By JASON KING
No one is pulling harder for North Pulaski’s Terrod Hatcher to get his first victory as a head coach than Jim Withrow.
The Sylvan Hills coach just doesn’t want to see it come this week against his Bears.
Withrow empathizes with Hatcher, who took over the North Pulaski job in August when Rick Russell returned to Jacksonville to become the head coach. Withrow’s situation was similar in the late 1990s when he became head coach at Mills University Studies.
“I’m for him, and I’m behind him, I just hope he gets it the following week,” Withrow said of Hatcher, who at 23 is the youngest coach in the state. “I was 30 or 31 when I got my first head coaching job. I was the youngest in 5A, and I took over a program that had lost 23 in a row.
“I know what it’s like to be in his shoes. He’s just got to hang in there. He’s a smart guy and a hard worker, and at 23, he obviously still has plenty of steam. He’ll be fine.”
Withrow was able to turn the Comets into perennial playoff contenders before taking over Sylvan Hills in 2007. He led the Bears to the 6A state semifinals in 2007, and they have reached the playoffs the two years since they dropped to Class 5A.
The switch from 6A to 5A put the Bears (2-4, 1-2) in the 5A-Southeast Conference with North Pulaski, and the Bears have won both league meetings.
Hatcher, who began hiscoaching career last season as offensive coordinator at North Pulaski under Russell, has also stepped up to lead a program that has struggled to find success. The Falcons have won three games since the start of the 2006 season.
“He and I talked quite a while at the JV game,” Hatcher said of Withrow. “He just gave me encouragement, and told me he knew how tough it is.”
Withrow has led the Bears to a pair of victories over the Falcons, including a 55-14 trouncing at home in 2008, and a 27-0 shutout last year.
Hatcher and the Falcons may find inspiration in playing their closest conference rival this week.
“I’m sure they’re saying that,” Withrow said. “And they have good running backs; they’re thinking they probably have a chance this week. They have a couple of kids who went to middle school here, and we have a couple of kids who probably went to elementary over at Northwood. I’m expecting it to be a hard-fought game.”
Northwood feeds the upper levels of the North Pulaski school system.
The Falcons hung around most of the night against White Hall last week before eventually falling 29-6. Penalties hurt North Pulaski on a number of drives and Hatcher has preached the importance of avoiding such mistakes all season, but he feels his team has taken a step backward.
“Focus, discipline, being able to keep a cool head,” Hatcher said. “We killed ourselves with penalties; we probably had over 100 yards of penalties. We can’t keep our cool.”
Hatcher said he hopes some additional running drills in practice this week will help curtail some of those urges.
“Just trying to keep them busy, busy, busy,” Hatcher said. “They have to see that there are consequences for what you do.”
Withrow’s biggest concern is the Falcons’ running backs, led by senior fullback Darius Cage. Halfbacks Willie Frazier and Derrick Hart have also left an impression on Withrow after watching game film.
“They’ve got three or four backs that can scoot,” Withrow said. “I like their backs. We’ve got to control the line of scrimmage like we did last week, especially when they do their shotgun stuff they run. We have to get penetration, if not, it will hurt you.”
The Bears struggled through the first two weeks of conference play with several injured starters out. Many of them returned in time for Sylvan Hills’ 43-13 victory over Crossett.
The Bears mercy ruled the Eagles 43-13 to capture their first 5A-Southeast Conference victory.
Sylvan Hills’ first-team defense shut out the Crossett offense, and the Bears went up 36-0 at halftime aided by junior running back Trey Bone’s three touchdown runs.
The only player still sitting out is junior skill player Trey Sims.
“I don’t know if he will be back in time for this week or not, we’ll have to wait and see,” Withrow said. “It was good to get all those linemen back, and they did well to execute the way they did after being out.
“As we go along, we should be better and better off if we don’t get more dings. Hopefully, we can stay healthy.”