A Conversation with Head Football Coach John Hunt
Last Friday Woodward head football coach John Hunt logged his 100th win at the school. The game concluded in stunning fashion, including 48-yard touchdown pass that gave Woodward the lead with 47 seconds left in the game, followed by a stop of the Marist running back on the 1-yard line on the final play of the game.
We took the opportunity to sit down with Coach Hunt and asked him to reflect on his time coaching at Woodward.
What has been the proudest moment of your time coaching at Woodward thus far?
Well, thinking back, there were a couple. One in particular, a few years back, when we went into Cartersville. Cartersville was obviously a well-established powerhouse of a team. It was a quarterfinal game where we were able to go into their backyard and we kept fighting. At the very end we were able to score and to win. I think we led maybe one minute of the game, and it happened to be the last minute. So that was a real big win for us, and for the kids, and the coaches, and the program itself. I was really proud of our effort there that day.
There’s another one off the field. I can’t remember which year it was, but it was about four or five years ago. On signing day we signed about 14 or 15 kids, I believe, to play college at the next level.
Both of those were proud moments for me and for the coaches at Woodward.
What has been the most challenging part of your coaching career at Woodward?
Probably the most challenging thing that we’ve just had to deal with at Woodward is the GHSA constantly moving us up in class and sort of penalizing us. It’s completely out of our control, so you feel sort of helpless. Generally we’re a small AAA type of school as far as enrollment, but they bumped us up to 4A. We were able to hang in there and compete even at 3A. Now they’ve bumped us up to 4A and I still think we’re able to compete in 5A until we get into the playoffs. Then we’re just outmatched. And now the talk is to bump us up to 6A or 7A and that’s just completely punitive. I think it’s unsafe for our kids. And the fact that they’ve done this and they’re going to do this and there’s nothing we can say about it is a struggle for me.
How do you help your players strike a balance between on-the-field and off-the-field pursuits?
From the beginning, setting an expectation of excellence on and off the field. Going back to my initial interview with Dr. Gulley 10 or 11 years ago, I told him that I expect an equally high level of academics and play on the field with no exceptions. Don’t put one above the other. A lot of people say “Academics is always first,” and I agree. But at the same time, I think you ought to approach everything in your life with the same attitude of excellence. So I just let the kids know at the beginning that that’s what’s expected, and they’ve done well.
What accomplishments would you like to see the team achieve in the near future?
Each team is obviously different. The dynamics of each team change every single year. Our goal as coaches is to coach these kids and watch them grow and play up to their ability, potentially even exceed their ability. And if we do that, obviously, the ultimate goal would be to win another state championship. It’s been quite a long time in Woodward’s history since we’ve done that. When I first got here we kind of got stuck in the second round. Then we kind of broke that barrier. We’ve been to the quarterfinals many times. We’ve been to the semis more than once. We haven’t quite played for that championship game or won that championship game. And that’s always an ultimate goal for all of our players and teams and coaches is to get to that state championship and win.
What are your goals at this stage of your career?
That’s a good question. Early on in my coaching career I moved around a tremendous amount; many different stops, many different states. This is the longest I’ve ever been at one place. This is my 11th year. And as long as we have a chance to win on Friday night and we continue to get great Woodward kids in here to coach and great coaches to support the kids, the challenge is there every single year to win and try to win a state championship for those kids. And that kind of keeps me going. And I enjoy it. For example, the kids this year are fantastic. It makes it easy to come to work. And we’re blessed with good assistant coaches. So as long as we continue to have that and have a chance to win on Friday night, I expect to stay here for quite some time.