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Spring Football: Tate Aggies' quest is to relive past

Fresh start, new approach for the Aggies under new coach Ronnie Douglas

1:00 AM, May. 09, 2013 EDT

Offensive line coach Tank Williamson, left, and Tate head coach Ronnie Douglas work with the offensive line on the heavy bag during Wednesday's practice. / Bruce Graner/bgraner@pnj.com

The words on the wood-constructed tower that hovers above the Tate High School football practice fields are symbolic and inspirational.

"A slacker does not plow during planting season. At harvest time he looks and there is nothing."

It's a message that new Aggies coach Ronnie Douglas would love his team to heed. More than two hours into Wednesday's spring football practice, the tempo remains full throttle, along with the voices from Douglas and his large assistant coaching staff.

They are pounding work ethic. Hustle. No slacking between drills. Show fortitude. They are reminding the players, more than 100 of them, the essential virtue of fast-paced drills equating into superior conditioning.

"You don't want any idle time. You don't want it in business. You don't want it in football," said Douglas, 48, who regained his passion to return to coaching after owning local businesses. "You always want it to be productive."

Thirty years ago, Douglas graduated from Tate High as a defensive back and receiver, back when the football team was normally accustomed to a harvest of success.

The past two years, Tate has been a combined 1-18. The team has experienced only one winning season (2009) in the past six years.

It has saddened a close-knit community that would love for its football team to make Friday nights in the fall have that special feel again.

"If you go to the Whataburger, or somewhere like that, you can hear people talking about it, talking about Tate football," said receiver Stephen Pederson, a rising senior, who has been with the program all four years.

"Sometimes, it's not the best stuff," Pederson said. "But they'll talk to you, trying to motivate you. And you can tell they want us to come back and win."

No one wants it more than players like Pederson and cornerback Rashan Johnson, another senior-to-be who has been through lean years.

They have embraced Douglas' practices scripted with intensity and designed to make each segment meaningful. They like his spread formation offense, a popular trend.

"Coming off these last two seasons, I see a lot of kids coming out here trying to get better every day," Johnson said. "Everybody is out here with a hard-working attitude, an attitude of wanting to get better, wanting to make the team better.

"So that's all we can ask for."

The players and the coaches know it's quite a climb. Tate High is the largest school in the two-county area. The Aggies have been moved into a new, three-team Class 7A district for 2013 with Niceville and Crestview.

Their schedule includes the familiar powers like Pensacola High, Pine Forest and West Florida High, all teams that Tate seeks to become.

"Sometimes people feel sorry for Tate, but in the end, it's about getting out here and working hard," said Douglas, who spent the 2009 season as an assistant on former head coach Ed Rigby's staff. "It's about doing what we're supposed to do here at Tate.

"It's about taking care of ourselves. So many times people worry about everybody else. We have to worry about Tate. Every day we have to come out here and work and get better. In the end, the scoreboard will take care of itself."

Douglas took care of assembling a quality assistant coaching staff. Among the group, he has Paul Tripoli, former Catholic assistant coach, who played at Alabama and one season (1987) for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He has Jay Lindsey, son of Pace High coach Mickey Lindsey, along with Chris Baker, former head coach at Newberry High near Gainesville.

It's a large staff picked by Douglas, all of whom share his coaching style and strategy.

"Coach Douglas was here my sophomore year as the quarterback coach and he's a good coach," Pederson said. "He cares a lot. You can tell it. Ever since he's come back, it's been different. You can tell it in the locker room. You can feel it."

When the Tate head coaching position came open last year, following Brad Naggatz' resignation after the 2012 season, Douglas had a feeling it was now or never for him to try and regain success, the tradition, at his alma mater.

"In coaching, it's always a timing thing as to when you come back, when you do it," said Douglas, who graduated from Pensacola State College and the University of West Florida. "My clock is ticking. So you may not get another opportunity.

"When it came up this time, I knew I had to give it a shot or I may not ever get another chance. If someone comes in here and turns this thing around, they would stay forever."

That is Douglas' intention.

"I am a Tate guy. I'm from here. I grew up here," Douglas said. "I know so many people in the community. I know these kids are special kids. And Tate always has been a special place."

Follow Bill Vilona on Twitter @billvilonaPNJ and like him on Facebook at facebook.com/BillVilonaPNJ




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