VALDOSTA –– Valdosta Wildcats head coach Alan Rodemaker addressed the media at ITG Next Media Day on Saturday.
The fourth-year head coach of the ‘Cats discussed a variety of topics regarding his team, the 2019 schedule and the unique dynamic of coaching his son, senior quarterback Tate Rodemaker.
On the ups and downs his team has faced since winning the state championship in 2016:
“I always tell people, you never know about your football team until you’re about Game 5,” Rodemaker said. “Last year, we went into the season with nine kids returning on offense. We had two kids returning on defense. You saw, we never really recovered from the guys that we lost on defense that were two-year starters –– a lot of those guys were starters in the state championship game in 2016 and they played really good defense in 2017.
“Last year, we had nine guys left on offense. (Offensive coordinator) Josh Crawford comes in and does an excellent job with the offense and we lead the state in a lot of categories, especially throwing the football –– we passed for over 3,700 yards and had an excellent year offensively. By far, it was the worst year we’ve had defensively since I’ve been here in 10 years. We’ve got three kids returning on offense, we have eight kids returning on defense so I think the challenge is right there in front of us. We need to make sure with these three guys that we find some guys around them to make them better and not struggle offensively all year with all the new faces. Defensively, I expect us to be so much better than we were last year.”
On the leadership of the players returning:
“As far as our leaders, first, it starts with our quarterback Tate Rodemaker –– he’s a returning starter and I don’t care if he’s my son or whatever. If you’ve got a quarterback that’s a returning starter, that’s a big deal in our league especially with the schedule we play,” Rodemaker said. “And then, Jaheim Bell is a leader on offense –– he’s going to play tight end and H-back for us. Both of those guys are heavily recruited guys but more importantly, Jaheim’s a three-year starter, Tate’s a two-year starter. And then everybody else –– Tarrell Roberts is our wide out that’s a returning starter –– is brand new.”
On what it means to coach his son, who recently committed to the University of South Florida:
“Tate and I, we have a different relationship –– we’re very close at home, but when we get to the field, most of our players will tell you I’m tougher on him than anybody else,” Rodemaker said of his son playing for him. “I think the reason he’s done so well is because I don’t coach him. I’m more of a defensive guy. I focus all my time and energy on special teams and defense so Tate will hear me from time to time coaching but most of the time, I stay away from it.
“In fact, both of my sons –– Bo and Tate, my oldest son Bo is at Georgia Southern now –– neither one of those guys play defense so that’s been easier. But it’s special. It’s really special to have your son on the football team. I think whenever he leaves, it’s going to be different because for me, I want to do our best. Not only for our team, but I want to make sure he finishes a good senior year and I want to make sure he’s doing all the things he’s supposed to do as a leader. My wife curtails it a lot. We talk about it a lot at home, probably a lot more than I should, but it’s special. Hopefully, it’s not December and we’re done before I realize it’s special. I’m going to try my best to enjoy this senior year.”
On an area the team will stand out in this season:
“We are young,” Rodemaker said. “We’ve got six starters on offense that are seniors and we’ve got three projected starters on defense that are seniors. That’s the good part about it. Last year, I thought it was an excellent year for us offensively. I thought special teams had a decent year. This year, I expect to dominate a little bit more on special teams like we have in the past.”
One of the biggest things Rodemaker and his staff have preached to the team this offseason has been commitment. Though the team dealt with some players quitting the team or transferring this offseason, the ‘Cats coaching staff is working to build togetherness among the group that remains.
“One of the challenges of our team this year is just finding a way to invest and love one another,” Rodemaker said. “Our motto this year is one word: Others. We’ve tried to do things. We’ve got a couple of events coming up the next two weeks where we’re taking our seniors off, taking our team off away from Valdosta and trying to grow as a football team and get our kids to build and invest in one another and become a real team.”
The ‘Cats open the 2019 season at home Aug. 23 against Jackson High School out of Atlanta.
During his opening statement Saturday, Rodemaker conveniently neglected to mention the 2019 schedule –– mainly due to how tough the schedule has been for his teams since he became head coach in 2016.
Eventually, Rodemaker shed some light on this season’s slate as well as the dominance of Region 1-6A.
“I didn’t get into our region a lot –– I try to forget about our schedule [laughs],” Rodemaker said of the coming season. “Since I’ve been a head coach, we’ve had the hardest schedule regardless of classification and that’s no different this year. We open up with Jackson then we’ve got Tift the next week. Then we have Bradwell Institute the next week and then we have Colquitt. We play Beaufort out of South Carolina and then we finish up our non-region season with Lowndes. I think Lowndes has about 50 seniors. Colquitt is Colquitt. And Tift’s gotten us the last two years. All three of those guys have gotten past the quarterfinals the last two years in 7A. We’ve got an open week after Lowndes and we enter our region and our region, I don’t know if there’s been a region that’s dominated high school football like ours has the last four years.
“We won it in ‘16 and then in ‘17 Lee County won it and they played a region foe in the state championship in Coffee County and beat them in overtime in the state championship and last year, Lee County won it again and played another region foe Northside-Warner Robins in the state championship so in the last three years, we’ve got three state champions in our region, two other finalists and another semifinalist because Northside-Warner Robins was the semifinalist when we won it. I imagine that the 6A state championship will come through our region again.”