BY BRIAN BESCH
With football beginning practice in a few weeks, the Enterprise was given the opportunity for a Q&A session with Livingston High School's two new coordinators. The new defensive coordinator will be Grady Welborn, who led the Fairfield defense to a 9-3 season in 2014. Now heading the offense, Rick Prater is someone the area may be a bit more familiar with. He instructed the district-foe Willis backfield in an offense that averaged just under 30 points per game last season.
Enterprise: Where are you from and what has been some of your stops along the way to Livingston?
Grady Welborn: I grew up in Vidor, Texas. I started out with West Orange-Stark as my first job. I moved to Alaska for a year, and came back to Texas and taught three years at Temple. Then, I spent the last three years at Fairfield.
Rick Prater: Last year I was in Willis as the running backs coach and previous to that, I was at Caney Creek for six years as a varsity running backs coach. Leading up to that, I was the offensive coordinator at Centerville for four years in the early 2000s. We were consistently in the Top 10 for three years straight there. We set the national record for the most yards in a football game when we rushed for 893 yards in one night. From there, I went to Groveton and was offensive coordinator over there for two years. I worked for a good guy over in Centerville, Keith Gardener, who was at Alto, and I worked for Keith Thomas at Groveton, who is now at Blinn College, so there were two good coaches I got to learn under. I was the boys' coordinator and head football coach at Iola, near Bryan and College Station. That's not every place that I've been, but the main ones here recently.
Enterprise: Prior to accepting the position, did you have any connection to Polk County or Livingston?
Welborn: Growing up in Vidor, Livingston was a district opponent. We would also drive through here to the family farm quite a few times. But other than that, I didn't have a whole lot of experience in Polk County.
Prater: I have become familiar with Livingston in the last two places I've coached and I have been at Groveton, so I am familiar with Livingston. I lived in Huntsville for 20 years, so I'm familiar with the area. It's just a good opportunity, (Head) Coach (Brian) Broussard runs the option offense and I've had some experience with that, so it seemed like a good fit.
Enterprise: What sort of strategy or philosophy do you hope to bring over to Livingston?
Welborn: I was at Fairfield when they made the state run. Our big deal there was just to keep it simple and the plan is the same here. We want to be real good at what we do, rather than being OK at a lot of different things. I want to let our guys play aggressive, know their assignment, and keep it easy for each person to play together as a unit, so we are an attacking defense. We are going to base out of the 3-4; I hate to say like they did last year, because it will look a lot different alignment-wise. Position-wise it will be the 3-4. I have watched all the games from last year and there are a lot of athletic kids coming back. A lot of them will be changing positions to try to find guys for the right spots in the way that we're going to do it. We will be a little bigger up front.
Prater: Coach Broussard comes from an option background and he wants to develop an identity here in Livingston. That identity will be running option football. I've been involved with all different kinds of offenses, but at Caney Creek for sure, we ran a lot of veer and option football. At Centerville we were in some double slot and some option game as well, so I do have experience with that. There are some differences, but we're putting it all together so we can be on the same page. He's run more outside veer and I've run more inside veer, but at the end of the day, it's a lot of the same stuff. It's still triple option football, so we like that identity because it's not an offense you see very much anymore. We think it's a type of offense that year in and year out gives the team an opportunity to work in a real tough district. We're going against some schools that are twice as large as we are, so we like how it gives us something difficult to prepare for.
Welborn: I love it. I want them to keep the ball all game. We want the offense to get one of those 20-play drives going and stay on the field.
Prater: Right now Livingston has an uphill battle, with us being a much smaller school without the numbers that some of the other schools have. But you still have to put 11 on the field and we think it gives us a chance. At Caney Creek, we kind of did the same thing where we sometimes didn't match up with some of these big schools, but the option football was a thorn in their side. It's effective, too. It's not just a way to slow the game down, because it's got big-play capability. It's definitely a throwback offense, but it's still very effective. Schools that Coach Broussard has worked for and I have worked for has had great success with it, so we want to run with it, stick with it, and see if we can develop an identity from the junior high to the high school.
Enterprise: Not to give away game secrets in the newspaper, but what style of play do you hope to have on your side of the ball?
Welborn: Just in general, playing more aggressively. You have to obviously somewhat react to an offense, because you can't leave yourself outnumbered. I don't want anyone coming in with their hair on fire and missing an assignment, but under control and very aggressive. I want us to dictate what's going to happen after they snap the ball. I think we have a good mix up front. We have some guys that are quick, we have some guys that are big two-gap pluggers. In the secondary, we have some kids that are hard workers, so I think it matches up pretty well with what we're going to do. It's going to be a little different for some of these guys playing on both sides of the ball this year. Not having a whole lot of guys out, we're going to have guys play multiple positions. More mentality is what I'm looking for than someone with a specific body build. We've got guys with the right mentality at the right spots.
Prater: We're going to try to be more consistent with the scheme this year. The four-wide (sets) has merit, but we just want to develop an identity with the option football. We have a good mix of kids, where we have some athletic kids, but I think the thing that Livingston is most identified with — and I know that from coaching in the area — is they have tough kids. We like that aspect on both sides of the football. They are tenacious, they play hard, and they do have athletic ability too, so let's not minimize that as well. The philosophy behind option football is, no matter what they do they're wrong. We still have to execute and it requires a lot of individual time, a lot of timing, and lots of repetitions. We have to develop a quarterback; that is our biggest challenge. We're looking at two or three kids right now, but a lot of the other parts are already in place. With this type of offense it is quarterback dependant, so that is going to be our biggest challenge for the beginning of the season. We will look at several guys as we go through the preseason and scrimmages and see who stands out. They did a good job last year and moved the ball well at different times, so we just hope they are a year older and can punch the ball in a little more. Of course, the name of the game is scoring more points, so that is going to be our goal.
Enterprise: There are a couple of athletes that stood out on each unit last year. What do you see specifically in the players that you like and what will they bring to your side?
Welborn: I will tell you the same thing that I told the kids on the first day meeting them, when I watched film, I started with A&M Consolidated and Huntsville, which was at the end of the season and pretty rough games last year. I was able to call out four kids, who are coming back. Even though it was the end of the season, out of the playoff hunt, and rough games, at the end of the games they were still trying to chase down players and still going 100 percent. Those four guys were all there that day and most of them will be back for two years. I think the fact that you have kids that no matter what the situation they will keep playing, it is going to be a great deal. We have quite a few young kids that are moving into spots. They are tough kids that will come hit you every time.
Prater: We have a returning all-district running back in David Caddie and some other kids that played a little offense and a little defense, but in all schools 4, 5 and 6-A, you're going to have players, so we'll have somebody to fill the spots. We just have to develop some continuity and some confidence early. We'll have a goal for preseason where we want to get in district and the key to option football is to not turn the ball over, know our assignments, and execute them. It's going to be nothing but repetition. We feel good that if we continue to build on the offense each week that we'll be where we need to when it counts. We'll just keep working hard, because I know they're going to. They have to buy in and that's the whole thing. When kids buy and coaches buy in, we'll play as a family and make this thing work. We're ready to help turn this thing around.
Enterprise: On both sides, the Lions will have their third offense and defense in three years. Will that make it rough on them or will they be able to pick them up quick?
Welborn: We're trying to leave terminology the same with them and I'm adjusting my stuff to fit what they already know and that way they aren't learning a lot of new vocabulary in it. Technique is a little bit different, but I think it is something that through repetition becomes very simple. Especially for guys in the secondary and linebackers in coverage will be even simpler than what they have done in the past, so maybe it will be something that they can pick up on real fast. We're trying to cut down on everyone's assignments to where they either have this or this, and that way they can go fast. Maybe that way we can make up for what we don't have in numbers and depth. We can make it up by being so aggressive where we're not having to do as much running around and adjusting to the opponent.
Prater: One thing I've learned about kids over the years is they are resilient and they probably bounce back better than us adult sometimes. With changes in coaches, that's part of the business and they understand that. They develop relationships with the previous coaches and that is the tough part. But coaches move on and they move on to good kids, as well, at other places. When new coaches come in, they leave behind good kids too. Every time I've left a place, it's tough to leave the kids behind, just like Willis and other places I've been. I had a great coach tell me that when you leave one place, you meet great kids in another school, so you get to make new relationships and opportunities. That's the way I look at it with the kids. Kids bounce back. They'll see that this coaching staff cares for them just like the previous coaching staff did and when kids know that, they are ready to go. They'll do anything for you. Everything I've seen with these kids this summer is they just want to be coached and loved just like every kid does. We're going to give them that, be in their corner, and they're going to play hard for us.
Enterprise: What is the biggest weakness and strength you see now?
Welborn: The biggest weakness is my backups are his starters on offense and his is the same thing. Going into it, you have to find out some way to get through the season healthy with legs still under you while not having very many kids. The biggest strength is we have a lot of versatile players. I think I have everybody but two kids that can play four and five positions if they needed to. I think they can do a lot of things we ask of them. That makes it really easy on me, because I don't have to worry so much about personnel matchups. I don't have to go, "They brought in a tight end, I have to take that guy out and put this guy in." I can say, "Go play it, because you're good at it." So, I think the versatility of these kids will make it easy on us.
Prater: I kind of went over the strengths, which is the personality these kids. I think their adaptability, their toughness, their tenacity, and their desire to succeed will be strengths for sure. I hate using the word weakness, because I think it's more just things we can work on so they become strengths. That is just believing in us (coaches) and we will believe in them. Obviously, the district is a tough challenge and I wouldn't call that a weakness. I would look at it as more of a challenge. They know that, but they also know that anything can happen. That's why you lace them up in any sport, because anybody can beat anyone on any given night. We don't consider ourselves a stepchild to anybody. We feel like we can play. Their biggest thing is to take in all the information right now in a short period of time. But like I said from the beginning, the kids are tenacious and resilient, and these kids just want to play or they wouldn't be out here. We're excited for them and I don't see any glaring weaknesses. They will work on all of this.