Messenger file photo by Chris McCarthy
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
With only a few days under his belt as Gaston High football coach and with less than a week to go before the first game of the season, Alan Beckett needed to get his priorities in order before the Bulldogs travelled to Asbury on September 25.
“I had a choice between learning the players’ names or practicing, so we’re out there practicing,” he said. “I figured that I’d get to know them individually as the season went on. But these are great kids and a lot of fun to be around.”
Beckett replaced Matt Harris, who resigned in late July after three seasons at Shinbone Ridge.
“Matt did a lot of really good things, like putting in a really good weight program,” said Beckett. “He was starting to build a foundation and making this a place where people wanted to be.”
Beckett acknowledged that the program’s numbers are not what they need to be.
“We started out with about 30 players, then we had several transfer, and a few other kids quit because those kids left,” he said. “To build a program, you have to have solid numbers in grades seven through 12, so it will take a while. We want to sell the game for itself to make it so that these kids decide this is something that they want to be around.”
Beckett was Gadsden City High offensive coordinator under Ali Smith for the 2020 season, then moved to Cedar Bluff for the 2021 and 2022 seasons, where he led the Tigers to a 10-12 record, two state playoff berths and a region championship. Beckett was football recruiting coordinator at Faulkner University in Montgomery this past year.
“Obviously, you can’t build the Taj Mahal in two weeks,” he said. “Right now, it’s about building a foundation, get some things we can hang our hats on and stopping the bleeding. Even though the [Gaston football] program is not in great shape, I think God is opening another door for me. I needed employment closer to where I live, and these kids need somebody who can be a good influence.”
Beckett has learned not to put the cart before the horse when taking over struggling high school football programs.
“I used to try to do too much too quickly, and the play sheet was way too long,” he said. “Now, we’re just going to work on doing one or two things really well before we move on. What we are doing right now is a lot of conditioning, because most of these kids will have to play both sides of the ball, at least the first part of the season.”
Beckett worked as an intern from 1989-1991 and in 1993 at the Jacksonville State University Athletic Department and at the Auburn University Athletic Department in 1992.
After graduating JSU in 1993, Beckett spent three years at Gaylesville High School as assistant football coach and head baseball coach. As baseball coach, he guided the Trojans to a 29-17 record and a berth in the Class 1A state semifinals.
Beckett then spent a year at Collinsville, where he led the baseball Panthers to an area championship and the second round of the Class 2A state baseball playoffs.
After being an assistant football coach from 1996-97 at Dade County, Ga., Beckett returned to Alabama as the defensive coordinator under his father Bobby at Cherokee County High in Centre from 1998-2000.
Beckett then spent five seasons at Moody High as the defensive coordinator under future Jacksonville State head football coach John Grass. In 2006, he was the wide receivers coach and head baseball coach at Sylacauga.
Beckett returned to Collinsville in 2007 as the school’s head football coach. Over the next six seasons, the Panthers went 43-23 overall, won two region championships and made it to the state quarterfinals in 2011. Beckett was twice named Region Coach of the Year and selected DeKalb Coach of the Year in 2011.
At Winterboro High from 2013-2019, Beckett became the school’s all-time winningest football and baseball coach. His teams set a school record for consecutive playoff appearances, while his players signed with and played at colleges such as Baylor University, JSU, Tennessee Tech, Faulkner University and Tennessee Prep.
“One good thing we do have here at Gaston is great support from the community,” Beckett added. “I’ve been at places where the stands are empty on Friday nights, and that doesn’t happen here, even when the team is struggling.”