Pelham High School senior linebacker Logan Barrett works on blocking drills in practice on Thursday. Barrett is one of four Pelham seniors who has started since his freshman season. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)
PELHAM — As Pelham High School football coach Frankie Carroll leaves the school’s field house, a group of football players hop into the back of Carroll’s maroon Ford F-150 pickup truck.
The drive to take many of the players home from football practice is a short one, and the players pile in. Carroll smiles, turns the ignition switch and heads out of the parking lot.
Many coaches may not like the idea of running a shuttle service. However, Carroll and his assistants don’t mind. It’s part of the bond they share with Pelham High School athletes.
“First and foremost, our coaches have to love kids,” Carroll said. “They have to be willing to build relationships other than on the football field.”
For the head coach, who is entering his fourth year, he returns a strong group of returning seniors. However, four of them have started for the coach since his arrival from Madison County, Fla. – running back Desmond Parker, linebacker Logan Barrett, quarterback Clarence Almond and tight end Justin Smith.
The four players have experienced just about as much as the coaches during their careers at Pelham. They witnessed the highs and lows of a 2013 season that saw the Hornets start the season with a 3-0 record with convincing wins over fellow Mitchell County rivals Baconton Charter and Mitchell County High.
But they also saw the injury bug bite as Pelham managed just one more win in its last seven games to finish 4-6.
For the four standouts, they know their leadership will play an integral part in how the season goes for the Hornets. But regardless of how things end, the bond they’ve built with Carroll and the assistant coaches won’t be broken.
“I didn’t know what to expect from Coach Carroll when I first met him,” Smith said. “But he treats us like family, and he talks and cares for us like we’re one of his sons.”
That closeness, Smith said, is what makes the Pelham football program special. While they’d like nothing better than to win on the football field, he said success can’t always be judged by the number of wins.
The players often hang out at Carroll’s home, and the activities range anywhere from playing cards to video games. Carroll and his coaching staff don’t mind, as it provides the players a safe-haven while the coaching staff can keep an eye on them.
Almond is a regular visitor as Carroll and his family feed the entire team every Tuesday night. He said Carroll’s wife, Dela, makes the best “Shepherd’s pie” around, a mixture of ground beef, mashed potatoes and cheese.
It’s here that the seniors and coaches talk about goals, what the team needs to do differently and how to make improvements. This is also where bonds are strengthened.
“We have to make the team a family,” Carroll said. “We have to care for one another. Their job is to love one another, but it’s our job as coaches to love them. If you don’t have those things — closeness and love — winning don’t mean anything.”
And with the bond the coaching staff shares with the team, the players always respond.
“It makes us want to come out here and play harder,” Almond said. “And be better teammates.”