W.S. Neal football: From worst to (almost) first


Special to Atmore News

If you’re a fan of a high school football team that went 0-10, one would assume the next year would be a rebuilding season.
One would be wrong.
Because if your new football coach is Hugh Fountain, anything is possible. Including the playoffs.
Fountain, who returned to his East Brewton alma mater this summer with 253 lifetime wins and a few AISA state championships in his pocket, knew the only way to go was up. Fans of the Blue Eagles probably would have been happy with a couple of wins and a team that was competitive. What they didn’t expect was a team with a winning record and a trip to the playoffs. So how did this happen?
Fountain, part coach, part philosopher, simply employed old school strategy to impress upon his players concepts that apply to both football and life.
“You have to have a degree of brotherhood,” he said. “The boys want to play for one another, be the example of what they need to become as a man.”
Preparing teenagers for life as adults is just as important to Fountain as winning a game.
“Kids now know what’s expected of them. Football is a great teacher about life. You get knocked down, take a bad blow … do you run from it or get back up to hit it head on?”
The team had endured a revolving door of coaches, with three different ones in the past three years.
Fountain knows it takes time to build a program, and works with eight graders who will be joining the team next year. Players have also received inspiration from alumni who wore the uniform. One visited the team, found the player with his old number, and told him, “My spirit lives in that number.”
School spirit increased as well. Escambia County School Superintendent Michele McClung said Fountain means more to W.S. Neal than just football.
“Coach Fountain is an exceptional leader who invariably understands how to build a positive culture in the school and community as well as the dynamics of a winning team,” she said. “We are blessed to have him and his coaching staff in Escambia County Schools.”
Fountain said the team really came together after beating Hillcrest in the middle of the season. “At that point I thought we really could have a decent team this year,” he said.
The team rolled off a string of wins, and made the playoffs. After winning the first round, what was a bit of a Cinderella season came to an end. Still, an incredible ride for a team that hadn’t even won a game last year.
Though football season is over, Fountain continues to work with students and tries to inspire them to set high goals both on and off the field.
“A good coach is a good teacher,” Fountain said. “I tell them, don’t limit yourself in life.”

News photo by Ditto Gorme