COACH OF THE YEAR: Adapting to personnel leads to big turnaround

By Brandon Speck | Monroe Journal

Sometimes putting it all together requires taking it all apart.
Amory High School coach Trent Hammond – the 2011 Daily Journal Coach of the Year – and his staff did exactly that.
Amory won three games last year in Hammond’s first season. This year the Panthers threw out the playbook and went all the way to the MHSAA Class 4A semifinals, where they lost to eventual state champ Lafayette.
Throughout his coaching career, Hammond, 42, had developed a reputation for being a defensive-minded, run-the-ball-mostly – if not all the time – head coach in stints at Franklin County, Water Valley and Lawrence County.
In an 11-4 season that ended a week shy of the state championship, Hammond watched his team throw the ball 628 times.
Four games into 2010, Hammond and offensive coordinator John Keith flipped the playbook upside down, going from a Wing-T to an all-out air raid.
There were some successes, but the end result was a second straight 3-9 season for the Panthers. Even entering the 2011 season, Hammond was still intent on finding a running back.
“I’ve got to have a tight end, a fullback and at least one running back,” Hammond said. “We had none of those.”
Between preseason practice and Week 1, the backfield was emptied for good and quarterback Forest Williams had a five-wide set of pass catchers that took Class 4A by storm.
Hammond said in 2008 his team threw the ball 38 times in 14 games. His quarterback threw it 43 times the next year.
That didn’t seem to work at Amory.
“We’d average 133 yards a game, 100 of it passing,” said Hammond, who called offensive coordinator John Keith to get the staff together after the third week of 2010. “I can’t live with this. We’ve got to throw it more, and from the idea of ‘throw it more’ came ‘throw it all the time.’ Once we got successful at that, you put your faith in it and it’s what we went with.”
Dario Robinson caught the bulk of Williams’ 5,100 passing yards, good for second in the nation. He also caught 21 of his 55 touchdown passes.
“He’s really inspiring. Everybody doubted us but we put it all together,” said Robinson. “He believed and trusted in us that we were athletic enough to make plays.”
Football coaches aren’t exactly known to easily give up on their philosophy. Hammond said losing – and losing horribly – made the decision easier.
“John Keith and (quarterbacks) Coach (Chris) McCrory have done a really good job teaching where the ball’s gotta be and (receivers) Coach (Linzy) Patterson has done a great job with our receivers,” Hammond said.
Learning curve
It didn’t come easy for the staff or the players. Receivers had to learn a lot about route recognition and Williams had to trust that they saw the same things he saw at the line.
A lot of the plays were put in during summer 7-on-7.
“Our coaches, from top to bottom, bought in and worked their tail off, and our kids played at their maximum best,” Hammond said. “We talk all the time that we’re not playing for anyone else other than the person beside you.
“Nobody thinks we can win. Go be physical and have fun. If you’re not having fun, something’s wrong. We’re not even supposed to win.”
Preaching a selfless attitude, the two guys it could have affected the most were potential backs Quartez French and Braxton Polk.
Both, however, started at corner and made their presence felt that way.
Hammond said it rubbed off on his defense, too, as coordinator Ty Trahan got every ounce plus some from the small-in-size group. Not to mention, after leading the team in interceptions last season, Abaris Woodrick made a move to the receiving corps.
A touchdown last season may have broken them, while this year’s offense provided some leeway.
“It would make my life so much better. … I’d sleep better if we could line up and run the football,” Hammond said with a laugh.