As he enters the first full season of his second run as Randolph County’s head coach, he sees a team with three returning starters on both sides of the ball. He sees a team that endured unusual drama at the end of last season.
It’s time to start over.
“We’ve just all got to get up and move and, hopefully, build something here,” Prestridge said. “We’re trying to build it like Coach Watters used to have it.”
Watters won 144 games with three state runner-up finishes from 1979-2000 at Randolph County, and Prestridge coached five playoff teams there from 2001-07.
With Prestridge serving as interim coach for the final three games of 2012, the Tigers finished 5-5 and made their first playoff appearance since 2006, losing to Woodland.
But that playoff breakthrough was only the beginning of starting over. Not only did Randolph County lose so many starters, including quarterback Ty Sparks, now at Piedmont, but there was an untimely coaching change.
Randy Sparks was relieved of duties after the eighth game, a 33-27 loss to Lanett. Prestridge, who had followed family ties to Parrish as defensive coordinator from 2008-10 then came back to Randolph County for the same job in 2011, was promoted to interim head coach.
Prestridge lost the interim tag during the offseason, and the new beginning began. For the few returning veterans, the transition was tough.
“It hurt a lot of us,” said wide receiver Willis Knight, cousin of former Randolph County great Ezekial Knight and one of four seniors on this year’s team. “A lot of us had a good bond with Coach Sparks, and then you’ve got to think about his son (Ty), too.”
With each new coach comes a new way of doing things, and a 39-man roster has learned that in the intervening months. It’s all about re-establishing a sense of toughness and work-ethic that he and a staff of former Tigers once knew.
“‘Coach P’ likes to run the old plays, but we work harder in the weight room,” Knight said.
Prestridge said toughness is the first building block in getting Randolph County’s aura back.
“When Coach Watters was here a few years ago, people respected Randolph County,” he said. “It wasn’t fear, but people really didn’t want to play Randolph County.
“They knew we were hard-nosed. We were well-coached. Everybody was going to have self-discipline and be disciplined on the field. I remember those years, playing for him, so, hopefully, we can get that back.”
In terms of personnel, Randolph County has few obvious answers. Returning starters include Knight at receiver and cornerback, Keith Clark at guard and defensive tackle, running back Reco Hannah and defensive tackle Levi Phillips.
Quarterback ranks highest among question marks, with junior transfer Elijah McFarland from Temple, Ga., battling sophomore John Mark Prestridge and junior Lane Henderson. If not quarterback, McFarland is likely to play receiver.
But that’s just one of many question marks.
“We’re pretty young, so it’s basically a rebuilding process, but these guys have got a lot of heart,” Knight said. “That’s the thing. Last year, we didn’t have heart, but this year, I see some heart out here.
“We might be young, but I feel like we’ll come to play on Friday night.”
Randolph County at a glance
Head coach: Pat Prestridge (71-51 in 12 seasons as head or interim coach; 54-31 entering eighth full season at Randolph County).
Last year’s record: 5-5, 4-3 and fourth in Class 2A, Region 5. Lost to Woodland in first round of playoffs.
Outlook: It’s starting-over time for the Tigers, who return three starters on both sides of the ball and lost key producers like quarterback Ty Sparks, who transferred to Piedmont. Pat Prestridge won a 2A title with Randolph County in 2003 and begins his second run as the Tigers’ head coach, after replacing Randy Sparks as interim coach eight games into 2012. Prestridge hopes to re-establish the culture that produced five playoff teams in his first stretch as the Tigers’ head coach, from 2001-07.
Aug. 30, at Gaston
Sept. 6, at Isabella
Sept. 13, at Lafayette
Sept. 20, vs. Reeltown
Sept. 27, at Woodland
Oct. 4, vs. Montgomery Academy
Oct. 11, at Lanett
Oct. 18, at Horseshoe Bend
Oct. 25, vs. Prattville Christian
Nov. 1, vs. Cherokee County