Student of the Game

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 28, 2004

Mama knows best.

Just ask Alvin Briggs, Greenville High School’s athletic director and head football coach.

From his youth, Briggs has climbed the ladder of football and has experienced most aspects of the game.

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&uot;Football has taken a little ole’ boy from Greenville, Alabama and taken him all over the world,&uot; Briggs said. &uot;Playing a game that I enjoyed.&uot;

An extraordinary high school football career earned Briggs the opportunity to play in college stadiums all over the country as a defensive back for the Auburn University Tigers. He later signed a National League Football contract with the Dallas Cowboys, before landing a college coaching job at the University of North Alabama.

The success he and the ones he has coached have found throughout the years has earned him many accolades including five conference, three national championship rings and memories to last a lifetime. His many journeys have taken him across the world to Japan and to the White House to visit the president of the U.S.

His mother Lula Briggs’ guidance, made his eventful career possible.

Tiger Country

Briggs, 39, grew up in Greenville and attended W.O. Parmer Elementary School. He began playing pee-wee football when he was five-years-old and it wasn’t long before his talents were revealed.

Under the direction of Dennis Phillips, who now sits on the Butler County Board of Education, Briggs’ pee-wee squad won two consecutive titles on its way to a 12-1 record.

&uot;That was my first taste of championship football,&uot; Briggs said. &uot;It was a whole lot of fun.&uot;

Briggs, who later became known for his speed and hands, played center his first year of pee-wee football before being moved to quarterback the following season.

Briggs later attended Greenville Elementary School and Greenville Junior High School before moving up to Greenville High School, where he really began to shine.

The Tigers finished 1-8-1 during Briggs’ freshman season, its only win coming against rival Wilcox-Central. Prior to Briggs’ sophomore season, Greenville’s football program underwent a coaching change that helped put the small south Alabama school on the map.

Coach Wayne Woodham helped lead GHS to an 8-2 record and an appearance in the second round of the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s state playoffs in his first season at GHS. The Tigers lost to eventual state champion Charles Henderson in the second round of the state playoffs, which proved to be the start of a new era.

Briggs’ biggest highlight of his high school career occurred during Woodham’s first season. He led the Tigers to a 6-0 win over powerhouse T.R. Miller after returning a punt 74 yards for a touchdown. That win not only helped Briggs make a name for himself, but helped Greenville’s football program as a whole.

&uot;I don’t know if I started being noticed, but Greenville High School football started being noticed again,&uot; Briggs said. &uot;That opened the door for Greenville football.&uot;

The following season, Greenville finished a perfect 10-0 in the regular season and once again advanced to the second round of the state playoffs, only to lose to the eventual state champ Eufaula. Briggs’ senior season wasn’t much different. Again the Tigers fell to the eventual state champion Thompson and finished 11-2.

&uot;We never actually won the state championship, but we felt like we had the team to win it,&uot; Briggs said. &uot;It was a lot of fun.&uot;

Briggs, who played defensive back, finished his high school career with 31 interceptions. He snagged five interceptions his freshman year, eight his sophomore year, a career-high 10 his junior season and eight as a senior before suffering a knee injury the fifth game of the season.

Not only did Briggs make a name for himself on the defensive side of the football, but he also showed off his talents as a receiver. He had several games with over 200-yards receiving and multi-touchdowns.

Even though he was sidelined with a knee injury his senior season, Briggs was still one of the most sought after players in the south. Every Southeastern Conference college including, Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Vanderbilt, along with Florida State, University of Houston, the University of Southern California, Penn State and Southern Miss were jumping at the chance to sign the Greenville star.

In the end, Briggs signed a full scholarship to play for Auburn. Actually, his mother made the decision.

&uot;I didn’t decide, my mom did,&uot; Briggs said. &uot;I guess it was a good thing. I can say Coach (Pat) Dye and Coach (Bud) Casey recruited my mom. They didn’t recruit me. I used to come home from track practice and they would be at my house visiting my mom and when I would come through the door, they would be leaving. Bobby Bowden called my house a couple times and momma said I wasn’t going to school there, but going to Auburn.&uot;

Briggs said he has no regrets with his mother’s decision.

&uot;I’m glad I did,&uot; Briggs said. &uot;It gave my mom a chance to come see me play.&uot;

Although Briggs’ college fate had been determined, his high school playing days weren’t over. He was selected to play in the Alabama All-Star game in Tuscaloosa following the regular season. He proved the injury didn’t affect his play as he caught an 80-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the game and scored on a 75-yard interception return.

Briggs Knows Bo

Greenville was a pipeline to Auburn.

The year prior to Briggs’ arrival, Greenville running back Tommy Powell signed with the Tigers. GHS graduate and tight end Pat Autrey joined Auburn’s roster during Briggs’ junior season.

Briggs had the opportunity to make an immediate impact for Auburn’s football program when he arrived.

&uot;From the time I stepped foot on Auburn’s campus, I was on the football field,&uot; Briggs said. &uot;I didn’t get redshirted until my junior year until I had another knee operation. I started my freshman year after the third or fourth ballgame.&uot;

He began summer practices his freshman year at wide out before moving to defensive back after Coach Dye asked him if he would consider making the switch. He remained on defense the remainder of his college career.

&uot;At the end of the season, Coach Dye asked me if I wanted to move back to wide out, but I was having fun over there,&uot; Briggs said. &uot;There are some people that think I made a mistake by not going back to wide out.&uot;

The Tigers won two SEC Championships during Briggs’ tenure in 1983 and ’87. He was the first person in Auburn history to play on two SEC championship teams.

Auburn also won the 1983 Sugar Bowl over Michigan, the 1984 Liberty Bowl over Arkansas, the 1986 Citrus Bowl over USC and tied Syracuse in the 1987 Sugar Bowl. In 1985, Texas AM beat the Tigers in the Cotton Bowl. Briggs was redshirted that season following another knee injury.

&uot;I was told I would never play again,&uot; Briggs said. &uot;They told me if I played again, it would be a miracle.&uot;

Briggs proved doctors wrong as playing his junior and senior seasons. He was named All-Conference his junior year and finished tied with teammate Chip Powell for most interceptions in the conference with five.

Bo Jackson won the Heisman Trophy in 1985. Briggs said it was a &uot;wild&uot; experience being apart of the team that season.

&uot;I had the chance to roll Toomer’s Corner twice while I was at Auburn,&uot; Briggs said. &uot;The first time was when the basketball team won the SEC Championship in 1984 and the second was when Bo won the Heisman.&uot;

Briggs also had the opportunity to play against other players that went on to the NFL such as Boomer Esiason, Deon Sanders and Cornelius Bennett.

Going Pro

Following his final season at Auburn, Briggs was selected to play in the Ricoh-Japan Bowl in Japan.

After 15 days in Japan, Briggs returned to the states to prepare for the NFL Draft, which included shoulder surgery and another knee operation.

Prior to the Draft, Briggs met his wife Roxie at a friends’ wedding. A couple of months later the two began dating and later married in 1990. They have a daughter, Kandiss, 10 and a son, Champ, 26.

Briggs wasn’t selected in the 1988 NFL Draft, but opted to sign a free agent contract with the Dallas Cowboys after being offered by Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco, Cleveland and Cincinnati. The free agent contract was the equivalent of a fourth-round draft pick since the Cowboys only received three picks.

During the Cowboys’ first pre-season game, Briggs re-injured his knee and decided to hang up his cleats.

&uot;I just couldn’t afford to do that rehab again, so I retired,&uot; Briggs said. &uot;I loved the game.&uot;

Briggs said having the opportunity to play in the NFL was a great experience.

&uot;I knew I could play at that level and that was enough for me,&uot; Briggs said. &uot;I think I did the right thing because I’m putting off knee replacement surgery everyday.&uot;

Coaching Days

Briggs returned to Greenville after his injury with Dallas in search of a job.

Allen Whittle, who was principal at Greenville Elementary School at the time, offered Briggs a job as physical education teacher and he accepted. After a year, it was football time once again.

Briggs didn’t have to search long to find a job in football. University of North Alabama Head Football Coach and former Auburn positions coach Bobby Wallace offered him a coaching job and he gladly accepted.

At UNA, Briggs began learning what it took to be a coach.

&uot;I had to learn as a coach that not everybody can do what you think is deemed easy,&uot; Briggs said. &uot;I was finishing my playing career and had to learn that other guys are not as athletic as you think they are. I had to learn how to be a coach first.&uot;

UNA won back-to-back-to-back Division II National Championships from 1993-95 while Briggs was on staff. During that time, the Lions compiled a 41-1 record, suffering its only loss to Division 1AA powerhouse Youngstown State by one point. The Lions also won three Gulf South Conference titles.

While at UNA, Briggs received his bachelor’s degree and masters degree in physical education.

Meet the President

Following the Lions’ third consecutive national title, the coaching staff and seniors had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. and meet President Bill Clinton.

Briggs said having the opportunity to shake Clinton’s hand was a remarkable experience.

&uot;Regardless of what people said he’s done, to meet the President, to meet that stature of a guy and for him to make those children feel like they were the best in the world was a nice gesture,&uot; Briggs said. &uot;He’s an intelligent man. I was really impressed with him. It was a once in a lifetime deal.&uot;

Briggs said Clinton impressed him most by reeling off Coach Wallace’s stats along with UNA’s quarterback, linebacker and running back stats.

Briggs continued to coach at UNA through the 2000 season before accepting the head-coaching job at his alma mater in 2001.

Home Sweet Home

Briggs has compiled an 18-17 record in the three years as head coach. He said it’s nice to be back home, but it has its challenges.

&uot;People don’t understand that there’s a whole lot more that goes into coaching than what you see on TV,&uot; Briggs said. &uot;If it was as easy as it looks on TV everybody would be winning championships. You have to take in account the players you have, the positions you have and how well they can play those positions. I guess the bottom line is that you’ve got to remember these are children. They’ll have more bad days than they will good days.&uot;

Briggs said having a good upbringing and great coaches throughout the years helped him to get where he is today.

&uot;At times it can be a little difficult because everybody knows you and want to give you advice or tell you little secrets to do,&uot; Briggs said. &uot;Of course, as a coach you have your own formula. I’ve had the privilege of learning a lot of football from who I think are some great coaches.&uot;