Ohatchee coach Nathan Wehunt works out some of his players at practice this week. (Photo by Stephen Gross/Anniston Star)
Nathan Wehunt always has believed off-season work is what gets high school football teams where they need to be, “then the fall will take care of itself.”
After serving as Cherokee County’s defensive coordinator, including for the Warriors 2009 Class 4A state championship season, Wehunt certainly knows success. However, when he was hired to take over Ohatchee’s head coaching job only six days before the Indians’ 2012 spring game against Weaver, he faced immediate challenges.
He didn’t have that long off-season he wanted that would help build his team. Now, as Wehunt works toward his second season at Ohatchee, he has the time to develop his players -- and it is yielding a bit of optimism for the coach.
“It’s night and day from when we took over,” he said Tuesday. “I tell them if we’re getting outworked then we’re getting beat. We’ve come a long way, but we have a ways to go.”
This is much different from a year ago when Wehunt was trying to prepare his team to face Weaver in the spring game.
“We were kind of behind the 8-ball to begin with,” Wehunt said. “We played Weaver and played a good first half. Although it was 21-0 at the end of the first half, it was only 7-0 with about four minutes left in the half, but we have some turnovers that they turned into scores.”
Despite the obvious letdown of losing the game, it was a new era at Ohatchee, and over the summer last year Wehunt saw the defense pick up quickly. However, there were still difficulties him entering a new county and school.
“Not knowing any of the kids at all, we wanted to figure out who could play,” he said. “You kind of get a different look at them because when you know somebody coming in you may know the kid or his parents, but coming here and not knowing anybody it gave us a chance to just look at them from an athletic standpoint. It was the only factor.”
Once Wehunt figured out his depth chart and the Indians hit the field, wins didn’t come quickly or easily in the fall. Ohatchee finished the year 2-8.
The long journey included losses in its first eight games, but Ohatchee started competing more and more from Week 6 on. Finally, in Week 9, Ohatchee not only won its first game of the season, a 67-6 final against Class 2A, Region 6 opponent Victory Christian, but also set the school record for most points scored in a game.
“We were competing a lot more than we had been,” running back Tristan Allen said. “Everyone was looking forward to playing even after we had some tough losses.”
After Ohatchee ended the 2012 season with a win over Gaylesville, the winning continued. Ohatchee scored a 20-7 win over region opponent Pleasant Valley at the 2013 JSU Spring Jamboree in April.
“We didn’t change anything as far as how we approached the game,” Wehunt said. “Last year, after we finished the year against Gaylesville on a Thursday, we gave them off Friday and went back to work that Monday. I think we would have one off day a week, so nothing changed. We’ve been hitting it as hard as we are right now.”
Considering the work Ohatchee is putting in November through August with Wehunt on campus, there are high hopes for the Indians’ program despite the seventh-place finish in the eight-team region last year.
Wehunt having a year on the job has made “all the difference in the world” off the field, and the strides on the field may show in the fall.
“Our motto this year is ÔExpect to Win.’ When a team comes here or we go on the road, I want our mentality to be we are winning, not wondering how bad we’re going to get beat,” Wehunt said. “After winning the last two last year and the spring game this year, we’re preaching this three-game winning streak, and we don’t want that to stop.”
Brandon Miller covers prep sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3575 or follow him on Twitter @bmiller_star.