Joe Kegler's mission: Keeping Carver's tradition alive

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comAugust 3, 2013 

ROBIN TRIMARCHI/rtrimarchi@ledger-enquirer.comCarver High coach Joseph Kegler leads practice earlier this week.

ROBIN TRIMARCHI

Joe Kegler stands at attention at the 30-yard line of the Carver High practice football field, closely watching his players as they run through a quick 7-on-7 drill during a midday practice in July.

It's not even noon yet, but the sun is blistering. His eyes are partially obscured by a hat that casts a shadow across his forehead. He doesn't say much but watches closely, choosing the right moment to make a correction or send a player who didn't hustle to his position back to the sidelines.

Most of it is familiar, but there is still a certain novelty to it.

Kegler, of course, is in his first season as the Tigers head coach, taking over for former coach Dell McGee when the latter took up a position on Auburn University's support staff. The coach has spent the past six years as an assistant for Carver, first as an offensive line coach and most recently as the team's offensive coordinator since 2010. As a

result, most everything has felt the same.

"Not yet," Kegler said when asked if anything felt different. "Nothing too much yet. It'll come, though."

When it will come, exactly, Kegler didn't say. Perhaps when the team plays its first game. Maybe during the first game-week practice.

"I'm sure it will come," he added again.

While things may feel different for him at some point, the aim is that things stay mostly the same for the program. Carver won at least 11 games in all but McGee's inaugural season, a 3-7 campaign that seems like a distant memory after a state championship and four state semifinals appearances in the seven years since.

Kegler knows that is the expectation for his teams going forward.

"There is that added pressure," he said. "This is -- or I think it is -- one of the better programs in the state. So, it's not pressure to build a program, it's pressure to maintain the success of the program."

Don't get him wrong, pressure isn't such a bad thing. He's used to the expectations that come in football, having spent a number of years on the field himself. He played at Carver from 1997-2001, at Fort Valley State for the four years following that and two seasons with the Columbus Lions, the local indoor football team.

Carver was the first school he coached at when he joined the staff in 2007, and he's confident he can keep the train headed in the right direction. He attributed a lot of that confidence to things he learned while coaching under McGee, lessons he continues to learn every time he gives the former coach a call.

"He just really gave me the opportunity to be around him, bug him with questions," Kegler said. "Why does he do things this way, or why does he do things that way? He helped me grow as a coach and a man. He left a great blueprint. I still call him now, and he doesn't mind answering the phone. He doesn't mind me bugging him."

Adding to the pressure to succeed, to an extent, is the fact that Kegler played at Carver. He knows the work it took to build the Tigers into the state power they are today, and he doesn't want to be a part of anything less.

"I don't like participating in anything that isn't going to look good or be successful," he said. "We want to do everything we can to continue the success here."

That means taking a team brimming with talent and enormous potential and molding it into one that can compete at the highest level.

Rising junior defensive end Mekhi Brown said the team got started just about as soon as school ended in May.

"Man, we've been out here since school ended," he said with a laugh. "(Kegler's) pushing us. He wants us to be great."

On that subject, despite not putting on the headsets as a head coach yet, Kegler spoke like a seasoned veteran.

"We really do just try to get better every week," he said. "I tell them we need to go 1-0 every week. I know that's cliché, but we can't win more than one game a week.

"We have two goals -- win our region and, if we're lucky enough, be in the Dome and win the championship. But we have to win these other games to get there."

David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.

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