By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The Etowah High School football program is locked and loaded for the future.
During the Attalla City School Board meeting on April 9, Ryan Locke (pictured above) was hired as the school’s 29th head football coach.
Locke was named interim head coach following John Holladay’s resignation in early March.
“It’s exciting, it’s overwhelming, it’s humbling, it’s a blessing,” said Locke, who last season served as assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and offensive line coach for the Blue Devils. “Not a whole lot of people who get their first head coaching job have an opportunity like this one. I’m certainly looking forward to serving our student-athletes at Etowah along with the people of Attalla. I’m very blessed that Dr. [Stephen] Hall and Mr. [Jeff] Colegrove chose me to be the leader of this program, and I’ll work tirelessly to prove that their decision was the right one.”
Hall is Etowah High Principal and Colegrove is Attalla City Schools Superintendent.
Under Locke’s supervision, the 2019 Etowah offense generated 35 points a game on the way to a 9-2 record, a third straight region championship and the program’s 10th straight state playoff appearance. A wealth of senior talent returns this fall at the skill positions, including quarterback Brady Troup, halfback Trent Davis and receivers NyNy Davis and Ollie Finch.
Over the past 20 years, Etowah has finished with a losing record only four times.
“It’s hard sometimes for a 16 or 17-year-old kids to grasp, but we want our kids to have pride in the fact that they’re playing football for such a tradition-rich school and how much respect Etowah football garners, not only around here but across the state,” said Locke. “One of our goals is to perform at a level so that we can live up to those expectations as well as bring honor to the City of Attalla.”
Locke believes that stability is one of the keys to a successful football program.
“For me, being able to have consistency and continuity among our staff was important in order to keep going in the same direction while at the same time improving that direction. Etowah is not in in a bad situation but any means, but we can always make it better.”
Asked to share one of his top goals for the program, Locke’s response had nothing to do with won/loss records or strategy.
“We want to prepare our kids to be better men, better husbands and better fathers and be good contributors to society while giving them as much academic support as we can. We want to impact these kids in a positive way. At some point and time, football is going to end, and you have to ask yourself what you are going to do with the rest of your life. Hopefully, these kids will take what they learned from us and apply it in a successful way to the rest of their lives.
“As far as on the field goes, I think that last year was a great foundation, and we certainly want to build upon that. One thing we don’t want to do is rest on the Etowah tradition. We want to continue to improve the program and build on that tradition, whether it is on the field or off the field. You’re cutting yourself short if you’re not always trying to be the best you can be in everything you do.”
Hall considers the program fortunate to have the opportunity to hire an in-house candidate with such a impressive resume.
“I’m of the belief that we need to be developing our leaders internally, and Ryan checks all the boxes” said Hall. “If you’ve been the offensive coordinator at the college level, you’re going to forget more football than most people will ever know. We’ve got a great coaching staff, so it was an easy call for us to maintain continuity of the program, especially when there is so much uncertainty about when you’re going to hit the field and start up the season.
“Ryan has a well-thought out plan to engage the kids and their families and make sure that they understand what the expectations are and how he intends to prepare them for the season. He’s also an educator who understands the academic side of football. Just as Coach Holladay was, Ryan is a strong fundamental teacher of the game of football. He’s endeared himself to our community, he cares about our kids, he’s very bright and he’s a hard worker.”
A 2002 graduate of Benjamin Russell High School in Alexander City, Locke was an offensive lineman on the the Wildcats’ 2001 Class 5A state championship football team and the 2000 state runner-up squad. The program went 26-2 during those two seasons.
“It definitely was a good time to come through Ben Russell during those years,” he said.
While earning his undergraduate degree at Central Alabama Community College in Alexander City, Locke was a volunteer assistant coach at Ben Russell. He then was an assistant coach at Troy State while earning his undergraduate degree. Upon graduation, Locke moved to UAB for a year as a graduate assistant coach, followed by a three-year stint at the University of West Georgia as tight end coach. He then landed at Cumberland University in Nashville, Tenn., for four seasons, the first two as offensive line coach and last two as offensive coordinator/quarterback coach.
Locke then transitioned back to the high school level, coaching at Northridge-Tuscaloosa for one year, Foley for two years and Tuscaloosa County in Northport under Holladay for a season before arriving at Etowah last year.
Locke, who commuted from the Birmingham area last year, said he and his wife Lara Ellen are ready to put down roots.
“We’re looking forward to becoming entrenched in the Attalla community. We’ve got a seven-year plan that I’ve put in a lot of time and effort into, and we want to see that through as much as possible, from when the kids are in youth league [football] in sixth grade through middle school to when they graduate from high school.”
Much like every other high school football program in the country, Etowah currently is in a holding pattern with regard to face-to-face instruction.
“At least with high school, this is the longest I’ve gone in my coaching career without seeing players. During the course of a year, the two-week Christmas break is the longest time we have [without seeing players], and now it’s been almost a full month. It’s looks like it’s going to be even longer for the foreseeable future, but we’re making the best we can out of it.”
However, Locke and his staff are communicating via social media to their players on a frequent basis.
“Every coach has a calendar of what he wants to implement and accomplish during this time and evert one of those calendars have been shot because of [the COIVD-19 virus]. But since I was named head coach, I’ve been in contact with the entire coaching staff and all of our players from last year who are returning and making sure everyone is healthy and safe and we’re all on the same page.”