It’s all about the helmets for first-year Belaire High head football coach Claude Coleman — at least until the games start.
“The more helmets I order, the more I know I’m doing my job,” Coleman said. “We started out with 51 helmets in the spring. We didn’t have enough for the spring game. Now we have over 90.
“In order for us to compete, we have to have numbers. We’re building the numbers, knowing that will only make us better.”
The former Capitol coach said the reason for the change is … change.
“Sometimes people look for change, and they want change,” Coleman said. “And they see there’s a guy coming in who will change the program around and want something different. Now that’s not to say that the coaches here before didn’t before do a good job. I have respect for coach (Keith) Woods. I think he’s a good man and a good coach.
“I’ve coached in this area for quite some time, going back to Park Forest (middle school), and I live in the community. I’m familiar with the kids who come from both the Park Forest area and the Istrouma area. I know the kids who live here, and I know their parents and that helps me.”
When Coleman talks about building numbers, it isn’t just lip service. The Bengals had 90 players out for football in the spring, a total he said is more than double the total of players who finished the 2014 season.
Class 4A Belaire is coming off a 2-8 season and enjoyed some modest success under Woods. Lack of depth is an issue, and it’s also something Coleman is familiar. Class 2A Capitol typically dressed out 25 players while posting a winning record in 2013.
With the numbers in place, Coleman said the key has been developing what’s under those helmets.
“The second day we put on full gear in the spring and I saw the skill level and the way we hit, just the technique, I knew we’d be fine,” Coleman said. “It was trying to piece it together and putting kids in the right places from there.
“Changing the mentality is the main focus. Making these kids believe they can win. … That’s the biggest challenge. The talent is here. We’ve got size. I’m not one of those coaches who is going to sit back and say we’re young and poor mouth and say we can’t win. It takes hard work. The only way you can have positive results is through hard work. They’re working hard.”
There are other key differences for the Bengals. Coleman’s run first, pass second philosophy will replace Belaire’s spread offense most of the time. The multiple defensive alignment is new too.
“We came out and had fun learning the (new) defense,” senior defensive back Darel Bell said.
“Just being consistent and getting more practice in, more conditioning and more work was different. Last year it wasn’t all that intense in the weight room. This year we got intense in the weight room and with our running.”
Junior Tywonne Harris, another defensive back, added, “I like to play a lot of man-to-man, and we’ll do that. The biggest change I’ve seen is all the players are buying into the program.”
Coleman lists the defensive backfield as one of the Bengals’ strengths. The youth of a freshman/sophomore quarterback combo that has never taken a varsity snap is the biggest question.
But Coleman is confident.
“Some people think I’m cocky, and I’m not,” Coleman said.
“I’m confident, and I want the players to be that way, too. I think we’re going to surprise people.”