New coach Gregory has team’s attention

Published 6:26 pm Tuesday, August 10, 2010

At Georgiana’s Picture Day on Friday, a team of kids was being kids. One row sat, one row knelt and one row stood. All lined up for their photograph wearing bright blue uniforms, but still jostling, still talking, still joking.

Kids being kids and getting louder.

A whistle blew. A big man in a blue shirt turned around to face those kids, his kids, his team. He’d been talking to someone and had grown tired of what he was hearing.

“Listen,” he said. “You all need to keep the talking down and do what these people tell you to do.”

He said something else about what would happen if the talking continued. A warning. And a promise. Something that told those kids they needed to shut up right now or face the consequences because you can sense in Shawn Gregory a man that believes in consequences.

If it had been night, you would have heard the crickets chirping.

Gregory is in his first year as head coach for Georgiana. He was hired in May and immediately started working to invest himself into the community. A planned celebrity golf tournament didn’t pan out, (“we started too late on it,” said Gregory), but the team’s numbers are up this season, from 25 players to 36 players.

“It’s coming along a little slow,” he said. “But we’ll get there.”

Mayor Mike Middleton – who also doubles as the team statistician during football season – has been particularly impressed with the coach’s work ethic and attitude.

“Some coaches we’ve had have come in saying they want to do this and they want to do that,” said Middleton. “But Coach Gregory says, ‘here’s what I’m going to do.’ And he does it.”

Which is not surprising, said Middleton. It’s something the search committee, which included Middleton, principal Joseph Dean, board member Johnny Lee, and commissioner Jerry Hartin, felt when they initially interviewed Gregory for the job vacated by former coach Shane Smothers.

“A good man,” said Dean, whose immediate reaction when Gregory met with the committee was: “I know him.”

Dean played against Gregory when the two men played for Alabama State and Jackson State, respectively.

Gregory met the team and started with discipline. No sagging pants. No earrings. To build team unity, Gregory held a lock-in earlier this month and recruited local eateries to feed the players.

But the first-year coach has his work cut out for him this season.

The Panthers open at Class 3A Luverne and are in the same 1A region with defending state champion Brantley and in-county rival McKenzie. The players will also be adjusting to Gregory’s spread offense, which was implemented over the summer.

There’s talent, though. Rickey Everett played quarterback last season, but could move over the wide receiver, and Keon Binion is a bruiser at running back. Adrian Paige had a solid spring game at linebacker for Georgiana.

The Panthers play at Luverne on Aug. 27.