Coffee High School
That's how second-year Coffee High head coach Ken Eldridge describes himself.
words may be a little self-effacing, they do highlight one quality that has been integral to his
success as a head coach: his
knowledge of football.
First and foremost, Coach Eldridge is a student of the game.
Born and raised in Douglas, football has been an important part of his
life for most of his
came up through the Coffee High program, starting out his
career as a Trojan on the defensive line.
It didn't take the coaching staff long to realize that he his
gridiron home would be somewhere other than the line.
As a player, Coach Eldridge showed strong leadership skills and a great deal of athleticism.
was soon taking snaps in practice as an underclassman.
By his senior season, Ken was the Trojans' starting quarterback.
wasn't expected to do much that year, but the Trojans
had a surprisingly strong season and came within two points of being a legitimate state champion contender.
A big part of that success was due to the leadership Ken Eldridge
The foundation for the 1990 team's success was forged during camp.
The August heat was stifling, and on the last day of camp, the number one offense and number one defense squared off in the final scrimmage.
About 10 minutes into the practice, Ken
took a snap and rolled out.
James Sirmans, who went on to play football at Valdosta State University
, shook his blocker and punished Ken
with a bone-jarring tackle.
In the second half, Coffee utilized a pop-gun style of play, which Ken
threw the ball at will, and turned in one of the best passing performances of any Coffee High quarterback.
In the process, he
helped bring the Trojans back into the game.
Coffee scored 19 second-half points, and eventually held a scant 29-28 lead late in the game.
With time winding down, Valdosta's ghosts emerged, and after a Wildcats' punt pinned the Trojans
inside their own five, the Valdosta defense picked up a safety and won the game 30-29.
It was a heart-breaking loss, for sure.
But that team had given the Coffee fans something they hadn't much of when playing Valdosta - hope.
And a large part of that resulted from the leadership and poise Ken
displayed in the second half.
ran that offense to perfection.
I'd go to war with him right now," says one former teammate.
Now, 19 years later, the Trojans
are Ken Eldridge's
team once again.
hopes to use the same leadership qualities that made Coffee a contender in 1990 to turn them into a state champion threat once again.
On Dec. 16, 2007, the Coffee County Board of Education
named Ken head coach of the Coffee High Trojans
In many ways, it was a dream job for Ken
After going to college and paying his dues as an assistant at several stops around South Georgia, he was a head coach.
And not just any head coach - he
was coaching his
alma mater in one of the premier high school football conferences in the state.
After graduating in 1991, Ken
turned down an opportunity to play football at a small college in Missouri.
He graduated from Valdosta State University with plans to teach and coach.
While attending VSU
had landed a job with the Atkinson County Rebels, where he
coached defensive backs for three years.
finished at VSU
found a position on the Jeff Davis County Yellow Jackets' coaching staff.
He served as defensive coordinator in his final three years there.
Following the 2002-2003 school year, Ken
decided to move on from Jeff Davis.
had played under Coach Royal, and his
old coach needed an assistant.
spoke with Coach Royal and considered where the Coffee program was at the time.
felt good about the opportunity and came back home.
accepted the Coffee job and coached running backs in 2003.
In 2004, he
coached the defensive backs, a position he
held for four years.
During that time, Ken received an offer to become an assistant at one of the state's premier programs.
It was a tempting offer, but he
turned it down because he
was pleased with his
situation at Coffee.
After just one year, Coach Odom promoted Ken to defensive coordinator.
"That was a great learning experience for me," says Coach Eldridge.
They knew Ken was a good coach, but after all, this is the toughest region in the state.
didn't have any head coaching experience; was he
up to the task?
The controversy only motivated Ken
all the more.
had to succeed.
career in Coffee County would be over.
But if he won, he could stay at Coffee High for the remainder of his career.
, failure wasn't an option.
"I never really thought about not succeeding.
That's not the way I was raised," he
After Coffee "lost" a preseason scrimmage to the Fitzgerald Purple Hurricanes, he
came under even more scrutiny.
wasn't worried one bit, and neither were the people close to him.
The Coffee staff had a game plan that night, and it wasn't to go out and dominate Fitzgerald.
wanted the team to try a few things, experiment a little and get his
players some minutes on the field.
first interscholastic game as a head coach, he
saw what his
team could do, and went back to the drawing board to fix the problems.
Coach Eldridge's Trojans made the playoffs as a number-four seed and faced Stephenson in the first round.
During the Stephenson game, Coach Eldridge showed his willingness to be patient and play to his team's strengths.
Late in the game, the score was knotted at 14.
Coffee was driving and had a chance to go for a big play and win the game in regulation.
definitely had their choice of big-time playmakers who could break loose for a game-clinching play.
However, Coach Eldridge analyzed what had taken place that night.
knew the defense could stop Stephenson.
The offense had moved the ball all night and he
felt like Coffee had a good chance to win in overtime.
played conservatively at the end of the fourth quarter, much to the chagrin of the Coffee fans.
"I heard a few boos that night," he
But Coach Eldridge's instincts were right.
Coffee kicked a game-winning field goal in overtime to win 17-14 and advance to the second round.
decision to go for the win in overtime wasn't difficult - he
knew the situation and he
was willing to trust his
knowledge of the game even though it wasn't the most popular decision at the time.
went on to defeat Chapel Hill the next week before losing in the quarterfinals to Peachtree Ridge.
Coffee finished with a 9-4 record and its deepest playoff run in over two decades.
Coach Eldridge had survived his first year, and he had proven many of the naysayers wrong.
But what about 2009?
To Coach Eldridge, the key group is his sophomores.
"They're really going to have to play well," he
Coach Eldridge is also committed to academics, and one of his key initiatives as head coach is to narrow the gap between academics and athletics.
players' grades throughout the year and encourages all of them to take care of business in the classroom.
As a result, the number of kids who were in grade trouble when spring practice rolled around was down significantly.
"Very few people are able to play sports for a living.
You've got to be prepared for the workforce, and that comes through education," he