• 82°

Fort Dale connection

The year was 1999 and Steven Kilcrease was entering his first season as an assistant coach for the Fort Dale Eagles. Kilcrease had recently graduated from Troy University and was looking for a job when Fort Dale headmaster David Brantley called him in for an interview and hired him shortly after that.

Fast-forward nine years and some change and the Kilcrease-coached Pike Liberal Arts School Patriots are facing those same Fort Dale Eagles in the AISA Class AAA state championship game tomorrow.

“I told (Fort Dale coach Speed Sampley) we are coming to win that football game, but if it doesn’t happen I couldn’t think of a better person to lose to,” Kilcrease said. “I would be happy for him, but I would obviously be hurting bad myself.”

Kilcrease arrived at Fort Dale the same year as Sampley and spent two years on his coaching staff before leaving for Lee-Scott Academy. Kilcrease said this would not be the first time he has faced Fort Dale in a state championship game.

During Kilcrease’s third year as the head boys’ basketball coach for Lee-Scott the schools met in the regular season and in the state championship game. He said the Patriots would try and avoid what happened to the Warriors this year.

“We played them in the regular season and beat them and then we faced them in the state championship game and I think we lost by four,” Kilcrease said. “So this is familiar territory.”

Kilcrease said he definitely will never forget the place that gave him his start.

“Getting that opportunity to coach under coach Sampley was a great experience,” Kilcrease said. “Coach Sampley is the hardest working coach I have ever seen. If I ever learn the things he has forgotten I will be a good football coach.”

And it is not just working with the head football coach that Kilcrease remembers. Brantley was the one who hired him.

“To go out on a limb and hire someone right out of college to come in and teach chemistry and physics and give me the coaching responsibilities they did was amazing,” Kilcrease said. “I still thank him every time I see him.”

And leaving Fort Dale was a hard thing to do for Kilcrease, but he made a promise to himself.

“I always said after I was at Lee-Scott that there were only two places in the AISA I would leave Lee-Scott for,” he said. “One would be to come back here and the other would be to go back to Fort Dale to work with Speed. And that is just how much I think of him. He is just such a good football coach and friend.”

The Patriots’ connection to Fort Dale is more than just a head coach. Assistant coach Bert Rice is a 2005 graduate of Fort Dale and he played for Kilcrease for two years on the Fort Dale JV squad.

“I really enjoyed playing for coach Kilcrease,” Rice said. “In fact when he left everyone was sad to see him go. I mean we won a JV state championship in basketball and only lost a couple games in JV football in two years.”

Rice said it has been interesting to see Kilcrease from both sides of the coach-player spectrum.

“As a kid you can’t understand why you do all the running and all the other stuff like that, but now I get it,” Rice said. “And I can see that he has every single one of his player’s best interests in mind all the time. He is real good at making sure that everybody is doing the best they possibly can.”

Facing his alma mater for the state championship game will be a weird for Rice.

“Coach Sampley’s first year was my first year playing JV, so I kind of grew up in his system,” Rice said. “It is not mixed emotions because I love the kids here and I want to win this football game, but at the same time I don’t want to see them lose. It is just going to be tough.”

Kilcrease said Rice helped make that first year at Fort Dale a little easier.

“That first year, I will never forget, I coached junior high football and I remember we had picture day and we had 12 players there,” Kilcrease said. “I thought what have I gotten myself into. It turned out we only had 17, but those 17 were pretty good. I had a good little group.”