Originally created 12/23/06

Old-school coach knows how to help players grow



There's a part of every man over the age of 30 that still remembers the man they called coach.

His determination to make you better even if it exhausted him. The words that stung. But they were what needed to be said.

They broke a boy down. Then built a young man up by unlocking something deep inside.

Mark Rodgers is that kind of coach. The Augusta Chronicle's 2006 All-Area South Carolina Coach of the Year is straight out of 1956, but he's a success in 2006.

More coaches have begun to look like they belong more on a golf course than a blocking sled. Not Rodgers.

"Coach talks to you like a man and keeps it all straight with no bull," Ridge Spring-Monetta senior Devonne Quattlebaum said of Rodgers. "You can't help but bust your tail for a guy like that."

The Ridge Spring-Monetta coach has that syrupy drawl that harkens one back to the corner store. He uses words like "ball team" and "dog cuss" that seem to be from a different language.

A comparison to famed Alabama coach Paul "Bear" Bryant works because Rodgers has a print in his office that reads like a how-to manual to coach football players of any era:

"If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, then we did it. If anything goes real good, then you did it. That's about all it takes to get people to win football games for you."

Those are Bryant's words. The comparison runs deeper because both know what life is like on a farm. Rodgers raises Beefmaster cattle on a farm that's been in his family for 130 years.

He was asked one question about how tough coaching is these days. He took off like a rocket.

"There are some professional pour mouthers in this state." Rodgers said. "Everybody wants to tell you how bad it is with faculty, boosters and parents. I think we're the third-smallest school in the state that plays football. And we're competing by teaching them life and wrapping football around it to keep the kids interested."

There are 73 boys at his school and 24 play football. He had 35 come out this year.

"Coaching football may be tough for all the poor mouthers," Rodgers said. "But it's no tougher than a hay field. Some cows eat enough hay to kill a horse."

The majority of his stock weighs more than 2,000 pounds. He'll admit to teaching his players form tackling by driving a shoulder into a few 400-pound calves.

"I am about as stretched out as a man can get," he said. "In the summer I will kiss my wife at six in the morning and go to the hay field. Cut hay. Go home and eat lunch and play with my kid. Load up and go back to the hay field. We open our weight room at six. I am at the school to open doors at 5:30. I'm here until nine at night and then go back home. I do that seven days a week in the summer. I also have to go cut the grass."

He smiled when he finished. He wasn't looking for sympathy.

"I wouldn't trade it for the world," he said. "Starting at about July I am more of a football coach first. Then about in December I put my farmer first hat back on."

The joy was showing everybody the small school could win big games. He came to his alma mater in 2002. He won nine games the next three seasons. Then nine games last year.

"Well, we won 11 games this year," he said. "The most the school had ever won before was 10. They'd never been to the state title game before. The school had never won the Upper State Championship to get to the state final. That's a lot that just says this was probably the best year we've had at The Ridge."

Reach Jeff Sentell at (706) 823-3425 or jeff.sentell@augustachronicle.com