Michael Knight, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — You may remember that, just five years ago, Southeastern’s football program endured a winless season.
In 2014, the Panthers went 0-10 and lost each game by an average margin of 22.8 points.
But that now seems like ancient history.
Since that infamous season, head coach Evan Gallaugher’s crew has compiled an overall record of 26-17, including a 24-9 mark over the past three years. The Panthers have clinched two straight playoff berths and bring back a plethora of talent this fall as they look for a third.
Gallaugher has been key to the program’s turnaround, installing an offense that’s given opponents headaches while supplying his kids a seed of confidence that continues to blossom.
Southeastern begins its 2019 campaign on Aug. 30, hosting Northwest. But before the Panthers take the field, we caught up with Gallaugher to discuss the development of his program, potential breakout players, his community’s support and much, much more.
Question: One of the things I like about your program is your high school kids are role models for the younger kids in the program. Is that fair to say?
Gallaugher: Yeah. That’s what we’re always looking for. We’ve all been to a youth camp before and we’ve idolized those older guys. These [younger] guys come out and watch our guys perform, listen to the band, see their role model’s names in the media … it’s the closest thing to stardom that these kids can get to. It’s what happens in a small community and it’s really a neat thing to see. We’ve got a great group of kids right now who understand that whole process.
Q: As far as this coming season, what’s a couple of things you’re focused on improving?
EG: I think the biggest thing is, hopefully, the natural maturation process for some of these guys. We’ve had a good winter in the weight room and we have the best numbers I’ve seen since I’ve been at Southeastern. We started a lot of young guys last year, a lot of guys who hadn’t seen varsity action before. A lot of those guys were JV football players the year before. So I think that maturation process within the program, getting bigger, faster, stronger, that’s what we’re looking for. And, anytime in our offense, we’re trying to limit turnovers. If you compare the 2017 team to the 2018 team, I think the turnover battle is what we lost last year. Our best defense is our offense and we’re going to try and play the keep away game.
Q: You’ve got [quarterback] Lane [Ruby], of course. But who else do you see stepping up into a bigger role?
EG: It’s so early right now, so it’s hard to tell. We always joke about playing football in your underwear, going out and participating in these 7-on-7’s. Those are fun and it gets you a little taste of it. But until you put the pads on, it’s hard to tell. We’ve got some guys who we feel like have been battle-tested time and time again. They’re going to step up. But I think a name that keeps running through my head is Jared Sulpher. Nobody has really heard about him. He’s going to be a senior this year and he’s kind of played behind a couple of guys in the rotation. Last year, he came out, got better everyday and ends up starting for us at the fullback spot. He’s going to be a big piece for us. He’s going to play at linebacker and at fullback for us. I’m excited to see what he does. And there’s others … Dalton Thurston is going to have to step up, Mikey Nusser, Tanner Chenault, Ike Diehl … there’s some transitions happening but we’re excited.
Q: You’ve talked about community. Southeastern has always been a notorious basketball school, not ever really known for football. But over the past couple of years, that tide has changed. Is Southeastern now more of a football school now?
EG: I don’t know if I’d say that. One of the things I’ve learned since being at Southeastern is that, no matter what you do, the community rallies around the kids. I don’t care if it’s the basketball court, the football field or the softball diamond … the community really supports this school and its students. They rally around the kids and they want what’s best for them. It’s a culture thing. Success breeds success. We want to win in the fall and we want the boys basketball team to win in the winter. So I don’t think it’s an “old basketball school” or a “new football school” type of thing. Collectively, we’re just trying to build a winning culture.
Q: We’ve seen the development of a program, from top to bottom. Has that kind of been your design the whole time? Trying to build something from the little kids to the high school kids?
EG: Yeah. When we first came in seven years ago, I’d always had the idea of running a total program. Ron Hinton at Amanda-Clearcreek used to do this, and some of the other legendary coaches around the state. That kind of goes back to that winning culture. I want our kids to be a part of a winning football program. I feel like if we go in, put our mitts into the youth levels and get them doing what we’re doing at the high school level, they move right through the program. I’ve been very fortunate because we’ve had some of the biggest teams, in terms of roster size, that Southeastern has ever had. Kids want to win. They’ve taken care of that themselves. They’re putting in the hard work during the offseason and seeing results. It’s breeding success.
Q: Looking towards this fall, what’s been your team’s motto all summer long? What’s been the focus?
EG: It’s just been to work hard and do the little things. I think that’s the biggest thing. We don’t want to be complacent. Two years ago, we won the first Gold Ball in school history and got the first playoff win in school history. Last year, it was two consecutive playoff berths in a row. Now, it’s not being complacent. We still want to develop as a team. We want to stay hungry and strive to get to that next level.