Eight players, three weeks and a history of losing.
That’s what Derrin Little had to work with on day one of his first head football coaching job at Chatham Central in July.
Central athletic director Tommy Peele told Little the team was a “baby” that he would have to “groom from the ground up.” It just so happens that this baby is quite literally family for Little, being the place where his mom, aunts and cousins taught, attended school and played sports.
Some of his relatives are still there, teaching and playing on the very football team he coaches.
“I honestly felt like, you get a chance to come back home and do your own thing,” Little said. “Who wouldn’t want that?”
Little wasn’t blindsided, nor was he forced to take the position — he knew what he was walking into and made a choice. Now joining his family in wearing red and black, Little is making it work in his first season, leading the program from infancy to taking its first steps toward winning.
Starting with just a few linemen, receivers and a quarterback, taking that first step required some struggle and patience.
“We couldn’t do too much,” junior two-way lineman Stephen Silhan, one of the first eight players, said. “The few linemen we had tried to do drills, and then, there were a lot of route trees. That was it.”
Three weeks to prepare for the first game with a new coach and not enough players to line up was weird for the players, but they quickly saw that Little wasn’t going to let circumstances get in his way.
“He was crazy,” senior running back and defensive back Devonte “Tank” Johnson said. “The way he is, it was all crazy because I hadn’t really had a coach like that who cared that much.”
Little came in with high standards that he learned from his now retired high school head coach, David Lovette, at Gray’s Creek and Carl Smith, head coach at Person where Little previously coached.
“(They) gave me the blueprint of how a program should be ran and developed,” Little said. “Knowing that the culture here wasn’t a culture of winning, we couldn’t come in and try to sweet talk everything and act like everything was cool. I think (the players) knew like we knew there’s a lot of stuff that we’re doing that’s completely wrong and needs to be changed.”
Said Little, “The standard is the standard, and I wasn’t going to change that or compromise it.”
To build a competitive program, though, Little needed players. Recruiting them from Central’s hallways started with the few he already had.
“It actually started just off of word of mouth,” Little said. “Those eight kids came that first day. I think they realized that this is something different, something that we want, and they started telling people. And then, more and more, day after day, kids were coming.”
Little said Central had even more kids join the team after seeing players walking around the school’s open house with their jerseys on.
By the first game against North Stokes, Central had 22 players — enough to compete even if some players had to play multiple positions.
The next thing was teaching those players the game of football and Little’s system as some of them hadn’t played the sport since they were eight or nine years old.
“We’re coming in with a more complex high school type of offense,” Little said. “They don’t even remember what a three technique is, so we’re having to completely go back down to ground zero and build it up. But, they did catch on to it fairly quickly.”
Quickly enough to where Central almost opened up their season with a win after going to four overtimes with North Stokes and losing, 20-22.
Considering the circumstances, that was a small victory for Central’s program which hasn’t seen success in decades and wasn’t certain to have a team just weeks prior.
“The biggest thing I’ve been telling everybody is we’re not going to promise or guarantee wins, but we’re going to promise that you’ll be proud of the product we put on the field,” Little said.
Following a tough loss to Southeast Alamance on Sept. 1, Little and his Bears will look for their first win of the season Friday in a rivalry game against an 0-3 Jordan-Matthews team at home.