Matt Sanders remembers his high school football playing days at Susan Moore fondly because of the bonds he formed with his teammates and the mentor that his head coach, Bubba Jennings, was to the team.
Sanders wants his new players at Woodville to enjoy a similar experience.
Sanders was officially hired as Woodville High School’s new head football coach during Wednesday’s Jackson County Board of Education meeting.
He is Woodville’s sixth head coach since the school began playing football in 2006. Sanders replaces Tyler Vann, who left after one season to become the head coach at Sylvania.
“I’m really excited and ready to get to work,” Sanders said. “I’ve wanted to be a head coach and (Woodville) is a great opportunity to do that. It’s a great little community with hard-working kids and great facilities. I’m blessed to get the opportunity.”
Sanders is a 2007 Susan Moore High School graduate and lives in the Snead area of Blount County. His wife Brittany is a guidance counselor at Susan Moore and the couple has two sons, three-old Cooper and three-month old Camden.
Sanders played fullback and linebacker for Susan Moore from 2003-06, helping the Bulldogs go 12-2 and reach the Class 3A state semifinals his senior season. He started his teaching and coaching career at Boaz, serving as the Pirates’ defensive backs coach and special teams coordinator for the past six seasons.
“Words can’t describe my time (at Boaz),” he said. “I really enjoyed it there. They’ve got great kids, a great coaching staff, and coach (Jeremy) Sullivan is a great head coach. He’s been a really great mentor to me. I got to coach with coach Jennings there for two years and that was great because he’s meant so much to me. He was such a great mentor to me when I played. I want to be that for these kids (at Woodville).”
Sanders has met with his Woodville players and laid out his plans for the program, a program he described as “theirs.”
“We’re an organization, and every organization has a product. Our product is our kids. It’s their program. We’re going to keep the kids first. We want to win. We’re going to do everything we can to put ourselves in position to win. But we’re going to teach the qualities they need in life.”
Sanders “grew up” with teams that ran spread offenses and used odd or four-man defensive fronts, but he said what Woodville would run what was the best fit for Woodville’s personnel.
Sanders added a pair of coaches to his staff on Wednesday, bringing in former Pisgah and Section assistant Trey Gibson and former Coosa Christian head coach and former Gadsden City and Cedar Bluff offensive coordinator Scott Clifton. Clifton will serve as Woodville’s offensive coordinator.
“Glad to get these guys here,” Sanders said. “Coach Clifton has a lot of experience that will help our team and help me as a first-time head coach. Trey was at Pisgah, been at Section, and is really good with the kids and in the weight room.”
Sanders said he wanted the Panthers to build on last season’s all-time best region finish when they finished third in Class 1A Region 7 on the way to tying the program single-season wins record with a 5-6 mark.
“(The region) has got a lot of competition in it,” Sanders said. “There are a lot of good teams and there are a lot of good coaches that put their players in the best position to win. We’re going to try to do the same. (Woodville was) the No. 3 seed last year and went to the playoffs, and we want to build on that and move on up (in the region).”
Woodville opens its season at Ider on Aug. 20, and Sanders said the Panthers won’t waste a minute preparing for the season to begin.
“A few years ago, coach Sullivan asked me how do you eat an elephant, and I just kind of looked at him funny, and he said ‘one bite at a time,’” Sanders said. “That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to put our heads down and go to work and look to get better one day, one practice, one rep, at a time.”
Sullivan said Boaz would miss having Sanders on staff.
“It’s a great opportunity for him and chance for him to move his career forward, and it’s the best thing for him and his family at this time. We wish him nothing but the best, and really appreciate everything he’s done for the program and the kids and me. He’s been a hard worker and a loyal guy, he’s going to be hard to replace, but we wish him nothing but the best moving forward,” Sullivan said.
“He coached defensive backs and ran our special teams; he was always quick to help with stuff off the field and was an important part of what we did and what we’ve done. There’s definitely a big hole there to fill.”
› Ron Balaskovitz, sports editor of The Sand Mountain Reporter in Albertville, contributed to this report.