E.A. Sports Today

Old home week

Coaches from Jacksonville, Donoho, Lincoln facing teams they used to coach Friday looking for their first victories

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

The hardest thing for Matt Zedaker to do this week is not pick up the phone and call his mentor and former boss Matt Griffith for one of their twice-a-week talks on football and such. Breaking down some game film of this week’s opponent requires a little more focus as well.

For the first time in his coaching career, Zedaker, Lincoln’s first-year head coach, finds himself having to do something this week he has spent all his athletics life trying to avoid – sending Griffith and Sylacauga to a loss.

When you’ve been in the coaching game for more than a few years you’re bound to run up against a team you’ve coached before.

The Lincoln-Sylacauga game is one of three on this week’s area high school football schedule where the head coach across the field was coaching at the opposing school not that long ago.

Jacksonville’s Clint Smith goes up against his old friends from Saks and Donoho’s Mark Sanders plays the Victory Christian team he coached through last season.


All three coaches are trying to keep it just another game, make it more about the players on the field than themselves and get their teams on the winning track. All three will be looking for their first wins of the season.

But, of course, if you’re human, it’s more than just another game.

“Obviously this is me playing my old school and coach,” Zedaker said, “but the most important thing is it’s the first region game and it’s about our kids and us correcting mistakes we made last two weeks.

“There will be some emotions and different feelings going through my head – that’s where I spent my entire life: as a student, as a player and I worked there 17 years – but to be the most effective coach I can be I need to put my personal feelings to the side and do everything in my power to help our players play a complete and full game that will help us move towards the playoffs.”

Smith has been calling the Golden Eagles’ shots against Saks since moving from the Anniston school he coached for seven years in 2012, so he’s become sort of immune to all this personal stuff.

Actually, this year’s game will be emotional enough without all that. Saks will be looking for a bit of revenge after Smith beat his former team for the first time since moving over last year in a 63-24 shootout. The Golden Eagles, meanwhile, will be looking to avoid going 0-3 for the first time since 2002.

“I spent some great years at Saks, coached a lot of great kids, got to meet a lot of great people and have some great memories there, but it’s been six years,” Smith said. “We’re very close with that staff and we respect those guys and we know they’re going to be ready to play. It’s a fun game. We’re friends and when it’s time to keep score we’ll keep score.”

Sanders goes against a Victory Christian program he brought back to success over three seasons before the school decided not to renew him last spring. His 17-14 record there was the second-best three-year run in school history.

“I know everybody there, I consider them family to me as much as I coached them,” Sanders said. “I have a lot of love for people over there, but other than that, it’s just the next football game and a game we have to have to make the playoffs. The hard part is coaching against the kids I’ve been with so many years and helped coach them up. It will be good to see them, but we’ve still got to play a football game.”

The interesting element about Zedaker facing Sylacauga is he had been a part of that program his entire life. He coached there 17 years, the last seven as the Aggies’ defensive coordinator. It was only “just an unbelievable opportunity” to become the head coach at Lincoln that pried him away.

Still, he and Sylacauga head coach Griffith have talked probably twice a week since he left, but those lines of communication will “probably go silent” this week.

Additionally, Zedaker forged such a bond with the players he left behind he admitted when breaking down game film this week he found himself watching his former players and when they made a mistake wondering why are you doing that when he really needed to be thinking, yeah, keep doing that. The Bears haven’t beaten Sylacauga in 11 previous meetings, but the teams have played only four times since 1995.

“It is a very unique situation,” Zedaker said. “It’s been kind of a running joke; at one point he said I’ve got to quit doing this because I’m helping you beat me. We’re really hoping to get out of the same region, because there are some things we can do together that can make ourselves better.

“When the season’s over we will get together and reflect on this, but (this week) it’s profession before personal feeling. I’ve been hired to do a job and that’s what I’m going to do. At the end of the day we are judged, whether we like it not, on wins and losses. When I took the job to be the Lincoln head coach and we’re playing Sylacauga … we’re fighting against each other and I want to beat them as much as they want to beat us.”

POLLING PLACE: Piedmont and Ohatchee remain 2-3 in the state sportswriters Class 3A high school football poll that came out Tuesday night, although the Bulldogs are No. 1 in the MaxPreps and talismanred.com 3A polls.

Weaver (No. 7) and Randolph County (No. 9) are also in the 3A sportswriters’ poll. Ohatchee hosts Randolph County this week. Randolph County is No. 4 in the MaxPreps poll.

Also in the sportswriters’ poll, Oxford is No. 4 in 6A, Alexandria is No. 3 in 5A and Clay Central is No. 10 in 5A.

On the cover: Jacksonville coach Clint Smith faces a Saks team he coached for seven seasons Friday night. (Photo by B.J. Franklin/GungHo Photos)


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