MONTGOMERY – Football coach Russell Jacoway’s first football team at Sand Rock High School was 0-10 in 1983. That team, however, laid the groundwork for much better things to come.
Two short years later the Wildcats rolled to a 15-0 record and the Class 1A state football championship. And for the rest of his head-coaching career, Jacoway’s teams became the model of consistency – being the best they could be year after year.
Jacoway is one of 12 individuals in the Class of 2017 being inducted into the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame. The Hall of Fame banquet will be Monday, March 20, at the Montgomery Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center.
A native of Fort Payne, Jacoway graduated from Collinsville High School in 1975 and Auburn University in 1978.
He began his teaching and coaching career in Blakely (GA) in 1978. His first job was as a football and basketball assistant and head coach of girls track at Early County High School. From there he went to Smiths Station as head coach of boys’ junior high basketball and varsity assistant in football and basketball. That led to his first varsity head-coaching position two years later at Sand Rock High School. He went on to serve the Cherokee County school as head football coach, athletic director and physical education teacher for 32 years (1983-2014).
His career was dotted by many superlatives including: 24 state playoff appearances and a 228-132 career football coaching record; the 1985 state championship and a 1997 Class 2A state runner-up; six seasons with 10 or more wins and only three losing seasons in 32 years.
More than 50 players were named to All-State teams. Sand Rock’s football stadium was named Russell Jacoway Stadium in 1999.
Sand Rock Principal Ben East said Jacoway’s example of excellence showed in the students he coached.
“His energy, intensity, desire to be successful and concern for his players were just as strong last season as it was when he began his coaching career in 1983,” East said. “As athletic director for Sand Rock, Coach Jacoway has been a strong supporter of all school teams and athletes. I rarely remember attending a sporting event at Sand Rock where he was not in attendance. By example, he stressed academic success in the classroom and taught young men how to become successful husbands, fathers and productive members of the community.
“I am honored to have worked with Coach Jacoway, and I consider him a personal friend who leads by example and models the values, beliefs and work ethic that makes our world a better place.”
Jim Tom Stimpson, a member of the 1985 state championship team, recalled Sand Rock as a place in need of focus and structure when Jacoway arrived in 1983.
“Myself and many others desperately need structure,” he said. “(Coach Jacoway) was a fixed point, someone to anchor to. Qhoting Bill Curry’s high school football coach at College Park (GA), Bill Badgett, ‘Football is life marked off in 100 yards.’ This resonates with me and perfectly describes what Coach Jacoway means to our school and our community.”
Stimpson said Jacoway installed a solid strength and conditioning program from the ground up when he arrived.
”We were using weights that were handmade and welded together in the school’s Ag shop.” He said, “They were weighed after they were built. None of them turned out to be even numbers. He helped get us standardized Olympic equipment, gave us a training program and a way to track improvement. He also implanted a nutrition program for athletes to promote optimal weight and strength levels for football. He gave us goals and pushed us.”
Stimpson said Jacoway taught much, much more, however.
“He taught us to excel at football, but that’s not what has enhanced my life and the lives of so many more student athletes,” Stimpson said. “He gave us the tools to do life, to deal with adversity, and to overcome disappointment and setback. He gave us the confidence to face adversity, not just on the field of play but the game of life. The intangibles he gave us can never be taken from us.
“There are a handful of men that shaped and molded me into the man I am today, and Coach Jacoway is one of those men. He gave us something to believe in.”
Stimpson recalled those early years with pride.
“[In 1985] we were just two years removed from the 0-10 season. To position our team for success, you wouldn’t think at 140 pounds and 5-foot-5 I would have been the most likely selection for starting running back. But Coach believed in me. I think he believed in me before I believed in myself.
“He made us all believe in each other and in the team. That’s the greatest gift he gave me and the greatest gift you can give any adolescent is to have them see that you believe in them. It literally can change their lives! God gave me the ability to run, and Coach Jacoway gave me the chance. I have also been the statistician for Coach Jacoway for 18 years, and I’ve seen him do it with student-athletes year in and year out. He could see potential even if you couldn’t, and he could get every bit of it out of you.”
Jacoway received statewide Coach of the Year awards in 1985, 1986 and 1997. He was inducted into the Cherokee County Sports Hall of Fame in 2014. The success of the 1985 state championship team has been chronicled in a book entitled Fire on the Mountain by Douglass Scott Wright.
Saturday: Eleventh installment of the Hall of Fame series: Football Coach Dwight Sanderson.