The offense is putting up video game numbers. Finding a seat on game night is impossible if it’s closer than 45 minutes to kickoff. The field at Bill Morris Stadium is not only sporting a beautiful new turf, but you no longer have to run up a slope in the corner of one end zone. Football has become the thing to see at Moody High.
“I’ve been in Moody my whole entire life, [this is a] completely different atmosphere,” said Moody senior wide receiver Kolby Seymour. “Pure excitement, you have people you’ve never seen come out and support you. It’s all great. It’s the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen.”
To understand Moody High football today, you have to consider Moody High football of the past. The Blue Devils have played 16 playoff games with only three wins since beginning football in 1978. They advanced to the third round in 2004, marking their deepest postseason run. Former Jacksonville State coach John Grass, the coach of that 2004 team, is considered perhaps the best coach in program history, and his three-year record was 21-14. Wes Simpson, who spent 13 seasons as the program’s head coach, has the most wins in the program’s history with 72 but he was just 1-6 in the postseason. Overall, heading into the 2022 season, Moody had a record of 189-262-1.
Into this history stepped Jake Ganus. And he stepped in with confidence and promise that hard work would lead the way to special things.
“The players were here, and they wanted something bigger to believe in,” the 28-year-old Ganus said. “First thing we did was start talking about state championships. It was like, ‘Whoa. Let’s pump our brakes. Let’s get to the playoffs. All this stuff.’ To me, your kids’ mind can be trained to [think], ‘I’m supposed to win every game I play in. I’m supposed to do this because of the way I work.’”
For the past five seasons, he’s been part of Mark Freeman’s staff at Thompson High. The Warriors played in the Class 7A state championship game in four of those years and made the semifinals the first season. They were 62-5 during that time and are seeking their fourth consecutive state championship this season. Freeman’s trademark "# outworkemall" is more than just a cute slogan. It’s a way of life that Ganus said he’s brought to Moody.
Ganus, who said he wasn’t necessarily looking to leave Thompson, had a few offers to take over programs. He chose Moody.
“If I ever took the time to sit back and say, ‘Oh, 28 [years old', taking over a program that’s never won and all this stuff,’ it might be scary,” Ganus said. “But I tell our kids, 'Our belief comes from our work and the work God allows us to do.' I prepare and I work hard so on Friday night it’s easy. That’s how I was as a player.”
Ganus was a tremendous player, but he probably got more out of his career than his pure talent would suggest. He was a two-way star at Chelsea High under Wade Waldrop and signed to play at UAB. He was an undersized – at least by weight – starting safety as a true freshman and even more undersized when he moved up to linebacker the next season. After his third season as a starter, Ganus was part of the team when UAB killed the program. He signed with the University of Georgia and led the Bulldogs in tackles. He played in the Senior Bowl and got deep into camp with the Minnesota Vikings
“Nobody watched more film than me, nobody was at the coaches’ office at 10 o’clock with the D-staff,” Ganus said. “I’d be the only player in there, just sitting in the corner listening, watching what they’re watching, hearing what they’re coaching. It’s what I did for four years of college, and it’s what gave me the confidence to go out there on Saturday. Obviously, I was not the most talented, fastest, strongest, biggest – none of that. Ever. But I wanted it more, and I found a way to be successful in my environment. That’s kind of what I’m doing here.”
He arrived at Moody ready to work. And work was needed. It began in the fieldhouse. Dingy floors were covered with carpet. Coaches’ workspace was updated. Walls were painted. Money was spent.
“I walk into a room and I have vision, I see what can be,” Ganus said. “My wife [Peyton] will tell you, before anybody, I can spend some money, or I can try to spend some money. If we live on some land, I’m like, ‘We need to have a golf course.’ You know, stuff like that. I can see stuff. The team room was old, the floor was slanted. I walked in the first day, for my interview, I was like, raise the floor, pour some concrete, put a door right there, block this up, put two TVs up, put divider in the middle and some stadium seats, and there’s our team room.”
Tonight is finally here for @MoodyFBall! Cannot thank our city, school board, and others who put in so many hours to make The Bill look amazing. Can’t wait for everyone to see it! @Burns_StClair @sccboe @jakeganus #DEV1L pic.twitter.com/zC5TKSMjLQ— Moody High School (@moodyhighsccboe) August 26, 2022
He said the commitment from the administration and the school district is a big part of why he took the job. He asked for more coaches – they had seven a year ago – and now his staff consists of 17 coaches. Two of those – defensive coordinator John Jones and offensive coordinator Erik Kuykendall – came with him from Thompson.
Then they had to build the team. Ganus said he did extensive research on personnel before taking the job. He watched film of every game. What he saw was talent, but he needed better numbers. In 2020, the Blue Devils only had 39 players. Last season, that number grew to just over 50. Only four seniors were on the 2021 roster.
“I knew there were dudes here,” said Ganus, whose roster now totals 89 players.
He wanted to give his players something to grasp onto. He focused in on the road – US Route 411 - that carries him from his home in Chelsea to Moody. He toyed with ideas on how he could use that to help motivate his team.
“To get to Moody High School you have to come in off US Route 411,” Ganus said. “Basically, it takes you from Montevallo to Asheville. It’s that old historic road. It becomes 119 in different parts, but 411 is where it’s at in Moody. When I took over the program, I wanted to rebrand. I started toying with it, got 411 football, 411 boys. Started throwing it out to the kids, and they really liked it. We started it going.”
Now there’s variation of it throughout the program, throughout the school and now throughout the town. Ganus said the softball and girls’ volleyball teams have adopted the 411 theme, and the basketball team has become 411 hoops.
In the spring, Ganus started a "Protection Run" where the team would run – not jog - down High School Drive, which is about a quarter mile each way, to US Route 411 and back. The entire program – players and coaches – participated.
“[The coaches] were gassed, son,” Ganus said with a laugh.
It was an important part of the message.
“We talked about it because every team we play is going to have to come right where we run, so we have to protect it,” Ganus said.
Everything he’s instituted comes complete with hard work, and the players have bought in. He started 6:30 a.m. workouts in the spring so they could focus on football-specific work during the final period of the day. He was told that players wouldn’t show in the morning and parents would complain. They showed, and there were no complaints, Ganus said. Last Sunday, the coaches gave the players a day off. Sixty-six of the 89 players showed up on their own to train.
The reason is simple.
“He’s a guy you want to put your life on the line for; the whole coaching staff is that way,” said quarterback Cole McCarty.
The hard work is paying off in a big way. Moody beat Pell City, 56-21, and Sylacauga, 58-24, before knocking off Alexandria, 42-27. A year ago, Alexandria beat the Blue Devils, 47-7, and won the previous year, 57-20.
As a team, the Blue Devils are first in the state in passing yards (888), points (150) and total touchdowns (21). McCarty leads the state in passing yards with 885, running back Blaine Burke is second in rushing yards (492) and third in points (52) and wide receiver Davion Dozier is first in receiving yards.
Ganus calls them “video game numbers.”
Dozier, a three-star recruit, is a 6-foot-4, 195-pound wide receiver, who is solidly committed to Arkansas. He was on his official visit last weekend for the Razorbacks' win over Cincinnati. Alabama came to check him out last week. Defensive back A’mon Lane, who is a junior, committed to Auburn earlier this summer. Burke and several other players are being recruited and offered by colleges at different levels.
For now, though, the focus is on chasing the Blue Map. Moody’s next assignment is Cleburne County, which comes to Bill Morris Stadium on Thursday night. When that’s done, the work continues.
“We’ve outworked people, and it’s beginning to show on Friday night,” Ganus said. “We’re going to continue to outwork people, I’ll never shy away from that. I believe that it’s my job to outwork the head coach we’re going to play, just like it’s my coordinator’s job to outwork every coordinator we’re going to play, just like it’s my quarterback’s job to outwork every defense we play. That’s something we’re trying to build from the top down.”
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