High School Sports

Kendrick names Cedric Ware to replace Dukes

Midway through the 2014 football season, Kendrick coach Jerry Dukes came to a conclusion.

He decided that, while he was still enjoying being a football coach, he didn't have the same enthusiasm he had earlier in his career. The ever-improving Cherokees program, he thought, needed someone younger who could offer the type of excitement he used to have.

Enter Cedric Ware.

The school introduced Ware as the team's new football coach at a ceremony in the school's library on Friday, also giving Dukes, who retired after the season, a chance to talk to his former team one last time.

Ware, 31, is a Hardaway High (2002) and Fort Valley State (2006) graduate. He played football for both and spent a short time playing with the Columbus Lions. He entered coaching in 2008 as the secondary coach for Opelika, where he spent three years. He also spent three years as an assistant football coach at Fort Middle School and the past two seasons as the head coach at Aaron Cohn Middle School.

"In the local area, you understand when coaches are going to retire and you hear about word of mouth, and I looked at Kendrick and said, 'That's a gold mine,'" Ware explained on Friday. "The middle school and community around here is great. I saw an opportunity to get back on the high school level. I wanted to jump on it as soon as I could."

Ware is taking over a program in the midst of a resurgence. Kendrick made the state playoffs in 2012 and 2013, winning one postseason game in the latter to record its most total wins in a season since 1995.

In 2014, the Cherokees missed the playoffs but still finished 5-5, making it the most wins a three-year span since 1995-97. Dukes said that he thought the team had made it to the next level, but still didn't quite reach as high as he had hoped it would. He's hoping Ware is the man to push the program to even higher heights.

"We started from the bottom and worked our way up," Dukes said of his seven years at Kendrick, during which he won just one game in each of his first three seasons, two in his fourth and then 17 over the course of his final three years combined. "We got somewhere. Not where I wanted to be, but they did a good job proving themselves. (Ware) is a young man full of enthusiasm. He's going to do a great job."

Ware said he could see the growth in the program, not just in win totals but in its makeup. There were more players in the system, more excitement surrounding the program and more interest in young students to play the game.

"We just want to do a start, stop and continue process," he said. "We want to find out what is going on here that is working. We want to find out what we can do to continue that."

That includes making the playoffs, competing for region championships and seeing how far he can push the team forward.

"I'm praying that with a new face, we can get even more kids out," he said. "The biggest thing is to get the coaches and the players to buy in. I know the support is going to be here (from the administration)."

As for Dukes, he is looking forward to spending more time with his wife, who lives in south Alabama and has had to deal for years with the hectic lifestyle of a high school football coach.

He said he'll miss the job and the players, but he's excited about the prospect of relaxing for the first time in years.

"I'll miss it," he said. "But I'll be back. I'll come back and check on this program and these kids."