Jimmy Biggs is not quite your average 24-year-old and he expects his Waldron Spartans football team to be much more than just average in 2009.
Mind you he’s the youngest coach in the county, at a school that lost former head coach Norm Moran to Coldwater after two straight playoff appearances which succeeded an era which saw just 13 victories in seven seasons.
He also has his first head coaching gig at a school that lost the area’s leading rusher and receiver from 2008, in Sam Lockwood and John Martin, and All Area defensive back Cody Mohr has also graduated.
“The goals I want (are) to go back to the playoffs and win the SCAA Division II. And we want to win that first playoff game — that’s what I’ve been stressing since day one,” Biggs said about a Spartans’ program that has never won a postseason contest since the expansion of the MHSAA playoffs.
“I want to have our own tradition here and like I told them when I interviewed for the position, I want to put Waldron on the map. I want people to start talking about us with the ranks of Climax-Scotts and Mendon in Division 8. That’s my dream, that’s my goal.”
That’s a goal that will require the players quickly grasping his pro-style offense and a goal that requires a wide array of underclassmen to step up.
Biggs isn’t afraid of goals though, evident by the fact he interviewed for the Tekonsha head coaching gig at the raw age of 21. Although he didn’t get the job, he was an assistant at Marshall High School for five years, before moving to Charlotte, N.C. last year to work as an assistant at a large prep school.
“Sure I’m 24, but I tell everybody I’ve been coaching for like seven years. I’m not trying to blow my head up and be cocky or anything, but I think I have a ton of experience and I love this game,”he said. “But I think I connect with the kids, I know where they are coming from, I know how to deal with them — that’s just my opinion. I am just really thankful for them giving me this shot, I appreciate it.”
One kid he’s formed a quick bond with is starting quarterback Dylan Emens. The senior rarely made a mistake last season and helped guide the squad to the playoffs by utilizing standout receiver Martin, who set several school records.
Martin is now just a name in the record book, but Emens has blown Biggs away, with his knowledge and command of the position.
“I’m real surprised. To be honest with you I wish he wasn’t a senior, I wish we had him for one more year,” Biggs said. “He’s got good mechanics, he can read the field, he’s a heckuva ballplayer. He knows what he’s doing and he has a very high football IQ.”
Biggs said Emens needs to continue to work on reading defenses prior to the snap and he has to quit walking with his head down. But all in all Biggs said Emens is a much better leader than some locals give him credit for.
“Coming in here people said ‘he’s not going to be a leader’, but all I’ve seen is him being a leader,” Biggs said. “He’s a little quiet, right now he’s stepping it up though.”
Whereas last year Emens would find Lockwood and Martin out of flex and wishbone formations, the senior signal caller will have a trio of reliable hands to look to in 2009.
Spartans track star, senior Fletcher Masters, is one of the feature wideouts who has Biggs excited about his team’s potential to move the ball.
“He’s a heckuva athlete, very good athlete. He and Casy Mohr, another senior, are the guys we’ll be looking to,” he said.
Sophomore Alex Kizer has also looked good in practice and scrimmages, according to Biggs, and he will rotate in.
Junior tight end James Sharp is another target for Emens, one who stands 6-4, 200 pounds.
For the aerial attack to be most successful though they need a consistent ground game.
Lockwood carried the ball as many as 35 times a game last season, meaning most of the Spartans backs might have potential, but very little in-game experience.
As of right now junior John Emens is on top of the depth chart and he is a consistent back “who makes his reads well”, according to Biggs.
A kid whose name might be heading the stat sheet for several years though is freshman Taner Cooper, a 5-10, 160 pound youngster.
“Cooper is a freshman and he ran very, very well Friday. He’s not small in pads,” Bigg said. “He can hit the hole and he makes people miss from what I saw on film. I expect the next few years could be fun with him.”
The offensive line has some holes to fill with just two returning starters, seniors Danny Moore and Matt Schelling. Seniors Trevor Whitehead and Chris Gruman could also rotate in on the line, as could junior Tyler Spangler.
Several underclassmen have plenty of girth, but haven’t seen the light of a game yet. Sophomore Nick Brooks is 6-4, 250 pounds, classmate Kevin Smith is 6-3, 240, and freshman Landon Fellows (6-2, 210) has been impressing the coaching staff thus far.
“I like the big guys who can move, so I like big guys I can teach,” Biggs said. “We just need to learn to sustain our blocks. We go to the right spots, but sometimes we get lazy and let the guys go.”
On defense Briggs will utilize a 4-4 scheme, with four linebackers and four defensive linemen, essentially the same structure Moran used.
The offensive linemen will simply switch roles as they take on the task of stopping opposing offenses. Briggs said he was especially pleased with how his team stopped the run during its four-team scrimmage session last week.
Casy Mohr will essentially act as the defensive captain, a year after the senior linebacker proved himself to be a tackling machine next to Lockwood.
While his counterpart is gone he has plenty of other athletes to help fill the void.
Robert Bernath and Alex Winch are also starting linebackers and the freshman Fellows will be baptized by fire, getting plenty of reps as a ninth-grader.
“The defense showed us some things Friday, we’re pretty solid right now. We just need to make sure we go to the right spots,” Biggs said.
The Spartans did allow at least 32 points in three of its four losses last season, so its defense will be defined by the tougher opponents, not the easy blowouts.
Another more long-term challenge for Biggs and some of his players is finding a way to sustain the success and tradition the program is attempting to create.
“We just want to get more kids in here. I know people are starting to move away and we just need to get our numbers up,” Biggs said. “If we do that we can have a JV team and I think we’ll be alright. After seeing the young guys (in scrimmages) Friday, I think we should be alright for a couple of years, hopefully.”
He said there is plenty of pressure to succeed immediately because of his youthfulness, but he understands that.
“I think there’s tons of pressure. Being the new guy, coming from Marshall an hour away, I’m sure they want their team to go back to the playoffs,” he said.
If his Spartans fall short of the postseason it will be discouraging, but could also be part of the learning curve he said.
“It would be a disappointment, but then it wouldn’t. I understand it’s the first year putting in a new scheme,” Biggs said.
“It would be a huge disappointment to me because I’m really competitive, but I think it really depends on how the kids take it.”
When asked how he would handle losing, without losing his players in the process, he had a simple answer.
“We’ll just try to make it as fun as possible. As long as we’re still learning, having a little fun it will all be OK,” he said.