RED BOILING SPRINGS – The lights were on, the lawnmower was cutting and a crew of Quarterback Club members were preparing to checkerboard the end zones at the Red Boiling Springs football stadium on Tuesday evening – nothing out of the ordinary for a school preparing to host a first-round playoff game.
For Red Boiling Springs, however, nothing about it is normal.
By this time of year those lights are supposed to be turned off, and the handful of players filing out of the football locker room should be gearing up for basketball season.
Not this year.
For the first time since the program was formed four decades ago, the Bulldogs – a team more known for losing and losing big – have secured their first winning season since 1978 and will be making their first ever trip to the postseason.
By all accounts, Bulldogs coach Kyle Shoulders is the man to thank for that, say fans in this small Macon County town.
“The head coach is the main thing,” said Jeff Wheeler, a former RBS player in the mid-1980s and president of the Red Boiling Springs Quarterback Club. “He’s brought it a long way.”
Added Toddy Gentry, who played for the Bulldogs from 1996-2000, “Coach Shoulders, he came over here, took over a struggling program and he’s turned it around. He’s just done a fantastic job putting the kids where they need to be.”
Upon Shoulders’ arrival in 2009, Red Boiling Springs was stuck in the midst of a 54-game losing streak. There was little hope and even less community support for the struggling Bulldogs.
However, Shoulders won the first two games of his tenure, ending the miserable stretch of five straight winless seasons from 2004-08. It might have been a bit premature, but there was already talk of a turnaround.
“So we’re 2-0,” Shoulders said. “I think everyone had this misconception that it was turned around at that point. That was totally inaccurate.”
Work in progress
It took longer than two games – six seasons to be exact – but Shoulders and the community can now agree that the Bulldogs, whose six wins in 2014 ties a school record set in 1978, are on the right track.
“Actually seeing the program turn the corner, I feel like it’s probably this year,” said Shoulders, whose squad punched their ticket to the playoffs by winning five of six late in the season.
It required a lot more than just Xs and Os, though.
“We felt like to develop some sort of pride in the program we had to give them some uniforms and facilities that they could be prideful of,” Shoulders said. “If you could see this place now compared to a couple years ago, it’s just a complete culture change.”
When Shoulders took over, the stadium was literally falling down, the drainage situation was a nightmare and the football building was in horrendous shape. As Shoulders recalls, “Every third tile was broken up, there was asbestos in there and tobacco spit on the ground. It was like, ‘What has happened here?’
“Our coaches labored tremendously to fix all that.”
The changes didn’t necessarily attract a ton of new players. Red Boiling Springs, which will dress only 20 players for Friday’s Class 1A first-round game against visiting Midway, still struggles with numbers. The school’s enrollment is just 200, which is ninth lowest in the state in Division I.
What it did, however, was instill a sense of pride in a program that had virtually none.
“Ultimately, it’s changed attitude, attendance and helped eliminate discipline problems,” Shoulders said. “Our kids are very coachable.”
Added RBS senior lineman Quinton Goad, “There’s definitely more discipline and there’s more urgency in the players to work. When I got here my freshman year, the seniors, there wasn’t a whole lot of leadership. It was like, ‘Let’s do the work and go home.’ Now when we mess up, we want to fix it.”
As one might expect, it took a little longer for the community to exude that same level of pride, but as the wins have piled up this season, community support is at an all-time high.
“We’ve had bigger crowds cheering us on,” senior lineman Dallas Greanead said. “When we go out in the community all you hear is ‘Look, there’s a Red Boiling Springs football player…have you heard how good they’ve done?’ It’s really nice.”
Wheeler has witnessed the increased support as well.
In year’s past, it was up to Wheeler and the Quarterback Club to provide meals for the Bulldogs on Thursday nights. This season, however, local churches and businesses have stepped up and performed that task each week.
“Every Thursday, the night before a ballgame somebody feeds the boys,” said Wanda Smith, a Red Boiling Springs resident for more than 30 years. “It has been Smith Chapel Methodist Church, the First Baptist Church, and Fellowship Harvest Church. The Church of Christ has fed them, the nursing home has fed them and the hotels have fed them. That’s stuff you didn’t hear about a couple years ago.”
The program is presently in uncharted territory in terms of on-the-field success and off-the-field support, but with a squad that features just four seniors, there’s plenty of reason to believe the upward trend will continue at Red Boiling Springs.
“We’re nowhere near where we need to be,” Shoulders said. “If I felt like we were I’d probably either need to find a new profession or find somewhere else to coach. I don’t feel like my work is done here, and I don’t want these guys to be satisfied.
“Even if we’re going 15-0 and our facilities were immaculate, you can’t get complacent with where you’re at or you’ll go backwards. That’s just how it is.”
Reach Michael Murphy at 259-8018 and on Twitter @Murph_TNsports.
Red Boiling Springs 2014 results
Jackson Co. 14, RBS 13
RBS 51, Sale Creek 0
Gordonsville 34, RBS 26
RBS 14, Cannon Co. 13
RBS 32, Clay Co. 24
Watertown 46, RBS 6
RBS 16, Goodpasture 15
RBS 47, Clinton Co. (Ky.) 8
RBS 41, Pickett Co. 21
Trousdale Co. 50, RBS 24