By Erik Harris
For The Tribune
CLAY — The bell echoed through the halls of Bragg Middle School 12 years ago. For most 12- and 13-year-olds, it was the sound of freedom that inevitably turned them loose at 3 p.m. But for the members of the seventh- and eighth-grade football team, it meant a short, breezy walk down the sidewalk that ended at the beginning of a long, hard day.
Before the season’s first full-pads practice, coach Daniel Foy entered the humble locker room at Gardendale High School where he saw two types of kids — wisecracking eighth-graders ready to daunt every youngster that crossed their path and wide-eyed preteens fresh out of elementary school.
The young coach addressed his divided team and spoke some simple words that made an extraordinary impact. In a strong but reassuring voice he said, “For you new guys, I want you to understand that this is real football. It’s not like the stuff you see on TV where every hit is a bone crusher that sends helmets flying all over.”
Regardless of its truth, the speech had a calming effect that made even the youngest player feel safe and stable. This was the same stability that was much needed at nearby Clay-Chalkville High School several years later. Foy, in his third season as the varsity boys basketball coach, has closed the somewhat revolving door of coaches that have sped through the program, three coaches over a six-year period.
“It’s been a revolving door of coaches and you can’t build a program that way,” Foy said.
Foy made the jump into high school coaching in 2004. He made stops at Moody and Mortimer Jordan high schools before accepting the Clay-Chalkville job in time for the 2011 season.
Cougar basketball program wasn’t the brightest star in the sky upon Foy’s arrival. Prior to Foy’s arrival, Clay-Chalkville’s last winning season was the 2001-2002 season, according to the Alabama High School Historical Society. In Foy’s first season, Clay-Chalkville went 20-9. Last season, the Cougars posted a 24-7 record, reaching the Class 6A Northeast Regional semifinals at Jacksonville State, its third trip to the regional tournament in school history. It lost 61-40 to Woodlawn in 2000 and fell 77-48 to Parker in 2001.
“Any good coach is going to do a good job if they stay at a place for a while and they have good players,” Foy said. “It’s about staying there, laying the foundation and getting kids to cycle through your system.”
The Sweet 16 loss to eventual state champion Mountain Brook last season has been hard to recover from, as Foy saw seven seniors take their final shots on the Jacksonville State floor. Even with the average start this year’s team is off to, Foy is optimistic about what can be built.
“We’ve really started a new cycle,” Foy said. “There are two kids back off last year’s varsity and the rest of them played JV. I really like this team, but (because of their inexperience) they make a lot of mistakes. We’re going to get better as the season goes along.”
R.J. Pressley, Vidalo Kabiya and Brian Clark are the only three seniors. Foy sees tremendous potential in his new-look Cougars and expects steady improvement as the season moves forward.
It doesn’t matter what sport or at what level, a key component to coaching is how the coach communicates with his or her players. Does the coach bring out the best or the worst in their players? Foy seems to be the right guy for the job.
“The longer I’m here, the better it’s going to be, I hope,” he said.
Photo credit: file photo by Ron Burkett