Thursday, June 30, 2011
Tribute to great coach
Keith Wicker was my kind of coach. He was old school – tough but tender.
Coach Wicker pushed his players to be the best they could be. He would yell at them if need be – sometimes getting in their faces with those instructions. But at the same time, he cared for them greatly. And they gave all-out effort in return.
One daddy told me Coach Wicker rode his teenager pretty hard one day at football practice, but as the young man left the locker room, Coach shouted, “Hey, we OK?” The high school athlete smiled. The player and his coach were more than OK. They were fine.
That’s because Coach Wicker taught much more than the Xs and Os of football. He taught respect. He taught discipline. He taught character. He taught life’s lessons.
Coach Wicker died Tuesday, June 21, after a brief but courageous battle with an aggressive cancer. A celebration of his life was held Friday, June 24, in Oxford.
He worked at Marshall Academy five years, four of those as head football coach. His record as head coach was tremendous – 36-12. He put Marshall football on the map in Mississippi. The Pats made the state playoffs all four years, including an amazing run to the state championship game in 2007. It was only the second title game appearance in the school’s history.
Ironically, Marshall’s opponent in the state championship contest was Coach Wicker’s former school, Centreville Academy, where he served 16 years as an assistant to his good friend Bill Hurst. It was the Tigers’ 10th time in the state title game – going for their seventh state crown. The Patriots were big underdogs.
But, no matter the opponent, Coach Wicker was always confident in his guys.
“I think we can play with them,” he told me for the newspaper.
The Patriots put a big scare in the Tigers before falling 36-21. It was a great game.
But my favorite Wicker-coached game came in the playoffs in 2009. Marshall, playing at home, scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to stun Leake 28-21.
“I’ve never been involved in one like that,” he said after the game. “It was unreal – good gracious.”
Coach was full of trick plays. And he had a knack for using them at the right time.
In the fourth quarter, trailing 21-7, his team switched to its newly-installed “magnum set” – also known as the double wing. The Patriots had not even practiced it until the week of the playoff game. But they used it to score 21 points in just over five minutes, including one touchdown play that Coach Wicker said, “we drew up in the dirt.”
He was also the master of the fake punt. Opponents had better be on their toes – at all times.
Coach Wicker had fire. He had fight. He had fun. So did his players.
Back in November, I called Coach Wicker when I learned he was resigning due to health reasons.
“I had to tell the boys (MA players) first,” he said. “When I stepped in four years ago to lead this program, I didn’t ask them to like me. The first thing was to earn their respect. The liking would come along later. I think we accomplished that.”
The Patriots more than “liked” Coach Wicker. They loved him. He taught them well, and for that, the Marshall Academy family is most grateful.
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