In his first two stops, Bill Ballard made winners out of Tucker and Peachtree Ridge, notching 12 wins in four of his first seven seasons as a head coach.
Now entering his second season at the helm at White County, Ballard is trying to recreate his past success.
In his first season, the Warriors struggled, winning just three games. They did, however, drop three games by seven points or less.
Now, Ballard and company have built a weight room and started a team for the ninth grade in hopes that they can build the program from within.
With summer practice in the books and the fall now in full swing, the coach says he is encouraged by the progress his team has made.
He spoke with The Times on Thursday to discuss his outlook for the 2012 season.
Question: Last year’s record wasn’t really indicative of the team you had, was it? You played a lot of close games.
Answer: I agree with you. We had some games that could have gone either way. Our kids played hard, and I was proud of them. We had graduated a large senior class, and putting in a new offense and defense added to the learning curve. They’re getting better this year. The kids know the offense and defense better. They’ve bought in. They’re working hard. We’re taking steps in the right direction as a program.
Q: What held you guys back from getting over the hump in those games last year?
A: A lot of that came from the fact that our kids hadn’t been lifting weights in the ninth grade before. That’s something that we started back this year. We built a weight room at the middle school, and now we’re lifting weights at the middle school level. Those things will pay dividends in the future, I think. You have to be physically strong enough to compete, and I think that’s something that can get you over the hump in those games. And we’re starting the ninth grade football program. That can help with the numbers and the depth. That’s another thing that will help you in those close games. The other thing is moving into a new region, where most of the teams moved up from Class AA while we were already in AAA. Many of the teams we played last year were larger schools on the high end of AAA. But several of those schools moved up. I think we’re on a more level footing now as far as the size of the schools goes.
Q: It’s really early in camp, but how do you feel like the team is progressing in filling some of those shortcomings?
A: We’re excited about where we are right now as far as our offense and defense goes. I feel like we’re light years ahead of where we were at this point last year, just having been in the program for a year. I think that’s a big step. Obviously, we’ll know more when we start playing games. We’ll find out a little as we go. But we’re excited about it. They’ve worked extremely hard in the weight room, running in the offseason program. They’ve paid the price to be a better football team.
Q: You had some real successful teams at Tucker and Peachtree Ridge before you came to White County. How were you able to build those teams up into contenders, and what’s the process like doing that here?
A: That’s exactly what I was talking about at the beginning. It’s all about getting the things in place at the lower levels. When I came to Tucker, we didn’t have a ninth grade program. So we started that up. Likewise, at Peachtree Ridge, we started the youth program over there. So you get the middle school and the youth going, you start lifting weights early on, get the guys in the track program that aren’t playing other sports. I think all those things are very important to get them strong and physical enough to be ready to play. Those are all the factors that play into developing a program. And that’s what we’re trying to do here.
Q: Is there something exciting to you, as a coach, about that challenge — taking a team at point A and building it to point B?
A: It’s a lot of fun. It’s very exciting. I’m excited about our administration and the leadership that has helped us do those things. People have to have a vision to make a program. You have to invest to make it work. Traditionally, a lot of schools are good when they have a surge of talent. What you’re trying to do when you build a program, though, is like what we did at Tucker and Peachtree Ridge. We want to make them where they’re competitive and contend for the playoffs every season. That’s what we want to do here.