By David Purdum / For the AJC
Eagle’s Landing’s seniors had gone 2-28 their previous three seasons. But that was the least of the Golden Eagles’ worries heading into this season.
Due to a massive construction project at the school, the Golden Eagles didn’t have helmets or equipment for spring practice. They haven’t had a weight room since May 31st and had been working out of a makeshift locker room until just two weeks ago.
Somehow, they stayed positive. Somehow, they’re 6-2 heading into a big Region 4-AAAA home game against Locust Grove on Friday.
During a Tuesday phone interview, Eagle’s Landing coach Joe Teknipp explained how the program got turned around, how they amped up conditioning despite not having a weight room and pointed out the inspirational figure behind the Golden Eagles’ resilient attitude.
Q: What put you in position for this turnaround?
Teknipp: This year’s seniors, in their freshman year (2010), we decided to go young. A lot of them played as freshmen. They’ve taken their lumps. They’ve always been playing against kids who were older than they were. So this is the first time, where they’re the big guys.
My first year (2009), we went to the playoffs. It had happened here before: New coach comes in, brings in some new blood, there’s some energy and we win some games. Well, the next year we thought we had arrived. The kids didn’t put the work in. I was miserable my second year, to be honest. From that point, I said we’re never going to do that again. We started with a character program, when these guys were freshmen. In the spring, they had to fill out a 20-page packet. They had to rate themselves as a person, as a football player, as a citizen and as a student. What their strengths and weaknesses are. They had to interview with me.
We’ve always been a team that was just missing some depth. We’ve always had some good players and have a bunch playing college football right now. It just seemed like a lack of depth would grab us each year; one injury or anything that would ever happen would just make us fall apart. So this year, we really concentrated on trying to build depth. We still don’t have a huge squad. We only dress like 44 or 45 for every game. Every one of those guys probably plays every game.
Q: How many guys play both ways?
Teknipp: There’s probably six or seven. I call it 1 ½ ways. We rotate some guys in there and make sure they get reps. I know when we were getting ready to play Stockbridge, they thought they could wear us down in the fourth quarter, but that’s when we made our mad dash. They were actually the ones who were tired. Our kids just kept going. We didn’t really lose the game, we just ran out of time. (Stockbridge won the game 35-30).
Q: You said you emphasized conditioning this season, but how did you go about it without a weight room?
Teknipp: We did a lot of pushups, a lot of stadium stairs and flipped a lot of tires. After our scrimmage, we ran them really hard. They were like, ‘Didn’t we win the scrimmage?’ But I told them that it wasn’t punishment; this is what we need to do to survive.
Q: With the run of losing seasons on top of all the construction going on at the school that deprived your team of some of the normal necessities like a locker room and weight room, how was your team able to stay positive?
Teknipp: We have a team mom (Chanier Jackson) who is battling brain cancer. She comes to every practice. She does the water bottles, she washes the uniforms. She’s here every day. Before the Lamar County game (Sept. 6), I know doctors gave her 12 months to live. These kids see her battling every day and with a smile on her face. They all hug her after every game, after every practice. Every time I see a kid leaving, they’re going up to give her a hug.
Q: What stands out to you about this group of kids?
Teknipp: It’s a special group of kids. They’ve grown up together, played little league together and they hung in there when times were tough. Each year, it seemed like we’d have a kid bail, but these guys have stuck together and said they were going to win and they were going to win here.