New head coach excited about opportunity


WOODLAWN — For newly appointed head coach Zach Branch, the biggest goal for this fall is to try to keep the games close and avoid being ‘mercy-ruled’ almost every game.

“I want to do good as a first-year head coach,” Branch said. “But I’m a realist and I know ‘good’ means playing somebody closer and not getting mercy-ruled.

“I’m not going to determine it by if we beat anybody.”

Woodlawn has won just two games in the last two years and last year the Bears were shutout five times. Their only win was at the end of the year when the Bears defeated Hermitage 50-14.

It might not be any better this year as Woodlawn’s biggest challenge — besides its tough schedule — is the low numbers showing up to play.

“For our senior high and junior high, we only have 16 people for each team,” Branch said. “We are running into some small classes right now.”

According to Branch, the whole seventh grade class for this fall only has about 10 or 12 boys in the whole grade.

“It is just difficult,” Branch said.

Woodlawn’s schedule includes games against Bearden and Junction City — who were picked to finish first and second in Class 2A.

“The conference we play in, I would compare it to the SEC West,” Branch said. “Last year, Bearden and Junction City played for the state championship and this year they are preseason 1 and 2.”

Junction City defeated Bearden 27-26 in the state championship.

“We are definitely top heavy in this conference,” Branch said. “But if we could slip in and be that fourth or fifth place team in the playoffs, we could go and maybe beat somebody who is one or two.”

Branch also credited the low numbers to the program’s lack of success in recent years. The last time Woodlawn had a winning season was in 2009 when the Bears won 8 games.

“If you are doing good in a program, they are going to want to do that,” Branch said. “If you are doing bad, they’ve got to really love it.”

Branch, who played football at Ridgecrest High School in Paragould, said when he was growing up, he loved to play.

“I grew up playing football,” Branch said. “We weren’t really that good, but I loved it so I played.

“In today’s day and time, kids are different. They want instant gratification. They want to win and win quick. If they don’t, they lose interest.”

Branch said because the baseball team has seen success the last few years, more kids are trying out for it instead of football.

“Plus you go out and play all these times and get mercy-ruled all the time; it is tough,” Branch said. “I admire the kids who do come out and play football.

“They are working their tails off for me and I appreciate that.”

In an effort to change their luck, Branch said he is going to try to insert a new offense and defense this year.

“The kids seem to be picking it up good and they seem excited about it,” Branch said. “We are trying to gradually work them in because we can’t afford to lose anybody due to the heat.”

After running out of the Dead-T offense at the beginning of last season, the Bears moved to a spread offense.

“We had some success as far as stats go but no victories,” Branch said. “We lost a lot of those specialty kids that would go out and catch the ball.

“This year we switched to a Double Wing to try to use more power and misdirection.”

Branch, who has been the defensive coordinator for the last two years, says he wants to try to control the clock and play “keep-away.”

“Our best defense is for us to have a good offense,” Branch said. “I hate for it to be that way, because I’ve always been a defensive coordinator since I’ve been in it.

“But that’s just how it is.”

Before he joined Woodlawn in 2010, Branch was an assistant at Warren as the defensive coordinator. He quit coaching in 2009 to finish a degree in accounting but after the birth of his son, Bryant, he joined Woodlawn after being asked by Ray Sessions.

“I decided that I wanted my son to grow up around a field house rather than an office,” Branch said. “Coaching is a great profession and I love it.”