By Gene Stanley/Messenger Sports Correspondent
Most high school football teams have a volunteer assistant or two.
But if you look closer, those assistants are usually a father of one of the athletes.
Southside actually has a volunteer who has no personal interest in the team, except for his love of football, his love of children and his friendship with the other coaches.
Three years ago, Staff Sergeant Todd Stingley came to the area as the Northeast Alabama Air Force Recruiter.
“I went in a store and asked about the local football teams,” Stingley said.
He found his way to Southside and watched a game but he left unimpressed.
The next year, Marty Smith was hired as head coach.
“I went to a game that year (in 2011) and saw a good team out there,” Stingley said.
“They were disciplined and played the game the way it should be played. I never missed a home game after that. I think I missed one road game.”
Last year, the Panthers won only three games, but a foundation was laid for better things.
“This has been the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen in sports,” the 29-year-old Stingley said. “Southside has turned into a good, disciplined team.”
Right now, the Panthers are sporting a 5-3 record and have a likely chance to make the Class 5A state playoffs.
During the past couple of years, Stingley met Smith and they started talking football and military.
“Coach Smith loves the military and I love football, so we had a lot to talk about,” Stingley said. “I never asked him about helping the team. He actually approached me and asked if I was interested.”
Stingley coached a football team while serving in North Carolina.
Stingley was introduced to the squad as defensive backs coach this spring. He now coaches that unit and sits in the booth during games, trying to spot the other teams’ defensive trends. He is also the ninth-grade football coach.
Alongside Stingley in the booth is veteran coach Charles Nails and Stingley tries to soak in the knowledge.
“Coach Nails has probably forgotten more about football than I’ll ever learn,” Stingley said. “Between him and the rest of the coaches, I just sit and listen, soaking up knowledge.”
After he finishes his Air Force career, Stingley plans to become a full-time football coach.
Even though he’s in Gadsden and recruiting, Stingley has seen his share of active duty. He was in Afghanistan when his son, Rhett, was born.
Stingley remains on active duty, with a special assignment to recruit. But he doesn’t try to use that to get Southside football players into the military.
“That’s one of the first things I told Coach Smith,” Stingley said. “I’ve never tried to use the fact that I’m an Air Force recruiter on the football kids. In fact, I’ve only had one to go to the military in three years – and that was a girl.”
Stingley said that the football players know what he does for a living, but “I never get in their face about it. If they approach me, I’ll talk to them about it.”
Stingley has an athletic background. His father Joe, was a long-time high school baseball and football coach in Mississippi. However, Todd never played for his dad, except in Pee Wee’s, as Joe retired before Todd was old enough for high school play.
Stingley got into military recruiting for the same reason he is coaching – to try and have a positive influence on youth.
He credits his high school baseball coach, Doug Shanks, for his success in life.
“We all had such respect for him,” Todd said. “If it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be where I am today. He is a mentor and huge influence on a lot of youngsters.”
Stingley attended University Christian High in Flowood, Miss., a school that is now closed down. But Shanks won seven state championships in 12 years. He is now the baseball coach at Mississippi Valley State.
Stingley admits that he was always better at baseball but loved football, where he played quarterback and defensive back.
“Football is such an emotional game and I’ve always loved it,” he said. “If I were 6-1 or taller, I would’ve tried to play football until they ran me off. But being 5-9 makes it tough to play much after high school.”
Stingley, who is married to the former Brooke Fitzgerald of Jackson, Miss., was the youngest of three brothers who were all quarterbacks.
“There’s one thing that I hope everyone knows about me,” he said. “I’m doing this because I love the kids and I especially love Southside kids. They’re a special bunch of people.”
Todd has only one more football season to be in the area, as his assignment is for four years and he is approaching the three-year mark in February.
“I wish I could stay longer,” he said. “We’ve already talked about the possibilities of moving back here after I retire from the Air Force.”