When Checotah rallied down 12-0 at halftime in the wet and mud two weeks ago at Seminole to clinch a home playoff game in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs, Wildcats head coach Chad Hendricks called it a lesson in handling adversity.
Then he made himself a living example of it — again.
For the second time in four months, Hendricks ruptured his Achilles. Back in July, it was done playing soccer. This time, it was simply raising up on his toes.
“I heard a pop,” he said.
He had yet another surgery last Monday and spent last Friday coaching his team from home on a Skype application, which he may end up doing a second time Friday when the Wildcats (8-1, 5-1 3A-3) host unbeaten and No. 2 Lincoln Christian for the district championship.
“I’ll either be in front of the computer or there’s a handicapped place at the stadium with a bird’s eye view of the game,” he said.
Thanks to the wonders of technology, Hendricks hasn’t missed a beat, more or less. even using it to give his team pre-practice talks. From that point, he hands it over to his coordinators, Brian Young on defense and Jimmy Whitlock on offense, and Tom Butler, who coaches receivers and outside linebackers, takes Hendricks’ role in overseeing the pace of practice.
“We all just sort of picked up on what needed to be done and he’s still kept the motivational part,” Butler said. “He’s done a pretty good job of training everyone from coaches to players anyway.”
Last week, Hendricks was wired up with offensive line coach Robert King in the press box on Skype, an online video chat application, who relayed communication to the field level.
“It’s an adjustment, but we talk to the kids about adversity and making adjustments all the time,” Hendricks said. “This time it’s us showing them.”
Add to that the importance of Friday’s game on Ogle Field at Grandstaff Stadium. To the winner, the 3A-3 title, continued momentum and home games the first two rounds.
Coaching staff aside, the team is healthy, with only a loss a few weeks ago of outside linebacker Andrew Arden.
Contrast that to last year’s matchup in the regular season finale, where the Wildcats needed a win to gain a playoff spot and possibly a five-way tie for the district title. Checotah lost 55-19 and were the ones of the group sitting at home the next week.
“I think we had 2-3 freshmen who ended up starting who hadn’t started all year, and when you’re up against a high level team like Lincoln Christian the results are not going to work in your favor even though I think we played hard,” Hendricks said.
“We’re as healthy as we’ve been at this point. Even back in 2014 we lost our quarterback (Andrew Sands) to a knee injury and had (Drew Dan) move from receiver to quarterback when we went against (No. 4) Victory Christian. We don’t have anything like that to contend with.”
What they’ll have to contend with is Lincoln Christian quarterback Chase Ricke, who has thrown for 2,143 yards and 37 touchdowns. The Bulldogs average 437 yards of offense per contest.
“We have to put pressure on him,” said Butler.
Wildcats junior linebacker Bailey McIntosh entered last week tied for second in tackles with 100. Sophomore running back Dontierre Fisher topped 1,000 rushing yards last week and senior quarterback Jacob Barrett has right at 900 yards rushing.
If the coaching shakeup isn’t enough, the game prior to Hendricks’ second injury was. The Wildcats rallied with two touchdowns — and conversions — for the 14-12 outcome.
“We told them, where we want to go there will be games like that where people we play are going to be too good for us not to prepare to fight for four quarters,” Hendricks said. “We did a good job the second half. It was a learning game for us and I hope we just continue to get better in that respect.”
No time better than Friday, with all that’s at stake.