Rodney Southern has a blue print for high school football success.
The Huntsville head coach built Belton High School’s program from 2007 to 2014 (four playoff appearances). He did the same at in Marshall, Texas, where he spearheaded that program in the early 2000s, leading the Mavs to back-to-back Class 4A state title games in 2004 and ’05.
So it may not be surprising what he’s accomplished at Huntsville, leading the Hornets to their first regional final in nearly 30 years.
“It’s all about stability,” he said. “There’s been some coaching instability here in the past and we changed all that. We’ve been with these kids for five years. We built a plan to integrate what we do here at the high school levels down into the middle schools.
“We have a talented group of seniors and our junior class was our biggest class of incoming freshman when we got here. This year, it’s been the combination of those two classes and their experience that we attribute to our success.”
The Hornets have stung some Class 5A giants in the postseason, namely Manvel and his former team Marshall. Now, can they outclass Fort Bend Marshall tonight?
“The No. 1 challenge is speed,” he said. “This is the fastest team we are going to see. They QB and running back are special. If you make a mistake with them, they can take it 80-yards on you on one play.”
Huntsville counters with a pretty talented defense led by Texas-commit T’Vondra Sweat. The 6-foot-5, 275-pound defensive end can disrupt an offense.
“He’s so impactful,” Southern said. “He allows us to do some different things on defense, schematically. It’s really led to Briceon Hays having a big season for us on the other side of the defensive line.
“T is just fun to be around,” he laughs. “He’s always joking, laughing and being a good leader. But don’t forget, he’s an elite talent.”
While Sweat captains the defense, Southern’s son Matthew runs the offense. The junior has thrown for over 3,000 yards this season with weapons like Jaylon Griffin at WR.
“This is my 17th year as a head coach and my son just turned 18-years old,” he said. “He has grown up inside a fieldhouse and on a football field. He just doesn’t know any different. What’s also helped his development is that I have had the same offensive coordinator for the past 17 years also. They talk the same language dating back to Pee Wee football.”
With Southern firmly at the help, Huntsville is on solid football footing for years to come.
“Winning like this validates what we’ve been doing the past five years,” he said. “We’ve asked them to do things out of their comfort-zone and they’ve done it. We’ve asked them to run track or power lift in the offseason. We want our guys to commit every day to getting better. That's very hard when there has not been that culture before you arrived.
“Now, look where we are today? If you listen and follow our coaching, good things will happen,” he said.