Emma Sansom alumnus takes Ashville grid job

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By Joshua Price/Sports Editor

Emma Sansom High School graduate Mark O’Bryant was recently named head varsity football coach at Ashville High School.

O’Bryant served as offensive coordinator for Oxford High School in 2011. The Yellow Jackets finished 12-2 last season, outscoring their opponents 529-348.

O’Bryant served as head coach at Cleveland High School in Blount County in 2009 and 2010. O’Bryant’s Panthers were 5-6 in 2009, but improved to 9-3 in 2010.

The struggling Ashville has managed only seven grid wins in the past four seasons, but O’Bryant is optimistic about this year’s team.

“We have plenty of talent, we just need to work hard,” the new head coach said. “We had a lot of contact this spring and the [players] improved a lot.”

O’Bryant spent five years in the United States Navy, including completion of Navy Seal training. He said the Bulldogs will get a taste of military training this summer as part of the team’s summer workout.

“We will send them to Fort McClellan for three days of training in what we call ‘mini-Hell’ week. I will head it. Three intense days of training and will learn to depend on each other to make it. They will learn that teamwork and leaning on each other is necessary. It’s pretty rough on the kids.”

O’Bryant graduated Sansom in 1991, where he played football under Hall-of-Fame coach Fred “Buster” Gross. O’Bryant said Gross’ hard-nosed coaching style had a major impact on his life.

“I played on the line of scrimmage. I wasn’t the most athletic guy on the team, but I had guts. I learned a lot about life from Coach Gross. He was a tough guy to play for and feel like he prepared me for Seal school.”

O’Bryant graduated from Jacksonville State University in 2001. His first coaching stints were as a junior high volunteer at Disque Middle School and Emma Sansom High School.

O’Bryant looks forward to the challenge that lies ahead in turning around the Ashville football program.

“I like a challenge,” O’Bryant said. “I am driven by challenges. This will be a challenge for me and I look forward to it. It is important for my guys to be tougher than the guys on the other side of the field.”

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