Editor’s note: This is an opinion column.
By Bobby Mathews, Sports Editor
MOODY – The gym was packed, 300 strong, with current and potential Blue Devils players and their parents there to meet new head coach Jake Ganus and hear his plan to build Moody – finally – into the contender everyone hopes it can be.
Ganus has big shoes to fill. He’s replacing a popular coach who put some important pieces on the board and turned the Blue Devils into winners in 2021 for the first time in more than five years. So this meeting was important in more ways than one.
It allowed the parents and public to size up Ganus for the first time. But he’s been in the public eye for a long time – first as a star player at Chelsea, and then as a great linebacker at UAB, followed by a stint at the University of Georgia and a short stay in the NFL before returning to his home area to coach at 7A powerhouse Thompson.
And it allowed Ganus to lay out his vision for the Blue Devils, his expectations for the team and for the players’ parents.
It has, traditionally, been hard to win at Moody. Some very good coaches have spent time on the sidelines for the Blue Devils, but success has proven elusive. Matt Glover, former Clay-Chalkville defensive coordinator and a former head coach at Pinson Valley, St. Clair County and Moody, is regarded as one of the better coaches in the area, and even he couldn’t win at Moody, posting a 14-17 record over three seasons.
But Ganus wants to turn the Blue Devils into a consistent winner.
He knows there are hurdles to overcome, though, and the school’s administration is doing everything it can to set him up for success in his first head coaching gig. A recently passed ad valorem tax will help with a much-needed facilities upgrade, and local businesses are stepping up to help fund things like new, state-of-the-art weight racks.
“I saw an immediate need in the weight room,” Ganus said. “I saw the need for the kids. The space is great, and I think we have everything we need in that aspect, and for us to be efficient – the word is efficient – in the weight room is going to be huge for us, and we’re going to see it pay off in the fall.”
I’ve been in the Moody weight room, and to say that the planned upgrades are a godsend is an understatement so grand that it borders on absurd. The Blue Devils are doing a lot with a little, and the players are already responding this offseason.
“I’m really excited with the way he’s talking about our team and how talented we are,” said Blue Devils lineman Caleb Griffin after the meeting. “I’ve bought into him. I believe we can go 10-0, win a state championship. If it comes down to it, I think we can go that far. It’s going to be a fun season.”
Ganus is already demanding more of his players in the offseason.
“Workouts are a lot harder,” Griffin said. “But we’re not in season yet, so we don’t know how his practices are going to run, none of that yet.”
Kolby Seymour, a Blue Devil athlete who helped hold the team together after starting quarterback A.J. Wallace went down with a broken collarbone against Alexandria, has also bought into what Ganus believes the team can be.
“I feel like it’s going to be a good year,” Seymour said. “Losing Coach (Adam) Wallace was kind of heartbreaking for me, but I know that Coach Ganus is a great guy, and he’s going to come in here and do what he’s supposed to do … I love him already. I think he’s going to be a great coach.”
The next step is buy-in from the community. For a place like Moody, out past Leeds off of I-20, the city occupies a kind of/kind of not suburban Birmingham-ness. Moody is its own place, with an identity that the people there are proud of. They’re proud – rightly so – of their students, and they want to field a winner on the football field.
This weekend, Ganus is asking that community to buy in, to help paint and do some light renovations to the Blue Devils field house. The volunteers – parents, players, boosters – will show up, because that’s the kind of place that Moody is. Putting in the sweat equity to help build this Blue Devils program into the winners they want to be will give them all a sense of ownership, an emotional stake in the team.
After that, it’s up to the coaches and players to put a winning team on the field.
Bobby Mathews is sports editor of The Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter: @bobbymathews.