New coach Sean Coultis sought feedback, got to work with Bulldogs.
Sean Coultis and the New Albany football team will mature together.
Coultis, a first-year head coach after nine seasons as an assistant for the successful Bolingbrook (Ill.) program, is 36 years old. His first Bulldog team will start two freshmen — remarkable for a Class 6-A team — on defense and will suffer through the growing pains of youth.
When he accepted the job, knowing a rebuilding project would be tough, Coultis decided to start over. He is changing everything: the offense, the defense, the mindset, the culture, from the ground up. Coming off a 1-9 season, there were few options when it came to the direction he needed to take.
“It will be a ridiculously young team,” Coultis said. “I believe a senior should be clearly better. If they’re not, I believe in playing the younger guys. The young guys have more up-side.
“If the coach would have been returning, seniors might have had an advantage by knowing the offense or defense. But that’s completely not the case because we have a new offense and defense. It’s new for everybody.”
When he was hired in March, Coultis started digging into the program, seeking feedback, looking for answers. He asked basic questions. What was wrong? What needed to be fixed? What could he change? He boiled down the multiple answers to a common denominator.
“I sought some feedback when I got the job, what were some good things and bad things about New Albany football,” he said. “The thing I heard the most was a lack of teamwork, a lack of caring, a lack of family. So my focus all summer was about getting people to care about each other. That will remain a focus. We’re coming a long way with that, they’re working harder now.
“I want them to honestly feel bad if they miss practice, or they’re late, or if they don’t hustle. I want to them to feel bad to let the team down, that they’re a part of something bigger than themselves.”
He’s clamped down on the internal bickering, on the strife that was a team cancer. Those are more damaging than the lack of execution or a physical mistake.
“Things won’t always be good, not only in football but in life,” Coultis said. “Sticking together will be the true measure of how much of a team they really are. I truly believe we will turn this thing around by truly caring about each other.”
When the dust from the house cleaning settled, Coultis saw fresh faces. He will start only seven seniors among the 22 on both sides. Stephon Herron, projected by Coultis as a future Div. I prospect, is a 6-foot-3 freshman who will start at defensive end. Koran Givens, another freshman, will start at linebacker. Two sophomores will also start.
“We have a lot of talented young kids and they truly are deserving to play,” Coultis said. “The future is bright. They’re going to make mistakes, but they’re going to get better every day.
“When you make a mistake, you should admit it, learn from it and don’t repeat it. That’s what we’ve told them. Make it a new mistake.”
On offense, the Bulldogs lost what firepower they had last season with the departure of quarterback Zach Donan (1,091 passing yards and 10 TDs) and his top receivers. Now they will feature dual-threat quarterback Justin Ricketts, sophomore running back Darquan Richardson and sophomore Rondale Moore, the team’s best overall athlete. Derek Griffin, a senior who has recovered from a broken leg suffered last season, will also see a lot of action.
Coultis succeeded Charlie Fields, a long-time New Albany assistant who went 13-27 in four years as a head coach. Fields has shifted back to his familiar role as the offensive line coach.
“He’s been a blessing,” Coultis said. “He does all kinds of things. He’s been a great person to have on the staff. He’s not only a great coach, but he’s loyal and a hard worker. He loves the kids. He’s just a heck of a coach.”
At a glance
Coach: Sean Coultis (first season)
Conference: Hoosier Hills Conference.
Last season: 1-9 (lost to Center Grove 56-6 in Class 6-A sectional semifinal)
Outlook: How long can young players stand up against upperclassmen? The Bulldogs will find out. They also got an infusion of talent from the basketball team with senior receiver Michael Maxwell and junior Davin Alexander. New Albany enters the season with a 7-game losing streak, and the defense allowed 38.4 points per game last year.
|Aug. 28||At Castle||8:00|
|Sept. 4||*JENNINGS COUNTY||7:00|
|Sept. 11||*at Bedford NL||7:00|
|Sept. 18||*at Columbus East||7:00|
|Oct. 9||*at Seymour||7:00|
|Oct. 16||*FLOYD CENTRAL||7:00|
|*-Hoosier Hills Conference game|
Justin Sokeland can be followed on Twitter at @golfguru55.