When Mark Hodson looks at the prospects of South Whidbey football, he doesn’t see a team that has won just three games in three seasons, struggled to field a team and wavered in community support.
He sees a clean slate.
Hodson, who led the Falcon football team from 2001-2013, was hired this past week as South Whidbey’s new head football coach. He is the Falcons’ third coach in as many seasons, following Chris Tormey (2014) and Michael Coe (2015-16).
“It feels good,” Hodson said. “I think this is an exciting time to step into the head coaching position. You’ve got a lot of potential things you can do.”
Hodson has been an observer of South Whidbey football’s team since 2014. Hodson, a history teacher at the high school, stood idly by as the Falcon program lurched in competitiveness, and endured the quick turnaround of two previous coaches. At the same time, there was a noticeable dip in pride with football players, as well as a yearning for Hodson to do something about it.
“These kids have been looking at me and thinking, ‘Why haven’t you been involved?’” Hodson said.
He believes the remedies to the Falcons’ past woes are rebuilding a sense of community around the program, boosting the size of the Falcons’ roster and fielding a competitive team.
“If those three things happen, then the program is going to build, the numbers will build and there will be enthusiasm in the community,” Hodson said.
He also supported the high school administration’s decision to play an independent schedule for the 2017-18 season in an effort to create a more balanced schedule appropriate to South Whidbey’s sophomore-laden roster and boost participation numbers.
Athletic director Paul Lagerstedt said there’s several reasons why Hodson’s return will help the program, from his coaching philosophy to the fact that he is a full-time history teacher at the high school.
“Mark just checks off all those boxes,” Lagerstedt said. “He’s an amazing coach that’s got really a lot of valuable experience.”
“Mark is a detailed oriented guy. I think he’s going to make sure it’s a rewarding and great experience for our kids,” Lagerstedt added.
As a teacher, Hodson has the opportunity to recruit more students to play football, a luxury that the Falcons’ previous coaches did not have; Tormey was a part-time weight lifting teacher at the school while Coe worked as a paraeducator at Meadowdale High School.
With the addition of Langley Middle School students slated to arrive to the high school in the fall, Hodson can recruit students to play football from the seventh grade on up.
“I think having a coach in building generates enthusiasm,” Hodson said. “If sports coaching is all about building relationships, then I’m around these kids for close to 10 hours a day.”
Hodson and co-head coach Andy Davis stepped away from the program three years ago to spend more time with their families. The circumstances have since changed for Hodson, who has been able to watch two of his daughters — Sarah and Abby — compete for the Falcons in sports. While another daughter, Emma, is coming to the high school this fall, Hodson said he’ll be able to manage enough time to watch her sporting events.
“She’s excited about me coaching football,” Hodson said. “My family is excited about it.”
Davis is also returning to coach, along with several members of Hodson’s coaching staff in 2013 including Leo Langer and Jim Thompson. Davis, who is a math teacher at the high school, said that reestablishing the Falcons’ football culture and keeping a high pace at practice will be among the first challenges to address come fall. But, it won’t be an ultra-serious environment.
“We need to go out there and have fun,” Davis said. “Practice doesn’t need to be a grind.”
Thompson just retired as head coach of the wrestling program. Dr. Sean Spear and Shane Thrasher from Coe’s coaching staff will also be on the sidelines.
“I think it will be important for us to gain confidence from the community to get that trust back in the system,” Spear said. “I think that was a missing component last year.”
Hodson said he is cognizant of the concerns surrounding football in terms of concussion protocols and safe tackling techniques. Under Hodson, the Falcons’ used “cutting edge” tackling drills from the University of Oregon. The idea is to limit the number of concussions sustained on the field by lowering the point of attack on a ball carrier and wrapping up around the leg or chest area, while taking the head out of the tackle.
Hodson said that a stable roster size for the Falcons would be between 40-45 athletes. At a recent introduction meeting with the team, Hodson said around 35 students in grades 9-11 attended.