By Budd McLaughlin • Photos by Chris Jensen
For a high school football coach, Madison Academy’s Eric Cohu has a pretty impressive resume: Four years in the finance industry in Nashville with a client list that included the Tennessee Titans, the Nashville Predators and music and health-care executives.
After that, he was an adjunct professor in the Department of Sport Management at Liberty University in Virginia. While at Liberty, Dr. Cohu coached at Liberty Christian Academy in Lynchburg and his teams went 21-1 and won a Virginia state championship.
But, enough about history, it’s time to move forward – which is what Cohu prefers.
We’ve celebrated the championship; now it’s time to turn the page. We’re looking at 2013.” – Eric Cohu
Though Madison Academy has appeared in the Class 3A Elite Eight all four years he has coached there, including the 2012 state championship and 2011 runner-up, the Missouri native isn’t resting on his laurels, so to speak.
And he doesn’t want the Mustangs to rest on theirs, either.
“We focus on forward looking,” he said. “We’ve celebrated the championship; now it’s time to turn the page. We’re looking at 2013.”
That’s been the formula for Cohu’s success as a coach: Looking forward. And that was his plan when he came to Madison Academy.
“My intention was to bring my brand of football here,” he said. “The coaches and the players bought in quickly and we had success. With that success comes confidence, which produces more confidence.”
With all of the Mustangs’ on-field success over the last four seasons, the team faces the inevitable “target on its back” season. Cohu said the formula is for the defending state champions to focus week to week.
“Now the tough thing is expectations are higher,” he said. “We have to keep improving. I want us to be a better at the end of the season. We have to stay true to our mission, goals and the process of being the best team we can be.”
Like most football coaches, Cohu also sees the game as a means to build character and inner strength in young men. Playing through the heat of the late summer and the cold of late fall helps the players in their growth.
“Our goal is to produce a character program and football is a tool to help develop young men,” he said. “The diversity of the players, sharing defeats and triumphs, the physicality that challenges players … this is what you can build a foundation on.
“I’m blessed here that the guys have bought into that vision and have had positive results.”
As a player at Harding University, Cohu faced some adversity himself. “I love the game and I had highs and lows as a player.”
His low came when he tore his ACL. Cohu wishes he had fought through it and tried to resume his career, but, ironically, a high may have come from it.
“Sometimes, bad things can turn good on down the road,” he said. The good thing is his coaching career now. There’s no telling where the road would’ve have taken Cohu if he hadn’t injured his knee. “I’m a faith-based guy; we’re trying to see a bigger picture.”
And Madison Academy and the Huntsville community may be part of that bigger picture.
“I felt Huntsville was a nice city to raise my family in,” he said. He also knew he was stepping into a football program that had a history of success and quality players. “The school had potential in football and I knew there was that seed …”
Cohu said that after his 2011 squad lost the championship game, last year’s team had a hunger. And they rebounded to win the 3A state championship – the first Huntsville area team to win a state football title. This year, the Mustangs opened with a 48-6 win over Tanner – the 2012 state 2A champions. The Rattlers and Mustangs played in last year’s season opener and Tanner won 13-7; it was Madison Academy’s only loss of the season.
This year’s team has a solid nucleus of starters and Division I prospects and the Mustangs are favored to repeat. “I’m very excited for the guys,” Cohu said. “We’ve got some great players but talent is never enough.”
The schedule-maker didn’t cut any slack for the Mustangs, either.
After the Tanner opener, the Mustangs end the season against Clay County, a top 5 Class 4A team. In between they face Class 5A playoff quarterfinalist Cullman as well as their Region 8 opponents, which include three of the top eight teams in Class 3A.
While much-heralded junior Kerryon Johnson is the team’s top player, Cohu hopes someone in his talented senior class will step up to take the leadership reins on the 67-player roster this year. “They lead in different forms,” he said. “Some are vocal and others lead with their actions. We need them to develop their leadership.” The seniors include Division I prospects Frank Williams and Taylor Ziak, who were also Class 3A All-State last year; Taylor Kelley, Logan Hamlett, Alex Hairston, La’Markus Martin and Garrett Lindsey.
But at the end of the day, Cohu emphasizes football is still a game and the players are still kids.
“I’ve learned if you concern yourself with the game instead of the scoreboard, the good will come,” he said. “They’re here to have fun; we want to keep it between having fun and the aspiration to succeed. That’s a good mixture.”