Transforming Dothan HS into a winner

Coach Kelvis White knows something about winning. The second year head coach at 6A Dothan High School played for Courtland in the early to mid-90s, now known as R.A. Hubbard and won the state championship in 1995. White made first team All-State on defensive line in 1993, 1994 and 1995.

Courtland posted a 31-7 record during those three years under the helm of White's father, Hall of Fame coach Louis White.

Kelvis White's brother is the very successful Tanner coach, Laron White, who has a 56-17 record and has never missed the play-offs in his six years.

Kelvis White led the Alabama All-Stars over the Mississippi All-Stars in a 17-14 victory. He went on to play defensive tackle at the University of Alabama and recorded Academic All-SEC honors in 1999 and 2000. The Tide won their last SEC championship in 1999 with a win over Florida in the championship game.

After graduating in 2000, White became a graduate assistant at Alabama coaching the linebackers. From there he went to work for Hall of Fame coach Bob Newton at Homewood High School in the Birmingham area.

In his five years coaching the defensive line on the Patriots' staff, they had a 59-5 record with three state titles (2002, 2004, 2005) a runner-up effort in 2001 and a semi-finalist in 2003.

The Homewood defense allowed an average of five points per game holding opponents to seven points or less in 27 games.

While at Homewood, White finished his Master's Degree at the University of Montevallo in 2004. The defensive coordinator position became available at Russellville High School under another legendary coach, Perry Swindall, and White jumped at the opportunity.

Russellville had an 11-2 record in 2006, and the defense accumulated 24 sacks and 47 tackles for a loss while allowing just 13 points per game. The Golden Tigers fell in the third round of the playoffs to J.O. Johnson 19-14.

Coach White moved to Birmingham Southern in 2007 to coach under Joey Jones, but when the Dothan job became available he was selected for his first head coaching position.

Dothan has never won a state championship although they have a 2-1 ratio on winning seasons over losing ones. The years following the 2001 8-3 season have been frustrating to say the least. The Tigers won only 14 games from 2002 to 2007 while losing 45, which averages out to an anemic two wins per season.

Although Coach White's first season saw the team again post a 1-9 record for 2008, the team showed vast improvement. The Tigers were outscored 60-360 in 2007, but in 2008 the gap was trimmed to 151-256. The 2008 team surrendered five of their nine losses by less than four points.

Coach Kelvis White took some time this week to talk with about his decision to take the Dothan job, what he sees for the future, and the path he believes will get them there.

Rebecca Johnston: Coach White over the four years prior to your arrival at Dothan the team had won just seven games and lost 33 in a league which includes Auburn, Opelika, Enterprise and Smiths Station. You have associated yourself with winners, big winners all your playing days and coaching days, what made this the job for you?

Coach Kelvis White: "Well, I had been in some successful programs. I just had an opportunity to be a head coach, and I always wanted to be a head coach. After going to see the place and seeing the guys I thought there was potential here to get the program coming around, and I was up for the challenge."

RJ: What did you face right off the bat at Dothan?

CKW: "Well, there were really no true fundamentals in place. We were so fundamentally behind that we had to start from scratch. We started the guys off and kept everything pretty simple."

"The big thing we just had to change the attitudes of these guys. They are not used to winning, and they didn't have that burning desire to win. That's the task we're facing right now trying to get ready for this upcoming season."

RJ: How will you plant the seed of desire and build chemistry with the team?

CKW: "Last year we took over, and we were in almost every game. We lost five games by four points or less. In the weight room we're doing a lot more competitions. We're motivating each other to finish at the end of the workouts. We are doing different things like that to try to be competitive and have that burning will to win."

RJ: What about discipline and work ethic in a program that had fallen so often of late, was that a problem?

CKW: "We've got a lot of good kids. We had to come in last year, me and my staff, and instill some discipline in these guys. Not that they were bad kids, just doing your own thing sometimes meaning blocking left when you're supposed to block right and those little things that they didn't think was important. We had to let them know that we all had to be on the same page."

"I always say that the guy's appearance, looking well and doing things right, those kids that are doing the right things off the field with grades and appearance are the guys that do the right thing on the field. A kid that stays in trouble and keeps his shirttail tucked out, that's the same kid that's going to make that mistake on the field."

"Discipline is there now and those guys have bought into what we're trying to do, and I'm looking for big things here at Dothan High School."

RJ: What is your progress now after a year in the program?

CKW: "We're still developing. We're not where we need to be yet, but every day we're getting a little better and a little closer to our goals. It's a work in progress, but our guys have bought into what we're trying to do."

"They see now that if we get a little more focused and work a little harder we can turn this thing around and get in those playoffs and try to make a run at our goal."

"I recruited the hallways all last year, I stayed in the lunchroom all four periods encouraging kids to come out and play, but at the same time I told them I'm going to do it my way and if you are going to make a commitment to this team you've got to do what I'm asking you to do."

"Last year we had about 85 guys, to their credit I only had one kid quit during the whole season. It was a rough season (1-9). This year we're looking at having over 100 kids."

"I'm not big on running kids off because, sometimes, kids need us more than we need them just to keep them out of trouble and keep them busy. At the same time I won't let a kid stick around if they are going to be a cancer to the team, and they know that. You have to be on the same page with us if you are going to participate in this program."

RJ: How has the community reacted?

CKW: "We looked up the history, and we're the 10th winningest football program in the state of Alabama. The people of Dothan know that. They were really supportive this past season, and they are showing their support this season."

"Now we've got to go out and do our part as a team and coaches. Everything is better when you're winning. Even though we didn't win many last year, they showed their support. This is a football town, and they love their Dothan High School football. That support is going to be there."

RJ: Do you see former players like Steadman Shealy coming back to inspire the players?

CKW: "I've talked to Steadman on the phone a few times because he is back and forth to Tuscaloosa. He isn't able to get here much, but he always says if I need him to let him know. We're going to reach out through the FCA and do some things with Steadman this season."

"Former players come out, and they want to see their old lockers. We have a couple of former players on the staff. They love Dothan."

"Larry Brackins played in the NFL, and he's called and come by. Hirchel Bolden, who played at Alabama, he has come by at times. They are interested in what's going on at Dothan. They have a special place in their hearts for our teams, and we just want to make those guys proud to be from Dothan. That's what we are doing every day, trying to get better."

RJ: I would imagine there are always things you could want or need, but are you where you want to be with facilities at Dothan?

CKW: "We have the facilities to be successful. There could always be some improvements, but I was impressed when I got here. Coming from Homewood and Russellville, we're right there with those guys in facilities."

"As we continue to do well, we'll do some upgrades, but the facilities and the support, the technology, everything we need to be successful is here. We just have to do it on the field."

RJ: Tell us about your coaching staff.

CKW: "My Defensive Coordinator is Eldrick Hill. He was at Homewood with me for a long time. He played at Alabama State, a team captain. He also played with the Birmingham Steel Dogs for about six years too. He brings a ton of energy. He's a coach that goes out with cleats on and demonstrates all the drills. He keeps us going. He's our fireball."

"Our Offensive Coordinator is Jake Collins. He played at Carson Newman, and then he walked on at Alabama. He is originally from Birmingham. He coached in Atlanta, Ga. for a couple of years."

"We're a spread offense, and he's a Homewood guy too. We do some of the things they do with spread offense, but we will get up under center some and get in the "I" especially this year with our offensive line and our big backs as our strength. We're probably going to do a little more downhill running formations."

"Former Alabama player Von Ewing, he's from Troy, and he's coaching our offensive line this year."

"Mike Atkins played at Sweet Water so he's used to winning championships. He is coaching running backs and helps with special teams this year."

"Dirk Williams, who is from Panama City, Fla., but he's been at Dothan for a while. He coaches receivers."

"Defensively, we have Jamie Kelley who has been at Dothan for a while also. He's going to coach linebackers. Chris Bryan is coaching the defensive line. Greg Greenwood also helps with the linebackers. Those two coaches are from Dothan."

RJ: Talk about the importance of your feeder schools and what kind of things Dothan is looking for down the road.

CKW: "It's very important, and luckily for us, our two feeder schools have played in championship games for the city the last two years. Beverlye Middle School has been undefeated the last two years, and Coach (Brandon) Brown does a great job of teaching fundamentals and technique and all those little things."

"When they get to ninth grade they are right in line to continue the job. What they are also doing, they are running everything we're running at the high school. They were willing to change some things that they have done in the past to help those guys be successful when they come to Dothan High School."

"I just couldn't be more happy with those guys at the feeder programs. Last year, we had 57 ninth graders come out, and I think they were 7-1. Six of them are probably going to start on varsity for us. They are very talented."

"The JV squad last year only lost one game also. The future looks bright. All our guys are buying into it. The younger ones are a little more used to winning. They've tasted a little victory, and they want to continue that with the varsity."

RJ: I know it's a huge job just to coach the varsity football team at a 6A school. How much involvement do you have with these younger schools and the younger teams?

CKW: "I'm very involved. I make it a habit to show my face at the middle schools at least once a week. Right now the future ninth graders are coming over twice a week to work out with us, and I'm very visible at the middle schools. Let them see my face and get to know me and develop a relationship with them."

"I'm very hands-on with the ninth grade and the JV. When those guys come to the varsity level they will feel comfortable with me and know my staff. We have a very good ninth grade/JV staff. We try to help them. When we get done on Mondays and Thursdays we get over there and coach too. We don't just watch."

"I think that's what it takes to build a program. If we ever get to the point where we've got this thing rolling I probably still wouldn't change, but that's what our coaches enjoy just coaching football, no matter what level it is."

RJ: Finishing games was difficult last year. What will your work on mentally and physically to make that happen this season?

CKW: "In the weightroom right now we're just working hard on competing. We're doing agility drills instead of just jogging out the drills, we're sprinting. Just little things like that will make you finish a game."

"As far as the spring goes we are just going to go out and work. We're going to challenge our coaches to get more out of our kids. We've just got to coach them up and just get them a little taste of success."

"I felt like in the fourth quarter of so many games last season that we would be ahead, and our kids are just so used to losing they just start waiting for something bad to happen. Instead of waiting for something bad to happen, we are going to go out and win those games. We are going to go out every day, finishing practice strong."

RJ: You sent seven players on scholarship from last year's team.

CKW: "A lot of them were NAIA schools, but we work hard on this side, just trying to get film and get them evaluated. I was proud those guys had a chance to go on and further their education."

RJ: You have slots to fill this season. What is the biggest problem to fill?

CKW: "We have a lot of young guys that are ready to step in, and we may be better in the long run, but we lost our quarterback, a young man that moved in late from Florida. He stepped in mid-year and gave us a chance to be successful. He's going to be tough to replace."

"We've got a couple of guys coming back competing for the quarterback spot. That's going to be the toughest position for us to fill."

"Right now, senior Jay LeGrand (6-2, 200), who started the season last year, and junior Derek Walters (6-1, 165). Jay is more of a big physical kid and running that zone option. He can get downhill, and he has a very strong arm. Those are both strengths for him."

"Derek is probably a little better athlete. He runs well. I'm not sure his arm is as strong as Jay's, but it's more accurate. They are good friends. They are going to compete, and it may just come down to us using both of them. We'll see what happens in the spring."

RJ: Tell us about your rising senior players.

CKW: "Corey Lampley (6-1, 310) defensive tackle, he's been a pleasant surprise. He benches 360-370, and he anchors the defensive line. He is definitely going to be a prospect. He is a big time kid, and he's working hard right now (46 tackles, eight tackles for a loss, three sacks)."

Keodric Grant (6-2, 240) defensive end, he started for us last year and came up really big for us (63 tackles, five tackles for a loss, eight sacks, 10 pressures)."

"McKinley Greer (5-11, 215), he was (6A) All-State honorable mention last year. He is a big time player and has a nose for the ball. I think he had four interceptions for us. He is definitely our leader on defense (111 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, four sacks, four forced fumbles and four interceptions)."

"Orlando Maestas (6-0, 300), offensive line and played center and guard. He anchors the offensive line for us. I expect some big things from him. He graded out at 83-percent with 43 pancake blocks. We grade them pretty hard, but he led us in pancakes and knockdowns."

"Brandon Knight (5-11, 205), is our running back. He is going to have to lead us. He is a 330 pound bencher. He is powerful in the weight room. He is going to have to carry the load for us this year, and we expect some big things from him. He's probably a 4.6 guy, but with a football in his hands he can pull away. He has a lot of potential (98 carries 431 yards, four touchdowns; five receptions 51 yards)."

"Marcus Smith (6-1, 175), our wide receiver, is a sure-handed kid that we get the ball to a lot. Marcus is a 4.7-4.8 guy. He is our possession receiver. He's sure-handed (nine receptions for 162 yards)."

"Brandon Huff (6-1, 165), is a wide receiver. We are expecting big things from him. He is a 4.6 guy (limited action)."

"Jeremy Covintgton (5-11, 190) tore his shoulder up last year, but as a sophomore he was sixth place in the state finals in the 100m. We are still undecided if we are going to put him at outside linebacker or cornerback because he's such a good athlete. He is definitely going to play a major role in what we are trying to do this season (10 tackles, one tackle for a loss, one sack and two pressures in two games)."

"Devon Fields (5-10, 165), plays running back and wide receiver. He runs a 4.5-40 (42 carries 229 yards, five receptions 99 yards and two touchdowns)."

"Our underclassmen:"

"Kamron Higgins (6-3, 265), a defensive tackle, we are going to depend on him a lot on defensive line this year."

"Juniors Aaron Thomas (6-3, 270), left tackle, Claude Brown (6-1, 290) right tackle, Octavious Mobley (5-10, 245), defensive line."

"Sophomores Tywan Reynolds (6-2, 185), strong safety, Franklin Williams (6-3, 215), defensive end."

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