“We will play physical football. We will hit. It’s time to get in the weight room.”
Wednesday evening gave members of the Cougar Nation their first chance to meet newly named Cougar Football Head Coach Stephen James as he was formally introduced by AD Scott Vest.
The crowd of fans, parents, boosters, and other members of the community listened intently as Coach James made his opening remarks.
“I am very happy to be here,” said James. “When this opportunity presented itself I knew it was something I wanted to do. I went to George Wythe High School, and at that time (in the late 1980’s) Pulaski County was the mecca of high school football in this part of the state. I remember how everyone talked about how it was like a college atmosphere. Later, after graduating from Emory and Henry, I got to see it first hand as a coach for Marion. We came to Dobson Stadium for a region championship game, and man was it something! There were thousands of fans, it was just electric.”
That game, played on Nov. 20, 2001, saw Pulaski County come away with a 31-20 win and a region title. It sent the Cougars to a state championship game the following week against Lafayette, and sent Marion home to put away the gear. It also sent Stephen James home with a look at something he would one day like to have.
“Having that kind of fan support is something most teams will never get,” said Coach James. “I’ve heard that it’s not quite like that now, but we’re going to work on putting together a team and a program that will bring the fans back. I came here because I looked at what was in the system and I believe that we have the talent to win. When we walk down those steps, we’re going to be ready.”
After telling those in attendance that coming to Pulaski County was an easy choice, he also remarked that it was very difficult to leave the Fort Chiswell community.
“We’ve really worked hard there to build relationships with the players and the community,” said James. “It was hard telling them goodbye. This was my decision though, and it’s what I wanted. I wish them the best of luck and hope that they can continue what we started there.”
When asked if he planned to bring back physical toughness to the program, Coach James did not hesitate with his answer.
“I believe in being physically strong and tough,” said Coach James. “Right now we are behind, but we’ll work on fixing that. To play football the way I want Pulaski County to play football, we are going to need to be bigger and stronger. Offense and defense will work itself out later, but right now our focus is going to be in the weight room. We’re going to spend a lot of time in the weight room. It’s time to smack people in the mouth.”
Questions about offensive and defensive styles were up next, and Coach James instantly won support from many of those in attendance.
“We’ve run a couple of different offenses over the years, but I think keeping it simple is normally the best way to go,” said James. “If we have a good bunch of running backs, we may mix things up some, but our main goal is always going to be to run the football effectively. I like to run inside and outside zone stuff, and sometimes we’ll mix in some counters, but if we have a line that knocks people backwards then we’ll gain yards and move the ball. If we move the ball, we control the clock. I do pass sometimes, but it all depends on what our kids can do. I always make sure to base what we do off of what the kids ability will allow the best.”
“Defensively, we are going to hit you,” said James. “Our first goal will of course be to stop the run. If we can’t do that then we can’t win. We’ve run several different fronts over the past few years, and again it will all be decided by what we have talent wise. If we have a bunch of good linemen, we’ll make the most of it and maybe go with a five man front. If we’re more linebacker heavy, we’ll adjust and work with that, using a four man front. We’re going to do what we have the talent to do, but the bottom line is that we will play very physical football.”
Assistant coaches were the next topic to be brought up.
“I do plan to bring some of my current assistant coaches from my staff at Fort Chiswell,” said James. “I will also be talking to some of the current assistant coaches here and a few other people. In the end I’ll look at how many spots we’ve got and how many positions we need to fill and go from there. I’m sure at some point that my older brother Bobby will want to come down and help on Friday nights as well. We’ll put together a solid staff.”
Some of those in attendance ask about his practice habits and, of course, the question of how much physical contact would be taking place in practice was brought up.
“We will hit in practice,” said James. “We won’t go out there and beat our heads together for no good reason, we’ll work hard and do things the right way. If we’re working in large groups, we may not always have the defense take a player to the ground. That’s how injuries can happen. If we’re going one on one, more than likely we’re going to be asking the players to make solid form tackles and take it all the way through. We’re going to have our big players practicing against our big players. The best will practice against the best. As the younger players progress, we may start to move them into that rotation some, but we want the best going against the best as much as possible. That’s how you get better. Competition in practice is good. Iron sharpens iron.”
Coach James also talked briefly about the middle school and recreation league programs.
“I want all of our programs to be in line with each other,” said Coach James. “I don’t expect the little league kids to run every single play we run at the varsity level, but they can put in the basics at that age and use the same terminology. When they get to the middle school level, they’ll already have a good understanding of what’s coming, which will make it even easier when they get to the high school level. The goal of those young recreation league kids should be to put on a gold helmet and walk down those steps as a Cougar one day. Until then, I expect them to do the right things in the classroom and out in public. I don’t allow football players to bring shame or disgrace on our program, our coaches, our team or our school.”
“I’m ready to get busy,” said Coach James. “We’re getting the kids in the weight room, and I’m looking for more young men to get in there with us. We’re going to put this program back where it needs to be. If you’re a football player, be in the weight room Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday with us. It’s time to get big, it’s time to get strong, and it’s time to get mean. If you come out, be ready to work hard. If you don’t want to do that, stay home. We’re going to work. I came here to win football games.”
Pulaski County is set to open their regular season schedule again this season against the Christiansburg Blue Demons. Game two will see a meeting with the Radford Bobcats, a team Coach James is very familiar with.