As a football player at J.I. Burton High School from 2004-07, Jacob Caudill played in four regional title games and three state championship contests. As an assistant coach at his alma mater, he was there for some high-stakes postseason clashes.
Yet, he’s never experienced anything like he will this afternoon as he leads Burton (10-2) against Patrick Henry (12-0) at 1:30 p.m. in the Region 1D finals at Emory & Henry College’s Fred Selfe Stadium. This experience will occur as a head coach.
“I still get the butterfly feeling before each game,” Caudill said. “I played on a lot of good football teams and I feel like it is a little different now, because I’m responsible for everyone – assistant coaches, players, everybody. When I played I just had to be responsible for myself.”
Caudill unexpectedly took on the responsibility of leading the J.I. Burton Raiders on the gridiron.
He had spent his previous seven seasons as an assistant the school and is the baseball coach, but became the interim head football coach in July due to some off the field issues involving former coach Jim Adams.
The Raiders got off to a rocky start – suffering lopsided losses to Ridgeview and Chilhowie in the season’s first two weeks – but have since reeled off 10 consecutive victories.
“Coming into the season it was like riding a roller-coaster as a head coach,” Caudill said. “All the ups and downs, but everything started evening out through the year as it has went on. Everything feels like it is starting to mesh and gelled together.”
Caudill is to be commended, according to his coaching counterpart in today’s showdown.
“As a first-year head coach at a tradition-heavy school, he has done a tremendous job,” said veteran Patrick Henry boss Mark Palmer. “The team has improved all season and are playing their best football when it matters most. I think that has to be attributed to Coach Caudill.”
J.I. Burton’s coaching staff also had to learn to mesh together.
Josh Miles, Boo Sensabaugh, Bruce Wilson, T.T. McNew, Mike Culbertson and Mikey Stidham are J.I. Burton graduates on the coaching staff. Miles played with Caudill in high school, while Sensabaugh started in the defensive secondary at West Virginia University.
Clark Rowe (Evarts High School in Kentucky), Robert Bentley (Fleming-Neon High School in Kentucky), Rodney Holbrook (Ervinton), Jack Mooney (Coeburn), Nick Sturgill (J.J. Kelly and Wise County Central), Wayne Sturgill (Powell Valley) and Tim Mabe (Appalachia) were prep standouts as well.
Caudill, Culbertson, Bentley and Rowe were among the holdovers in terms of coaches from last year.
“Coach Caudill and the coaching staff come up with a gameplan and give us the tools to win in the game. It’s just up to us to work hard and implement it into the game,” said J.I. Burton senior linebacker/running back Najee Steele. “We had [basically] the same team last year and we were young, so we could only get better. Coach Caudill challenges us every practice to have high energy and work ethic each day.”
That challenge has been accepted as J.I. Burton has played dominant defense during the 10-game winning streak. The Raiders have been impressive in playoff wins over Castlewood (44-0) and Chilhowie (12-7) as the defense has not allowed an offensive TD yet in the postseason.
Somehow, the team from Norton hasn’t been as highly-touted as some others in Southwest Virginia.
“We love being the underdog and being overlooked,” Caudill said. “We are a blue-collar team that comes to work every day and never complain about none of the publicity. We just enjoy winning and coming to work every day.”
The Raiders are certainly on the opposing head coach’s radar.
“They have size, speed and experience,” Palmer said. “Add to that they are well-coached and you can see why they have won 10 straight games.”
The butterflies will be there as always today for the bearded 30-year-old Caudill, but don’t look for any exuberant antics or sideline histrionics from the poised pilot of the Raiders.
“I’m not very emotional,” Caudill said. “I love the game of football and I get emotional to myself, but I don’t like to show my emotions. … This team likes to take the business as usual approach.”
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