Q&A with Aledo head coach Steve Wood
When Steve Wood replaced Tim Buchanan as Aledo's head football coach prior to the start of this season, Wood, who had been the Bearcats' defensive coordinator since 2002, knew he had big shoes to fill. After all, Buchanan, who now works only as Aledo's athletic director, had won five state titles since 1998. But Wood knew a successful formula when he saw it, especially since as one of Buchanan's most trusted lieutenants, he helped develop that culture, so he decided to not change a thing when he took over for his former boss. And considering that Aledo will be playing for the Class 5A Division I state championship this weekend at AT&T Stadium against Temple, it's really hard to argue with the results in year one under Wood. Even though playing in the state title game has become commonplace for the Bearcats, Wood is still relishing his first chance to do so as a head coach for his longtime employer.
What has been the biggest adjustment to you now being head coach?
Wood: Well, there's a lot of stuff just like this right here (talking to the media) that you have to take care of, the organizational part of it. You've got a routine with games that I've kind of gotten into that routine, but this is like that routine on steroids you know. You have to really find your time to gameplan and study film and do the things you really need to do. But it's been neat. It's been fun. It's an unbelievable opportunity you know. A lot of people coach their whole lives and don't ever get a chance to do something like this. Here we are, since I've been here it's going to be our fifth opportunity, so pretty special.
Discuss what the biggest lessons were that you took away from your time working for Coach Buchanan.
Wood: Well, everything that Coach Buck did here we still try to do. We haven't changed anything. We haven't changed any schemes. We haven't changed any practice schedules. We haven't changed any routines. Our uniforms are the same. He did such a great job here and brought it from as low as it could be at one point in time to where it is and how it's been that it would have been awful foolish for us to come in here and try to improve. You just hope you can maintain somewhat the level that he had going around here. So, I truthfully would like to think this year has kind of just been status quo for the kids. I don't think there's been a big change for them.
Given the success your team has had this year, do you feel like you have made your former boss proud and helped to further the Aledo reputation for being a powerhouse?
Wood: Well, we worked pretty close together for 12 years and he gave me a lot of reign as far as the defense and the offseason. There were a lot of times when you know I was an assistant head coach and there were a lot of times when he wasn't around or wasn't able to be around because he was athletic director. So I learned an awful lot from him and try to keep on keeping on you know.
Your team has been tested a time or two in the playoffs, so do you feel like they're playing their best football of the year right now?
Wood: Well, we got into a district a couple years ago that we knew we needed to win that district. So we knew how good our team was but until we got playing, we thought we need to go win this district and in all honesty, we had a lot of teams outran us pretty bad. And we had to start learning how to get better at practice, during practice, getting better every day and we kind of created that mentality. It was kind of our goal all year long, was we called it the Bearcat Graph. We wanted it to be climbing the whole year and make your next game your best game. I know that maybe a pipe dream sometimes you know, but that's really what your goal has to be if you're going to get to where you want to be in the end, is to be playing your absolute best football now. Last week, if you had told me that score was going to end up that way before we started that game, I would have told you were crazy. But our kids also knew their back was against the wall or their backs were against the wall. How good John Tyler was and they had to be totally prepared 100 percent, we had the absolute best practices we've had all year long. You can tell when kids are focused and tuned in just by their manners. This is a pretty loose team. They're pretty loose. They'll get a little goofy on you in all honesty. You couldn't hear a pin drop on the bus ride. They were tuned in.
Being a former defensive coordinator, how do you feel your defense has performed this year?
Wood: We only had one starter coming back in the beginning. So in all honesty, we weren't a very solid defense at the beginning of the year. Now we had our ups and downs and highs and lows and we would make some plays, but we weren't consistent. We had one returnee back. He was a cornerback. Our secondary was really green and you can't account for experience, especially back there in the back end. There's so many adjustments, so many formation recognitions that you have to do and just the wisdom that comes from game time. There's no way to recreate that. You just got to get out there and get tested. I think that from where we were in the beginning and where we were last Saturday, I think we've made tons of improvement. Now, all that being said, this is a whole different animal we're fixing to go play now. They're stacked. Their offensive line is physical. They're big and physical, which John Tyler had great, great skill kids that in all honesty we had hoped that we could get after their offensive line. You're not going to match Temple's physicality because they play that way and not only that, but they've got unbelievable skill at quarterback, running back, all over the field. They present quite the challenge.
Do you feel like you guys can match up against Temple on Saturday in terms of their physicality and everything else you mentioned?
Wood: Well, I feel like we have to. I don't know if we match them. I don't know. You've got to tackle. Tackling No. 6 is like trying to catch a minnow in that big ole bucket with your bare hands. He is elusive. And then when they take him out, they bring in the 200-pound back that's just going to hammer you and he's got good speed too. And their third tailback had over 100 yards rushing last week. They had 800 yards of offense and then the quarterback, he's a phenom. He looks like Robert Griffin back there to me.
Isaiah Mallory has been your leading rusher this year but has done especially well in the playoffs. Talk about what he has meant to your team this year.
Wood: Well, you know he started the season as a cornerback. Our starting tailback got hurt and Isaiah is such a team guy, he's one of our captains and he's going to do whatever he can do to help the team. We put him back over there at running back. He was our backup running back last year and he had over six runs of 75 yards or longer last year in a backup role. He was our JV running back as a sophomore. We knew he could play, but we had a tailback and so we needed him on defense. He really kind of has come into his own in the playoffs in all honesty. He's had several games over 100, one or two over 200 and he's got over 1,000 yards rushing and he hasn't started but six games this season at running back. He's done just a super, super job but in all honesty, it was a job that we knew he would do if we gave him the opportunity. He's a plenty good football player.