Buying in

Darrel Keith is bringing back old-school football to Clinton, and linemen are paving the way

Clinton had a rough football season last fall, and Darrel Keith, the team’s new head coach, had a rough first season.

He started on the cusp of a global pandemic that left most of the world shut down and placed restrictions on his new team that made it even harder for him to settle in.

“Most of these kids I had to learn about them on the run,” said Keith. “It’s kind of odd because I didn’t really get to teach the basics or techniques. So basically I was putting kids into positions based on what they did the year before. In a way, it kind of helps you move faster through the process because it lets you know who can play and who can’t.”

Now, though, Keith said he’s recognized some of his mistakes from last year and better knows what to expect of the team — as well as what kind of team he thinks Clinton will ultimately become.

“I’ve went back and forth with ... my staff on this,” he said. “We talked about it again and again. We’re going to be a power football team. We’re built for power and that’s that. We’re just an old-school sort of team makeup with a lot of big guys and size. We’re skilled at some positions, but for the most part, we’re power. We’re trying to look at ways to modernize that, but in this case, old school is going to be good for us. It’s what’s going to be our strength.”

Keith said that his biggest mistake was not being more of himself, and being the kind of coach he wanted to be when he arrived.

“When I came in here, I played myself down,” he said. “With the COVID and everything else, I didn’t think coming in here like a drill sergeant would be advantageous for me, but I was wrong. I should have done it. I should have done it from the start. I wish I just would have been a smash-mouth, hard-nosed football coach from the start.”

Keith played running back and linebacker as a football player, and said he thinks that playing those positions shaped his outlook on the game greatly.

“Most linebacker guys want contact and they want to beat their opponent, not just in the sense of the play, but physically,” he said. “I think it would be impossible for it not to have affected how I look at the game.

“I’d absolutely love to still be using stuff like the Oklahoma drill. I understand that change has to come, but football is an American sport, and combative sports build character. Some people would love to see football go away entirely— or lessen itself. If we were an ant colony, football builds soldier ants – and we’re real short on soldier ants right now. We’re getting soft and that’s leaked into football, and it’s a travesty.”

Perhaps that’s part of the reason that, according to Keith, the players that have bought in the most to their new coach have been linemen.

“The offensive line has bought in whole-heartedly and most all the linebackers have,” he said. “The defensive guys, especially the big guys, have bought in. Some guys have had trouble because they want to be finesse, and that’s not what we are. It’s not what I want. A pass is a controlled fumble.”

Keith said that, for the players more hesitant to come around to his way of looking at the game, he’s trying to show that lessons they’ll learn will add value outside of football.

“We’re doing a lot of team-building to show them that bigger, better, faster is the way to go,” he said. “You can’t finesse your way through life; it’s about ups and downs and hard work and disappointments. It would have helped if we could have had an actual spring game against another team, but I’m hoping to show them that this approach will benefit them well after football is over for them.

“Think of the military. We take people from all different walks of life and turn them into the best soldiers of the world. We don’t do that by coddling or being soft. These kids are the future. They’re going to replace us some day, all of us, and if they aren’t as tough as we are, then how are they ever going to do that?”