E.A. Sports Today

White Plains: Strain-ing to succeed

Wildcats look to a coach with winning ways to get them on a winning track

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

With all the success he has enjoyed in his career, Larry Strain could have stayed at his previous post a very long time or at least, if there was a move to be made, had his pick of virtually any coaching job around.

But a funny thing about career paths — life has a way of intervening. Coming upon what he called a “crossroad” in his life, Strain has taken on the challenge of rebuilding a White Plains program aching for success.

“Sometimes a change of scenery and a different challenge is good,” he said earlier this summer. “We had a great run in those 15 years and have a lot of fond memories of what took place. It’s really a crossroad of my life … and a new challenge for me.”

It certainly is a challenge.

Strain won 100 games in 15 seasons at Woodland, just 10 fewer than the program won in 19 years under two previous coaches. He had 10 straight non-losing seasons and playoff appearances. His team scored at least 350 points the last four years in a row.

White Plains hasn’t had a winning season since 2003 – only two since 1983 – and been to the playoffs only once (1994).

Strain is meeting the challenge head on. He shook the halls looking for players and they apparently like what he’s selling because the Wildcats nearly doubled their typical roster size. But that team will be relatively young, playing a majority of freshmen and sophomores, especially at the skill positions.

How young? The Wildcats went into their spring game with only two players who had ever been in a varsity game before, four who ever played football and four ninth-graders.

Their starting quarterback, Drew Hudson, is a ninth grader. One of the players he found in the halls, Nathan Gilbert, is a senior who has never played before, but at 6-2 he’s expected to be a big piece of the offense. And he didn’t have either senior halfback Dillon Greenwood or senior receiver Ryan Hanson in the spring.

“Coach Strain is going to play his best 11,” junior fullback-linebacker Caleb Turner said. “The best he’s got are the ones who are going to get to play, whether you’re a ninth-grader, 4-foot tall, whatever. It’s not seniority; it’s the best of the best.”

“He expects so much out of us and we have to perform or we know we’re not going to be on the field,” senior halfback Dillon Greenwood said. “It’s (all about) expectations and living up to them.”

It’s all part of changing the culture. The Wildcats have been 5-5 each of the last two years — needing to win their last game of the year to do it — but that’s the closest they’ve come to having a winning year in a decade. They won 58 games in the 15 years Strain was at Woodland.

“The biggest problem I saw was any time things start going bad we duck our head and don’t know how to pick up and go on; we’re trying to change that mindset,” he said. “In every game, something good is going to happen for you and something bad is going to happen for you. How you react after something bad happens usually determines the outcome of the ballgame.”

Another new element is the spread offense. The players seem to enjoy it, but it has yet to find consistency. The Wildcats had been a run-oriented offense, but under the new scheme there are so many letters designating the positions, they might have to double the alphabet.

They got to the top of their pool in Piedmont’s 7-on-7 camp and reached the semifinals, but they failed to score in their preseason jamboree.

Still, the Wildcats are convinced in time they can break through for consistent winning under their new coach.

“As long as we work hard, I think we can pull it off,” Hanson said.

“I’m glad he’s here; he’s going to do good for us,” Greenwood added. “I want to have a good year – it’s my last year – and lead by example for the kids who are coming up and show them that if they follow him we’re going to do good and good things are going to happen.”

The Wildcats open their new era Friday night at Ashville and play their first three games under the new coach on the road.


Aug. 29 — at Ashville
Sept. 5 — at Hokes Bluff
Sept. 12 — at Cleburne County
Sept. 19 — Saks
Sept. 26 — Pleasant Valley
Oct. 3 — at Sardis
Oct. 10 — Jacksonville
Oct. 17 — Crossville
Oct. 24 — at Cherokee County
Oct. 31 — Weaver

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