[Dylan Theisen | WOUB]

New Federal Hocking Football Coach Hopes To Strengthen Program Durability

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STEWART, Ohio (WOUB) — For many teams, week six of the 2019 high school football season was just another Friday night under the lights.

But for the Federal Hocking Lancers, it would be their last.

The team had struggled to field a full roster for years, but that night marked a low point for the Lancers. A string of injuries reduced their lineup to so few players that they would have to forfeit the rest of that season’s games.

“I felt like it wasn’t fair to anybody — the coaches, the staff, the people that are our supporters, just everybody,” Federal Hocking rising senior Chase Hogsett said.

The injuries were just the latest in a series of hardships. In the five years prior, the Lancers had won only one game, long haunted by a 40-game losing streak.

In 2020, Federal Hocking’s football team left the Tri-Valley Conference in favor of smaller school matchups.

But despite picking up two wins, the team played a short five-game season — once again forfeiting their final weeks.

Still, hope remained among the Fed Hock faithful.

“At the end of the day, I just feel like as a family, as a unit, we still had the most heart out of any team,” senior quarterback Tyler Rogers said.

The future of the program was in question; incoming students just weren’t joining the team. It looked like the Lancers would have to join the handful of Ohio schools moving to eight-man football.

That’s when they hired coach Brad Woodson.

“My question was, who in Southeast Ohio plays eight-man?” Woodson said. “Eight-man football is a lot faster. Yeah, they play with eight instead of 11, but it’s much quicker. And for our young people here, I don’t think eight-man fits the narrative.”

Woodson coached Ohio high school football for decades, having been an early mentor for NFL stars Le’Veon Bell and Dawuane Smoot.

When he arrived at Federal Hocking, he was astonished by the team’s brand-new indoor training facility.

“I’m like ‘wow, I ain’t ever seen nothing like this.’ I walked into the locker room and thought, ‘that’s a professional locker room,’” Woodson said. “I took pictures because I knew my friends wouldn’t understand. They said ‘There’s no way. Federal Hocking does not have a locker room like that.’ Because why? They’re 3-50. They equate wins with what [we] have. That’s not the case.”

Large empty lockers made of lightly furnished wood
The new Federal Hocking locker room, found in the team’s new training facility built in 2020. [Dylan Theisen | WOUB]
Woodson believes this team has the talent, the resources and the heart to succeed.

He says the missing piece has been a culture of confidence, competitiveness and pride in the sport.

“To me, I see value, I see relationship building, which in turn is going to bring people out … that’s all it is. Not running them to death, not saying you’re not any good, [but] positive things. That’s what it’s all about.”

Hoping to instill that culture, Woodson has begun hanging jerseys, printing banners and framing photos of the team’s workouts around the new training facility.

“This right here, this is positive. They’re seeing, ‘Oh, coach is hanging up jerseys? [They’re] not folded in a tote?’ Or washing the clothes — they may not have that at home. Those are just basic things.”

With the help of coach Woodson’s recruitment efforts, the Lancers will be able to press on with a traditional 11-man football team. For now, his goal is to complete the entire 2021 season.

But he hasn’t forgotten about paving the road ahead — he’s starting by including middle schoolers in the varsity practice.

“Those eighth graders, God willing, I’ll have them for four years. And every year I’m teaching them a little bit more about the field,” Woodson said. “What’s that gonna be like when they’re sophomores and juniors? That’s how you build a program. Some think ‘Oh I need a quarterback, I need a running back.’ No, you have everything you need right around you — if you know how to build it.”

Federal Hocking will play another season as a non-conference program, but Woodson hopes the team will be ready for Tri-Valley Conference competition in the years ahead.