GENE PHELPS: Tupelo Golden Wave will have real pilot at the controls

By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Tupelo High School has turned to a pilot to get its grounded football program soaring once again.
That’s a good thing for THS fans, who know those Friday night dogfights under the lights against Division 1-6A barnstormers South Panola and Olive Branch can be hazardous to a team’s won-loss column.
Trent Hammond, a licensed pilot and one-time college aviation instructor, comes on board with Golden Wave Airlines, the latest destination in a successful 18-year coaching career with touch downs in Bogue Chitto, Water Valley, Franklin County, Lawrence County, McComb and Amory.
“I’m probably the only football coach around with a bachelor of commercial aviation degree,” he said, then laughed, moments before being introduced Wednesday as the Golden Wave’s coach. “I thought being a pilot was where I was headed.
“It was a big change of plans.”
FOOTBALL CAME CALLING
Hammond grew up the stepson of a football coach. So, he knew a lot about the game before he ever learned to land a twin-engined plane. Still, coaching was never in his plans.
“I wasn’t going to get into that life,” he said.
That thinking never really took hold. While working as an aviation instructor at Delta State University, he spent many fall afternoons watching from a distance as Cleveland High School’s football team practiced.
His love of football, the one he had stashed away in his flight bag, surfaced. Could he make the move from pilot to coach? His wife, Kim, thought so.
“She told me, ‘Instead of talking about it, why don’t you just do it,’ ” he said. “That was just the nudge I needed.”
Anybody who has kept up with Hammond’s exploits the last three years in Amory would have to find it a bit ironic that a coach who prefers a balance offense, took to the airways to produce victories.
The last two seasons his Panthers’ passing game rang up 7,583 passing yards and 77 touchdowns.
Oh yes, and 20 victories.
“I’ve returned to the air,” Hammond said, then smiled.
Levi Ray, a sophomore offensive lineman for Tupelo, said he was impressed after his first meeting with the team’s experienced football pilot.
“He’s got a gung-ho attitude,” Ray said. “He has a plan he thinks will succeed.”
The THS search committee certainly believes Hammond will have no problems earning his wings.
gene.phelps@journalinc.com