COACHSPEAK – I really enjoy talking with coach Reed and all of the Bulldogs on the staff. Some of the guys are still a little bit shy with me, or maybe they are just that way with everyone they encounter. This year though, they need to talk to me as much as they can. The goal for me is to brag about the players. They should want to brag about their players too. It makes my job easier. It gives me something to write about, and this is a season we should have plenty to write about. Last year after my first interview with coach Reed, I went home and my wife, Tara, (Hi Tara), knowing where I had been, asked me about the new coach. My response was, “We can’t keep him.” I meant it too. Coach Reed just had a presence about him that I wasn’t ready for from a coach here. He was too polished to be here for long. He said all the right things, and with a tone and cadence that reminded me of coaches at the collegiate level. He has always maintained his affinity with the Altus community, and was intent on “building an empire here.” Those are my words, not his. If you know him, or talk to him at all, you know he would never say that. As the season went on last year, and the Bulldogs kept winning, I couldn’t help but feel a little reserved about it. I thought that with all this success on such a turnaround of this magnitude, no way he wouldn’t move on to bigger, better higher paying gigs instead of coming back.
Well, he didn’t go somewhere else and pull the rug out from under us. Not only did he not leave, no one inside the football program left. Not one coach bounced out. Remarkable considering they had eight losing seasons in the last 10 years, and turn that around to really make some noise in 5A. So, if you heard any of that noise last year, brace yourself. The volume this season is at a steady 11! Don’t even ask to turn it down either.
Here is an interview I had before the Weatherford scrimmage with coach Reed, and here is my official thank you to coach Reed and his family, coach Vargas and his family, and the rest of you dedicated souls saddled with the task of coaching our boys up.
I, for one, sincerely appreciate not only the incredible, immediate results of Altus athletics since you have arrived here, but also and more so than the wins we appreciate the manner in which you have produced those wins. It’s obvious and clear to all observers, and more importantly to all the players, that you genuinely care for the kids and take them into your heart. I will never forget my interview with coach Vargas last year on the practice field when I asked him why he came out of coaching retirement to follow coach Reed to the S. W. corner of this state to coach in Altus. After a lengthy pause and fighting back tears that eventually won the battle, coach Vargas said, “Because my wife and I trust coach Reed with our son, Jake.” I ended the interview right there because there were no other words he could say that would mean more than that short little sentence. As a parent, that sentence crosses over so many areas of raising a child and wow does it speak volumes about coach Reed’s character.
My interview with coach Reed-
ME: Not much down time on our schedule Coach. It looks like the Bulldogs have to bring their best every week. How do you feel about the schedule this season?
REED: No doubt we play in the toughest district of any class in Oklahoma. There are arguably four teams in the top 10, possibly top 5. Knowing that alone, should keep our team’s focus. Anything can happen on any given week. We will be tested each week, beginning with Vernon, and must bring our best mental and physical game all week, every week. There are no off weeks.
ME: Jayden Benway was spectacular last season. He always seemed to have a way of pulling our feet out of the fire when we were looking done for. That pass to Tyler Phillips down to the 1 late in the game against Ardmore will live in the reminiscent minds of Bulldog fans forever. It propelled the Bulldogs to score, and set up even more drama with the defensive denial of Ardmore on four plays inside the 1 ft. line. The moments that followed that, as the home fans stormed the field to pour our adulation all over the team, is what always comes to my mind when I hear someone claim there isn’t anything fun to do here. Coach, when I watch Jayden at practice this year though, I get the sense that the game has really slowed down for him. He looks comfortable with what you are trying to do offensively. My question is, when did his passing take such a noticeable leap forward? He is really throwing the ball with accurate zip.
REED: Jayden worked very hard in early Spring and all Summer. He worked to correct a few of his mechanics issues. He is also much stronger in the weight room than he was a year ago. Seven on Seven helped us, but most of the work was done before we ever started that.
ME: I kept hearing loud booms during all the practices I have been to. At first, I thought it was the music playing at the field, or a passing car stereo, or even some left over fireworks exploding nearby. As I investigated a bit, I found the weapon causing the booms. Of course, I am kidding. Well, maybe a little bit. Gabe Barton is hammering his practice attempts from 60 yards or more. You ever catch a look over and watch him kick during practice?
REED: Gabe is a true weapon in both kickoffs and field goals. He’s a true specialist that works daily to improve his craft. He has a written kicking workout daily that he is given to cover everything we will need from him. We’re glad we have Gabe.
ME: Coach, it looks like several Bulldogs are emerging into starring roles. For my last question, I want to know what your impressions of young Taven Birdow are? I know what I see, and I know what others have told me they see. Can I get you to take your coach hat off for a second and put your fan cap on? Or even your scouting report goggles on? Or whatever they wear, and give me your impression about #33?
REED: The first description that comes to mind is that Taven is a great kid. He is very humble, and he came in and blended the transition back home very smoothly. He certainly did not bring any ego with him back from Florida. His talent is undeniable. He possesses the combination all football coaches are wanting. He has great power, strength, and speed. I feel like I’ve known Taven forever, but I have never seen him in live action against an opponent. I’m looking forward to seeing him compete. We are fortunate to have many great players. Although we know many of these players’ names, and will see them in headlines, it’s the unknown role players at the core of this team that will make us successful this year. This holds true for any great team. There are always players that emerge that help you win games each week that the common fan never notices.
ME: Expectations are exponentially growing as the season approaches. How do you keep these young men from looking too far into the season toward the “what ifs” that tempt the mind, impair judgments, and distract from the now? How do you keep a team focused in the moment?
REED: Our approach to practice has a great influence on keeping kids in the moment. We don’t accept anything but the best effort daily, no matter our record or opponent. We are dealing with 14 to 18-year-old young men. So, outside resources can persuade their minds at times to get relaxed and complacent. I think this group understands the magnitude of what this season can hold, and are hungry to work daily toward that goal. We love our team and its capabilities, but we understand, we have a long way to go to be ready for the schedule we will be facing. The X factor that has the biggest influence on a team is cohesion. This team is very close, and genuinely enjoys being with each other. That is a by-product of the coaching staff. The leadership qualities these coaches have has shown the boys what it looks like to have a Brotherhood. They see the closeness, laughter, and friendships within their coaches, which bleeds over to our locker room.
Me: They look hungry. Starving is a look I see from some of the boys. I know the fan base here in Altus is famished. Keep feeding us coach.
Reed: As the season progressed last year, our crowd kept growing and played a major role in our games. The players and the coaches feed off the energy and emotion that our crowd provides. Hopefully, we can continue to feed each other. The support our community gives for our football team and all our athletics is amazing. Many places claim to be athletic towns. Altus can definitely back it up. THERE IS NO BETTER PLACE TO COACH OR PLAY THAN ALTUS, OKLAHOMA!!
(I added the all-caps. Coach Reed would’ve wanted it that way)
G O B U L L D O G S !!
Reach Brad Gilbert@482-1221 ext. 2076