By Joshua Price/Sports Editor
Etowah County Board of Education superintendent Alan Cosby and Board of Education member Ernie Payne announced on April 26 that Hayden Stockton resigned his position as head varsity football coach at West End High School. Effective immediately, Stockton will be replaced by former Patriots head coach and current Sardis High School defensive coordinator Randy Hallmark.
Stockton coached West End the past three seasons, cumulating a 10-21 record with a playoff appearance in 2010 (first round loss to Sulligent). Stockton accepted the defensive coordinator position at Class 6A, Region 3 Enterprise High School in south Alabama.
Stockton said schools as small as West End cannot afford to lose entire classes because of lack of players.
“We had issues with players not coming back to play, but the kids that stayed and played this past season played hard and grew up alot on the field as players and as young men. They improved much as the season progressed and I am proud of all of them. I will always be there to help the ones who worked so hard for the team and never gave up.”
Stockton regretted the decision to leave West End, but acknowledged the need for change.
“In order for the [football] program to return to powerhouse status, there has to be some changes made. Sometimes it takes a complete makeover to get things back on track. Whoever steps in as head coach must have the support of the community and be given the tools to succeed.”
Hallmark is no stranger to rebuilding football programs. He took over the struggling West End football program in 1990 after the Patriots finished 6-14 in 1988 and 1989.
Hallmark served as head varsity football coach at West End from 1990-1997, accumulating a 64-26 record.
Hallmark’s Patriots competed in Class 2A in 1993 and bumped up to Class 3A in 1994 and 1995. West End completed three consecutive undefeated regular seasons from 1993-1995, tallying a 34-3 record during that span.
Hallmark acknowledged the difficult road that lay ahead in rebuilding the struggling Patriot football program, which has not enjoyed a winning season since 2007.
“Football is a tough sport and we have to get back to teaching toughness. The kids have to buy into the program and be accountable for themselves. It’s gonna take some time but were excited and can’t wait to get them to working and build a good, solid foundation.”
Hallmark coached eight All-State players during those three years, and his Patriots filled the ranks of the annual All-Etowah County and All-Area teams each season.
Hallmark enjoyed the luxury of having Etowah County’s Most Valuable Player in the offensive backfield from 1993-1997. Five different Patriot running backs were voted MVP by the county coaches during that span – with three of them in the backfield during the 1993 season and two for the 1994 and 1995 seasons.
Hallmark said the future of the program is in the junior high and youth teams.
“We have to start working on the program with the younger groups and build up from there. We have to get them used to our terminology and what we will expect from them. We have to teach fundamentals. When they get to us at the varsity level we will be way ahead of the game.”
Despite the offensive juggernaut, Hallmark’s Patriots prided themselves on their aggressive, hard-hitting defensive play. Hallmark uses the same 4-3 defense now, with a few minor adjustments, as he did in the 1990’s.
Hallmark is proud of the accomplishments of those teams. He said those teams had plenty of football talent, but also a hard work ethic.
“The summer workout was tough to start with, but once the players get used to it it becomes natural. If I ever slacked up on the guys that played back then, they would let me know real quick that I wasn’t working them hard enough. That’s the mentality that we are hoping to get to. Once we get there mentally, everything else will fall into place.
Hallmark said a return to football success will take more than just effort out of the players.
“There is no big secret to football. The kids who go out and work to get stronger, faster and better are the ones who will do well in the games. We will never ‘out-athlete’ the other teams, so we have to do all the other things better than they will. We just have to outwork them.”
West End will compete in Class 2A, Region 7 in 2012, which features traditional gridiron powerhouses such as Fyffe, Westbrook Christian and Sand Rock.
West End kicks off the 2012 football season with Class 3A rival Susan Moore on Thursday, September 6.
Hallmark expects maximum effort and results from this year’s team.
“I’ve watched some film on [West End’s 2011 team] and I think they will ‘get after it.’ We just have to get everybody working together toward the same goal. We have to work on speed, endurance and strength and that all comes in the summertime. Right now we have to get in the spring and teach them some fundamentals. We have to get our offense and defense in. It will take some time to get the work ethic established again, but I’m confident that we can do that. Once it’s established we will see a huge difference in the program.”
There is no secret to Hallmark’s intentions with the program.
“We have to approach this like we did [in 1990]. We just have to work hard to put a good product on the field. Were not looking to go 5-5, were looking to win all of them.”
Joshua Price can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.