Ben Stewart hired as Southside football coach

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By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor

Ben Stewart soon will add a hardhat and engineer boots to his wardrobe.
The recently hired Southside High School head football coach pointed out that while the program’s infrastructure is sturdy, it is his responsibility to pour the asphalt and set the speed limit.
With one year under Gary Nelson in 2020 and the past three under Holcomb, the Panthers went 25-19 with four state playoff appearance. Southside is coming off a 2023 season that saw the Panthers go 8-3 and win the program’s first region title in nine years.
“Coach (Gary) Nelson and Coach (Miles) Holcomb laid a good foundation, and what we’re going to do is not just sustain that success but bring it to the next level. If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backward. The way I look at it, [Nelson and Holcomb] cleared the road, and it’s our job to pave it. You can pave that road with gold or you can pave it with dirt. It’s up to you.”
Stewart’s first official day on the job was March 18.
“We’ve been going 100 miles an hour since then, and it’s wide open,” said. “It’s been 14-hour days so far, and I’m loving every minute. I’m a people person and I love relationships, so this is the prefect situation for me. When I was with Oxford [High School] and we played [at Southside], you could see how they played with a lot of grit and a lot of toughness. Being from Springville, I also liked the idea of working in a close-knit community.”
A 2010 Springville High graduate, Stewart played football under Phil Maple, who guided the Tigers to the state playoffs and a 15-7 record during Stewart’s junior and senior seasons. Stewart also wrestled and played baseball in high school. Stewart began his coaching career while attending the University of Alabama when he was an assistant under Sam Adams at Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa during his junior and senior years. After graduation, Stewart coached at Springville for a season before serving as an assistant coach under Josh Niblett at Hoover for three years.
As far as Stewart is concerned, Niblett set the bar for coaching high school football.
“The attention to detail he has, especially with the players and coaches, is absolutely unbelievable. It’s not a knock on any of the other coaches I coached under, but the three years I spent with Coach Niblett than I could have learned with anybody else. He showed me that to build a successful program, the most important thing is to build relationships and build a winning culture. He’s not only one of the best high school football coaches in Alabama but one of the best ever in the whole country. I can only hope to be one percent as a head coach for all that Coach Niblett showed me.”
When Adams moved to Oxford in 2021 and needed an offensive coordinator, he contacted Stewart, who accepted the position. Over the past three seasons, Stewart helped the Yellow Jackets go 22-14, win a region title and make the state playoff each of those years.
Stewart welcomes the challenge of competing in Class 6A for the next two seasons and sharing Region 8 with Etowah County neighbor Gadsden City, who the Panthers have never faced since GCHS was formed in 2007.
“I’m definitely looking forward to renewing that rivalry. Rainbow City and Gadsden butt up against each other, and there’s lot of kids who know each other. Even better is that it will be a region game, which is sure to bring a huge crowd and get the communities involved.”
Also in Region 8 are Fort Payne, Buckhorn, Hazel Green, Lee-Huntsville and Mae Jemison.
On the subject of communities, Stewart appreciates the fact that Southside High School draws students from two incorporated municipalities.
“I love it, because we’re bringing two communities together. Some people might look at it as a burden, but I look at it as a good thing because we get double the support from Southside and Rainbow City. And at the end of the game, and no matter what the scoreboard says, we’re all Panthers. Both cities have been very welcoming to me and my family.”
Stewart is also well aware that no matter if the Panthers are stringing wins together or if they are struggling, the home side of Barney Hood Stadium will be at full capacity.
“That hasn’t been the case with some of the schools I’ve been at,” he said. “With the student section always packed out, it is truly the full high school football experience at Southside, a lot like it was at Hoover. Just being in that atmosphere is going to be unbelievable. To be honest, that’s not for me or for my coaching staff; it’s for the kids, because it’s something that they’ll never forget.”
Southside opens the 2024 season on August 23 at home against Guntersville.

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