Friday, June 06, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> New JHS coach is coming full circle

Leader sports editor

New Jacksonville football coach Barry Hickingbotham met with players and coaches for the first time on Friday, getting started on the tenure he said he’s been aiming for since getting into coaching in 2002.

“I can remember sitting in the coaches’ office at what’s the middle school now, sitting with coach Eugene Stuckey my first year in 2002, talking about becoming the head football coach at Jacksonville Junior High and eventually the high school as well,” said Hickingbotham. “It’s very exciting and very humbling to get the job you’ve dreamed about.”

Hickingbotham is as deeply rooted in Jacksonville as any candidate could be. He graduated JHS in 1987 as a standout athlete in football and baseball, and was a key clog in one of the most successful and sustained runs in JHS and Jacksonville American Legion baseball history.

He spent the first 10 years of his coaching career in Jacksonville before spending last season at Atkins as offensive coordinator. The homecoming and the welcome he’s received in coming back this week moved him.

“You always hope things will come full circle,” Hickingbotham said. “Coach Russell and I have talked about me taking over for him anyways. I never really expected to be back this quick, but I’m glad I am. Being in Atkins this week taking care of some things and driving back into town, and seeing “welcome home Barry,” on the Bart Gray Realty sign, that’s when you know you’re home. The support and the encouragement I’ve received from this community has been overwhelming. The many phone calls I’ve received, the congratulations. You just get the feeling, the sense that the community is ready to get behind you and be a part of this thing again. It’s come from all directions and that’s very humbling, and very motivating.”

Hickingbotham needs to be motivated because he has lofty goals, but he knows they will take time to achieve.

“I want to make the team a part of the community like it used to be,” Hickingbotham said. “Spending a year in Atkins you get to see what that’s like. You walk into the donut shop and people are asking you, ‘you going to win tonight coach?’ Everybody’s there on a Friday night. I want to fill Jan Crow Stadium up like it was in the early 80s.

“We’re going to hit the hallways and find the players that need to be out there, get the numbers back up there. One of the things I want to get out of talking to the team is to find out who some of the players are that aren’t here, and then take steps to get them here.

“We’re going to get involved in the elementary schools, going to work on our kids being seen. We’re going to try get community pep rallies and tie in something with the Red-White game. There is a vision, and I am going to do my best and work my hardest to see that vision fulfilled.”

The past couple of years have been ones of uncertainty among the coaching staff and that seems to have taken a toll on participation. Two members of the coaching staff stepped away from football in 2012 and Hickingbotham left for Atkins last year. Some confusion concerning the proper role of volunteer coaches shook up the staff last season as well. Then, the resignation of head coach Rick Russell in early May left no one to run spring practice as the man in charge.

Assistant coach Adam Thrash and athletic director Jerry Wilson oversaw some workouts and offensive practices, but numbers were in the high 30s, the lowest Jacksonville has seen in many years.

“It’s going to take time and energy and focus, but I believe a lot can be achieved here,” Hickingbotham said. “We’ve got about a two-week period before the dead period to shore up all the loose ends and get all the uncertainty issues worked out. Come July 6, we want to be able to bring the kids in here and give them a clear idea of what we want to do and how we want to accomplish it. That’s when we’re going to get down to business and start trying to lay the foundation.”