E.A. Sports Today

Felder’s new start

After a health scare in Texas earlier this summer, former Donoho coach Felder ready to start rebuilding project at Sumter Central

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

When Shannon Felder welcomes his newest team to the first official day of football practice Monday, he’ll be moving at a little slower pace than usual, but that won’t slow his enthusiasm to rebuild a struggling program or be an influence on his players’ lives.

In fact, the situation that precipitated his — temporary — slow down has served to increase that resolve even more.

The former Donoho head coach and Anniston assistant is the new head coach at Sumter Central in York. But three weeks ago football was the farthest thing from his mind. He was just praying for another tomorrow.

Felder contracted a bad case of E. coli while visiting his parents in Texas over the July 4 holiday. He was hospitalized for five days, during which doctors had to preform a procedure to bring his heart back into rhythm.

The timing of his illness couldn’t have been worse. While all this was going on, he was in the mix for the Sumter Central job. In fact, the day his symptoms flared he was told the principal would recommend him and he got approved while still he was in the hospital. What should have been a time of great anticipation soon became a time of grave concern.

“You get the job and get super excited, then get sick and the doctors tell you have to chill out for a while,” Felder said. “You’re ready to go and the doctor says you’re not as ready as you think you are.”

Felder was back in Texas to buy his parents some furniture. The day it was delivered his temperature shot up to 104. He spent the next five hours in the hospital in Conroe.

A short time after he was released and on his way back to Alabama a doctor reviewed his lab results and immediately called with instructions to get to the hospital pronto. Felder pulled off at The Woodlands, just outside Houston, and was admitted to the hospital again.

It took a day and a half to get his fever down and determine he had contracted E. coli. In the meantime his heart fell out of rhythm and doctors had to shock him to get it back on pace.

He still has no clue how he contracted the pathogen. He describes himself as a “pretty routine guy,” so the scariest part was trying to determine what he might have done that was out of character. He certainly will be more wary of what he eats and where he gets it going forward.

He acknowledged the help of Anniston ENT specialists Margaret Davenport and her husband Blaine Bateman for helping him through some of the logistics of the long-distance ordeal.

Now he’s ready for some football.

The Sumter Central job opened when Charles Graves left to become an assistant football and head basketball coach at Munford.

It has been a tough job and that’s precisely what attracted Felder to it. He had a “couple” offers to coach in Alabama and Georgia, but took the Jaguars’ offer because it reminded him of the same situation he stepped into at Donoho, and if there’s one thing Felder likes as a coach it’s a challenge.

Sumter Central opened in 2011 and has won only 11 football games in its existence; it hasn’t won more than two games in a year since its first season. Graves was the Jags’ fifth head coach in six years and the only one who stayed for a second season.

Felder is one of 96 new head coaches in the state (AHSAA and AISA) this year.

“I like trying to build a program, I like the challenge,” Felder said. “As far as the Donoho job, it presented a challenge. I thought I could do fairly well and this job is a lot like that job.”

It’s a Class 5A program with a roster of about 25-30 players. He’s confident those numbers will increase once the program starts tasting some success.

Donoho had won 13 games in the four seasons before Felder got there in 2004 and it went winless in his first season, but two years later the Falcons were 12-1 and allowed only nine points in the regular season. From 2010 to his final year in 2014 they went 42-14 with five straight playoff appearances.

“Every coach who’d been here (Sumter Central) had his challenges,” Felder said. “I think coach Graves … did a good job. Going into the spring of this year I think they made some improvement; to me, they looked better in the spring than they had in the fall.

“The challenge for any coach coming to a program that has struggled is to change the mentality and build interest in the team and get the community and parents and everyone involved behind the program.

“At Donoho, we had a tremendous amount of support from parents and the administration so I was able to have success. I had a lot of coaches and parents and administrators who got behind the program and helped as we tried to make the change. I’m trying to do the same type things (here). It’s a process.”

As one might suspect, the health scare has given him a greater appreciation for life and his life’s mission.

“All those things have helped me to understand there are a lot more important things out there,” he said. “I love the fact good Lord has given me an opportunity to focus on what’s really important, and that’s family and the things I do enjoy.

“Being a coach in football and impacting kids’ lives has is taken a whole new role of importance. I want to be an impact player on the lives of young folks and help kids as much as I can as long as I can. This has given me a whole different perspective. I’m not taking life for granted. You have no idea how important it is to have your health and strength until you have it taken away from you.”

Felder, who turns 51 the week of his Jags’ regular-season debut at Carver-Birmingham, remains under his doctor’s care. The doctor would like to give it another month before Felder starts handling any stressful activity, but that month is the most important segment of the season for a new coach who only met his players two weeks ago.

When he gets on the field he will be careful. He may even to do some coaching in practice from the press box.

“To be able to know next week I’m going to have to get out there and be careful and cautious is going to be tough,” he said. “I’m laid back — I’m not a whooping and hollering big time fusser — but the part that’s a concern of mine is I shouldn’t be out here in the sun too long, not too much too soon; that’s the challenge.

“I’m hoping and praying when the first game comes the doctor tells me let’s go.”

And what a nice birthday present that would be.

On the cover: Shannon Felder makes a technical point to Anniston quarterback Savion Bethune during the Bulldogs’ spring game.

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