The County High Wildcats Embrace A Shift In Culture
As we head into Week 3 of the West Alabama High School season, we look back at the Week 2 Coach of the Week: Tuscaloosa County High Defensive Coordinator Antonio Ford.
Coach Ford grew up right here in Tuscaloosa attending Holt High School.
"Football was almost forgone conclusion. I was a big baseball guy, and basketball was okay, but I was able to excel in football early," Ford states. Coach Ford grew up playing with his cousin Kendrick Clancy, who would go on to be an All-SEC defensive tackle at Ole Miss and win a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints in 2009. "We were as competitive as they come but we were also each other's biggest cheerleader and now I get to coach his son on my defensive line."
Ford got the opportunity to play at the next level at Troy State University for the legendary Larry Blakeney as his head coach and former Outland and Lombardi Winner Tracy Rocker as his defensive line coach.
"It was a family environment from the beginning. I grew a lot and it helped shaped me as a man. I remember telling coach Rocker as junior I wanted to be a coach like him," Ford reflected.
Ford got the opportunity to play with guys like two-time Super Bowl Champion Osi Umenyiora and Future Hall Famer Demarcus Ware; unfortunately had his career cut short with a torn ACL. His coaches were able to help him get his coaching career started.
After twenty years of coaching Ford has seen his fair share of ups and downs. The ups included winning a state championship his first year coaching at UMS-Wright in Mobile under legendary head coach Terry Curtis.
He then returned to Tuscaloosa, coaching at his alma mater Holt High School for three years. He earned his first head coaching position at Lloyd Wood Middle School, having a ton of success winning two city-county championship and playing for a third.
He thought his chance at becoming a high school head coach had arrived as Sipsey Valley High School opened out in Fosters. That didn't come to pass, but not for long. As in 2011 Sipsey Valley would come calling.
As Sispey Valley's head coach he learned a lot and celebrated a few firsts. Winning the first game in school history and first two playoff appearances. "The biggest thing I learned was being able to delegate things to the coaches around me and that's helped me as an assistant coach help make things easier for Coach [Adam] Winegarden."
After five seasons as Sipsey Valley's head coach, Ford left Tuscaloosa for Auburn High School.
"Before the interview I wasn't serious about taking the job. But afterwards I called my wife and told her I think this is where we need to be and the next thing you know we called Auburn home for the next five years."
During his time at Auburn High School Ford coached multiple guys to All-State recognition and having several sign to play at the next level at the likes of Florida and Auburn University.
In 2020 Auburn made it to the 7A state championship game against powerhouse Thompson High School. "Talent wise we shouldn't have been in the game. We had created a culture that had our guys believing they could win, and we almost did it."
After the 2020 season Adam Winegarden accepted the head coaching position at Tuscaloosa County High School and Ford followed as the new Defensive Coordinator. "Year Zero" as Coach Ford calls 2021, "was about starting the process of changing the culture, and I believe you can see it early in 2022".
They started the season with a 44-0 win over Central in a renewed rivalry, then followed with an impressive 28-7 win over Bessemer City, after being tied at the half. Coach Ford had lots to say about some of the guys who have made an impact already. Hunter Montgomery and Cole Nicholson are two sophomores leading the way up front.
There are also a lot of athletic guys throughout the secondary. As defensive minded Ford is, he gave a lot of love to the offensive guys. Junior RB Kevin Riley is a guy to keep a lookout for as well as ACA transfer QB Sawyer Deerman who Ford called the best player he's ever coached.
"He's the best defensive player we have because of what he's able to do and help us prepare for the teams on the schedule," said Ford.
Tuscaloosa County has been down for close to decade but with the culture shift that coach Winegarden and coach Ford along with others are bringing, don't expect the Wildcats to be down long.
The Wildcats look to go 3-0 for the first time since 2014. They take on the 0-2 Chelsea Hornets at Chelsea Friday night at 7 p.m.