Hatcher finds new equation

Leader sports editor

Terrod Hatcher knew math was in his future.

He just didn’t expect things to add up like this.

Hatcher, 23, became the youngest high school football coach in the state late last month when he took over the North Pulaski program, moving up after one year as offensive coordinator under former coach Rick Russell.

“It worked out that way,” Hatcher said. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do at first. I knew I wanted to major in math. That was the only thing I liked. And then coaching just kind of worked out for me. I always wanted to but I didn’t know how far-fetched that was.”

Hatcher graduated across town at Jacksonville High School and started college at Arkansas State. But he transferred to Arkansas

Tech, where he earned a degree in mathematics.

“There’s always math openings,” Hatcher said. “It’s almost a job security in a way. And it’s just something I love. I teach pre-calculus and that upper-level math is always fun to me.”

But there was always the little matter of football.

Hatcher was a running back at Jacksonville and he was in the same class as linebacker Clinton McDonald, who was drafted by the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals and now plays on the defensive line.

“We had some pretty good guys in that class,” Hatcher said.

At Arkansas State, Hatcher redshirted behind standout running backs Antonio Warren and Shermar Bracey, who both briefly spent timein the NFL, which influenced Hatcher’s decision to transfer.

“Basically my tuition went up and my scholarships didn’t,” Hatcher said. “So I transferred to Arkansas Tech where I was getting paid some money to go there. That always makes a difference.”

Hatcher went through two-a-days at Tech, a member of the NCAA Division II Gulf South Conference, but decided to focus on his degree and graduated with honors a year early. Yet Hatcher couldn’t quite get football out of his system.

So, while he followed the math track to employment at Jacksonville’s Fuller Middle School, Hatcher also accepted the football-coaching job there.

“I graduated in December and got a job in January at Fuller,” Hatcher said. “That’s the good thing about math.”

Last year North Pulaski coach Rick Russell tapped Hatcher to be his offensive coordinator.

“Of course I took the high school job,” Hatcher said. “And then it just so happens this head job rolled up so I was excited about that.”

Russell was a former defensive assistant at Jacksonville and knew Hatcher from his playing days with the Red Devils. When Russell returned to Jacksonville to become head coach last spring, the North Pulaski players clamored for Hatcher to apply for the Falcons’ head coaching job.

The Falcons had begun implementing the Spread offense, and the players wanted the continuity as well as Hatcher’s youthful enthusiasm.

“Everybody liked coach Hatcher,” starting junior quarterback Shyheim Barron said. “He knew what we were doing. We didn’t want anybody else to come in here and change it up so we needed coach Hatcher.”

Hatcher was named head coach just before August practices began.

“I think they responded well; they actually asked me to apply for the job,” Hatcher said of the “draft Hatcher” movement. “And so that helped a lot. I think the young coaching staff is going to help these guys. They feel like they can relate to us and they see us hopping around and bopping around so they’re hopping around.”

Some coaches are younger than others, but defensive coach J.B. Pendergraft, 62, said Hatcher’s youth isn’t a problem with the rest of the staff.

“I think he’s doing a great job,” Pendergraft said. “He listens. He asks questions and is really knowledgeable for his age. But the thing about it, whether he can coach or not, it doesn’t make any difference, he’s first class.”

Hatcher welcomes the veteran experience on the staff but made it clear he’s in charge.

“We can’t have youth without wisdom,” Hatcher said. “Nobody takes it as ‘He’s a young guy so I’m not going to listen to him.’

We work together.

“Everybody has input. We implement each other’s input. Whichever one works the best that’s probably what we go with, and of course I have the final say.”

Besides, the coaching staff has enough challenges as it is. North Pulaski is coming off a one-victory season and has won just four games the past six years.

If the new coach and math whiz can engineer just a few victories this season, it could be the formula for success the Falcons have been seeking.

“The biggest challenge is letting these guys believe they can win,” Hatcher said. “I think once we win then they’ll see how that feels, then they’ll believe that they can do it.”