As the 2015 football season looms around the corner, Leesville Road head coach Brad Wilson is still settling in. His office has a few pictures, posters, and books yet to be put in place. Assistant coaches are running around corralling the large crowd of players and football parents are busy with behind the scenes work.
It’s his first season coaching in the CAP-8. The players, competition and facilities are all new. For Leesville Road, the coaches, the play calls, and the voices yelling in practice are new.
However this time of year, there’s no time for new. There is only time for early morning practices, long weight room sessions, and 7v7 scrimmages. In less than a month, Leesville Road will travel down the road to face off against Durham Jordan in the season opener.
Coach Wilson is already there. He thinks his players are getting closer too. We sat down with him to talk about the journey here and the task ahead.
“Begin with the end in mind.”
It’s a phrase on a sign that student athletes and faculty pass at Leesville everyday. It sits painted white with blue and green letters as you enter the student parking lot. It’s a motto that has become synonymous with the mission of the school. It’s also a sign that new Leesville Road football coach Brad Wilson is in the right place.
“When Coach Rogers first hired me and I drove in and saw the sign, I said ‘you’re not going to believe this.’ I said ‘look at this’ and showed him my phone. I had the same quote on my phone.”
A few months later, and only weeks away from the start of the season, a sticky note posted onto the wall in his office reads this same quote.
He points to another sticky note and says, “Everyone says we don’t run the ball. We do run the ball; we just run it every time we catch it!”
You could tell he was proud of his savvy quote as he gives off a slight grin, and it’s this same savvy that he hopes to bring to the field. He needs to, and he is expected to. His task is to turn a team with a losing record the past year into a team with a winning record as it had the six seasons before.
Coach Wilson has a routine.
“I wake up, get dressed, and then stop by Dunkin Donuts. I have to have Dunkin Donuts, nothing else. I actually drive past the school in the mornings just so I can get my Dunkin Donuts coffee. I arrive, get things ready here, and at 6:50 the boys are in two lines ready to hit the practice field.”
The team arrives at 6:30, and not a minute later. They take the practice field from 7-8:30, and no later than 8:45 do they come inside. Wilson gives the players about 10 minutes to “regroup,” and then the boys take the weight room from 9-10.
Under Wilson’s direction, the team attends workouts four times each week. Each Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday the players give 3-4 hours of their time to nothing but football and weight training. On Wednesday, they rest; Coach Wilson says he doesn’t mind the down time.
“If they are working hard, I’m not afraid to give them a few days off. They need it. I need it.”
His goal is to understand his players and appreciate their needs, too. He tries his best to be reasonable and understands everyone need their vacation time in the summer, although he hasn’t had much himself.
A new mantra has already been established with the football team thanks to Wilson. He calls it “one heartbeat,” and it’s something he brought with him from Maryland. He explained it briefly.
“One heartbeat is a mindset. We’re going to have a common goal, and we will achieve that common goal while you are achieving your individual goals. But that common goal, that one heartbeat, takes precedent over everything else.”
It’s also important to Wilson that his team is alike. He wants everyone to be similar so that no one can distance himself from the team. The goal is to have a unity that is stronger than anything else, and that means the players need to look like they are one as well as being one.
“You won’t see any team I’ve coached wearing different socks. You won’t see one person wearing blue cleats, one person wearing white cleats; you just won’t see it. That sends a message that you aren’t one and don’t have that common goal.”
Wilson also wants the crowd to get involved and buy into the philosophy too. Already in his short time here, Wilson has spearheaded efforts with Shelly Reathaford, cheer leading coach, to create new cheers and new ways to get the student section to be part of the one heartbeat. Unity is everything to Brad Wilson.
The 2015-16 season has the early look of being a toss-up for first place in the CAP-8. Usual contenders Millbrook, Wakefield and Wake Forest are back with similar talent, but no team seems to have an overall edge. Leesville is certainly in the hunt, and Wilson doesn’t want to waste any time ensuring his team competes.
“I think they can do great things, and I mean great things now,” said Wilson referring to his team’s potential.
Leesville will return impact players such as defensive anchor Patrick Rice, lineman Matt Cross, and starting quarterback Clay Vick. While getting to know his talent will take time, so far, Wilson is impressed with what he sees.
“They are smart, they are extremely coachable, they have some individual skill sets they need to keep working on, but they have been. If you put intelligence and athletic ability together, you’ve got something pretty special, and we’ve got that.”
Wilson also remarked that the boys have exceeded his expectations in the 7v7 that the team participated in; however, the team was only able to participate in one 7v7 because of a conflict this summer. The quarterbacks received a lot of attention in those workouts because Wilson is all about the pass heavy offense.
“I like to throw the ball,” he said. “I really, really like to throw the ball. It keeps the defense on their toes, and we have the talent and depth to make it work.”
It appears the fans will need to get comfortable because the games will no doubt go longer with Wilson’s new offense.
Only those who have walked into Marshall L. Hamilton stadium on a Friday night have experienced what the Leesville Loonies are really like. Because it’s his first season at the school, Coach Wilson hasn’t had the pleasure, and he’s chomping at the bit. When asked about what he was looking forward to, Wilson’s eyes lit up.
“I’m fortunate and humbled to be here, but I am excited to see the Loonies. I can not wait,” he said with big eyes and a wide grin. “If the defense is on the field, I might just slip up there and get a feel for what it’s like to be a Loonie for a second.”
It’s this excitement Wilson brings that is rubbing off on others. The players are showing up in tremendous numbers to the workouts and Pride football families are running around preparing equipment, team socials, and game plans for those fall Friday nights.
Don’t be fooled. Wilson’s smooth answers and exciting faces are nothing new — he’s been coaching for years. He knows the ins and outs of coaching, and he knows how to appear calm, cool, and collected. But underneath that Pete Carroll-like appearance and professional demeanor is a man filled with competitive spirit.
“I’m gonna play in a state championship,” said Wilson. “I don’t coach just to play 10, 11, 12 games. I plan to be coaching in December, and I plan to win every game I coach. If for some reason it doesn’t happen, I’ll plan to only lose one.”
Leesville’s first game is on August 21 at Durham Jordan.