By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
As a ball boy during Oliver Woodard’s tenure with the Cullman High football program, Mark Britton must’ve gleaned a bit of knowledge from the Bearcats’ all-time winningest coach.
Enough in fact that the adult version is closer than ever to taking over that title for himself.
Britton’s next victory will be his 106th with the Black and Gold, pulling even with Woodard’s legendary record that has stood since 1973. Whether he ties or passes the mark during this year’s playoffs or sometime next season, Britton can’t even fathom being in the same discussion as the man Cullman’s football stadium is named after.
“I don’t think I’ll ever put myself in the same category as Coach Woodard. I really can’t,” he said. “That’s the guy I looked up to. I just can’t see being equal to him.”
Britton’s first shot to join Woodard in the record books will come tonight on the road against No. 5 McAdory (12-0).
Cullman’s old ball coach and its current one have crossed paths multiple times since Britton’s stint as a Bearcat ball boy. Woodard frequently stopped by practices when Britton was still getting his chops wet as the main man in charge during the early 2000s, serving as a sounding board for the budding young coach.
It was during these conversations that Britton learned many of the principles that have made him so successful throughout the 12 seasons he’s spent with the Black and Gold. For starters, the pair discussed repetition, discipline, teamwork, getting the most out of young men and selling players on the system the coaching staff had set forth.
“I loved talking to him about different things,” Britton said. “There are some things in football that haven’t changed in 50 years. I think Coach Woodard was doing things that a lot of high school programs didn’t think they could do.”
One of Woodard’s biggest strengths, which Britton has also been well known for, was his ability to take the average player and transform him into an above-average athlete. By the time the coach was done with them, these boys not only knew their roles but were more than capable of executing whatever was asked of them within it.
“One of the conversations I remember I had with Coach Woodard was about putting kids in a position where they can be successful, put them in a position where they can have ownership in the team,” Britton said. “That has stuck with me.”
Look no further than this year’s Cullman roster as proof Britton legitimately understands that lesson. Among the 80-plus players he has at his disposal, there aren’t many who would easily be classified as superstars. That doesn’t automatically mean they don’t have what it takes to win, though. When players buy into the family and team concept, Britton can testify the sky is the limit.
“They’re not the fastest. They’re not the most talented. But it’s not an individual sport. It’s a team sport,” he said. “I think they epitomize going out and playing as a team. A team can win a lot of games even without individual stars because week in, week out, somebody different shines for us.”
The coach isn’t kidding. Some Friday nights, Garrett Crider and Drew Johnson carry the load out of the backfield. Others, the spotlight is shone on quarterback Zac Crocker and veteran wide receivers Wesley Hendrix, Mason Jones, Troy Forrest and Houston Turner. And all the while, the Cullman defense generally holds up its end of the bargain, which was apparent in last week’s 30-0 shutout on the road against Walker.
Of course, Britton receives a majority of the credit for the 105 victories the Bearcats have compiled during his time with the school. However, he’s aware none of them would’ve ever been possible without the players who have passed through the program, as well as his dedicated coaching staff.
His assistant coaches this year have been Kenny Gleaton (offensive coordinator), Matt Hopper (defensive coordinator), Ty Campbell, Jeremy Peek, Kyle Morris, Justin Woljevach, Aaron Sparks, Jonathan Romine, Brandon Dingler, Patrick Britton, Jake Johnson, Bill Griffin and John Drake.
“I can’t say enought about my coaching staff. They do a great job,” Britton said. “Really, my coaching staff is head and shoulders above any guys I’ve ever been around. The extra hours, the extra effort and they do it for the kids. They do it for the right reasons.”
Just like the coach expressed as he neared the 100-win plateau earlier this year, Britton said he won’t even give a second thought to his victory total until the season comes to a close. Right now, his sights are set solely on tonight’s showdown with McAdory.
“I would probably be less than truthful at this point if I thought we’d be 10-2,” Britton said. “We were in a tough region, and even our non-region schedule was super tough. But we’re excited about the situation we’re in. I think a lot of that goes to the kids working hard. We’ve had a great football atmosphere every week, so we just hope we can keep this thing going for a couple more weeks. That’d be nice.”
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.