By THOMAS P. WEAVER, HORIZON Editor
CELINA-After suffering through several painful seasons, Clay County Bulldog football fans are desperately looking for something to be excited about this fall and new head coach Chad Barger may be just what the doctor ordered.
“I’m here to bring pride back to the black and gold,” Barger said Monday as he sat in his office in the Russell Richardson Doghouse readying for a film session with his new team. “We’ve got a big challenge ahead of us, but these kids are responding well and if they will have pride in themselves, in their school, and the community, then we can turn this thing around.”
Barger said he is well aware of the history football here has enjoyed in the past and the trials the program has been through recently, but explained he had been in that position before.
“Confidence,” the coach said when asked what he planned to bring to the program. “That’s where it starts… I want to build a program this community can be proud of again.”
Barger did just that in his last two head coaching stints, leading a distraught Cannon County team to their first winning season since 1978 in the last of his three seasons (2005-07) in Woodbury, and building a Sequatchie County program that had gone 1-19 before his arrival into a squad boasting four straight winning seasons (2008-11) and their first playoff win in recent history.
“I’ve got a recipe to go by and have been successful with it,” he said when asked where his prowess of turning programs around was born. “I expect a little more out of my guys and they seem to respond.”
With numbers being a longtime problem, the 36-year-old Bledsoe County native and high school alum is working hard to recruit players and the effort has paid off.
“We’ve got 10 seniors this year and half of them have never suited up in high school before,” Barger said. “The kids here seemed to be waiting for success before they committed to the program and I want them to be the ones who want to come out and change it and create the success.”
This year’s roster was approaching the 30-mark this week and the coach said he had several others who had shown interest.
Besides players, Barger said he also wanted to encourage the community to get involved.
“We want to put out a product the community can get behind, because we need more fans at the games supporting these kids,” he said. “There’s nothing like looking around at the games and seeing former players and alumni there.
“That’s what we want and that’s what this program needs.”
The coach said the team had fared well in the pre-season even though they had faced some stiff competition.
“I’ve liked what I’ve seen so far,” Barger said. “We intentionally stepped up the competition in the pre-season and played teams better than most of the ones we’re gonna see on Friday nights and I think it’s paid off for us so far.
“Overall, besides losing a couple of players to injury, I think we’ve had a successful pre-season.”
The coach explained his team’s biggest hurdle to overcome would be their inexperience, but did say they’ve already made big improvements.
“We are inexperienced at a lot of positions,” he said, “but the future looks bright for this team.
“Come mid-to-late season, we may be one of those teams people don’t want to play, because I think we will get better every week.”
The new coach’s commitment to the program is not only evident in person, but he has also moved his family here taking up residence just down the river from CCHS.
“You can’t coach a football team unless you’re part of the community yourself,” Barger said.
He is living here with his wife Stacy and daughters Chloe and Hallie–who are both attending school at Celina K-8.
Barger will make his debut here at Coach John Teeples Field next Friday night, August 30 when his Bulldogs will face off with new foe East Robertson.
See this week’s HORIZON for a full season preview, including pre-season details, new schedule details, starting lineups, player photos, and much more.