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As part of a series of interviews that is conducting in 2018 with coaches around the Commonwealth, BGP had a chance to talk with David Jones, head football coach of the 1A Phelps Hornets. We were able to catch up with Coach Jones while he was taking a trip up to Richmond, KY to visit with his nephew, 2017 Belfry High School graduate RayQuan Horton, who is currently playing football at EKU.

BGP: Tell us a little about your coaching background - which schools you've been at as a head coach or as an assistant before you started at Phelps? Which positions have you had personal experience coaching?

Coach Jones: It's my third season as head coaching here at Phelps. I spent six seasons coaching under Coach Haywood at Belfry - that's where I went to high school. Before then I spent one season with Dudley Hilton at the University of Pikeville as the head DB coach.

BGP: What was it that made you realize you wanted to be a coach? It's obviously not as easy a job to do in this day and age as it may have been in the past. Are there any particular individuals or coaches who pushed you to realize that it's what you wanted to do?

Coach Jones: It was kind of unique, actually. I was playing arena football and I was coming down to my final years, I was at Utah playing for the Utah Blaze. Ironically the guy who recruited me to Kentucky, he was one of the coaches [for the Blaze], Ron McBride. I had gotten through mini camp there and then training camp and I had hurt my knee again, and I had to call it quits. So I was really struggling with figuring out what I wanted to do, and I ended up having a talk with him, and I talked with Coach Haywood, and they both said, "You need to coach. You need to try it out." And I guess the rest is history.

So I went home and I started helping out at my middle school, Belfry Middle School. The principal, he was the 7th grade coach he had to step down because his son was sick, and I stepped in for the rest of the season and I was all of the sudden already as a head coach. I just fell in love with it. I love helping kids in our area. Then the opportunity came open at the University of Pikeville, and Dudley Hilton as the head DB coach. Then after that I ended up heading on home with Coach Haywood and learned under him. I had a couple of opportunities then [to move on], but then I got the opportunity that I needed once I was ready to go on, and now I'm the head coach at Phelps.

BGP: There's a lot that just about anyone can say about Coach Haywood. He has a reputation all around the state and then some. That had to be a heck of an experience getting to coach under him.

Coach Jones: Coach Haywood, he's a great man. He's just one of the best there is. As a person, he's just a great, great individual.

BGP: Are there any games in your coaching career, or even as a player or spectator of a high school game, that you look back at and think, 'Man…now THAT was a memorable game' ?

Coach Jones: It was my junior year at Belfry, and it was Coach Haywood's first ever state championship game. We'd gone into overtime with Elizabthtown. Chris Todd was their quarterback. We picked the ball off and it was 4th and goal. Coach Haywood called my number, and I scored the winning touchdown for him. And that was a special moment for me to give that to him because he had done so much to help me overcome a lot of things, and then I was able to help give him his first ever state championship.

It was a great overall experience, and very memorable. And that Elizabethtown team, man oh man, they were crazy-good. They had Brandon Deadrick, he won the national championship with Alabama. Chris Todd, he went to Auburn - started at Texas Tech and then went to Auburn. Zipp Duncan, he went to Kentucky with me. They had several guys go to Western Kentucky. They had some real players on that team, and we were just some country boys coming down there and ran on them. Just running the ball. We had 532 rushing yards and zero passing yards. It was crazy.

BGP: A lot of teams adopt some sort of motto or a mission statement for the program, or even for the individual program year? Does your team have one right now? Do you have a different motto for yourself as a coach?

Coach Jones: Our motto is "Fill the plate." They've all told me they're hungry, and I told them, "Well go handle your business and you can fill your plate." If they work in school, and work hard for accolades and work through their personal lives, then they can fill their plate. Then we also say, "All in."

My personal motto as a coach is, as a Haywood disciple, "Faith, family, academics, football." My first priority is to develop faith within my players and coaches. Secondly I want them to understand that family is always going to come before whatever we do on the football field. And academics, you need that to succeed in whatever you want to succeed in in life. And last but not least is what we're coaching - that you're blessed to get to play football. A lot of us who still wish we could play can't play. High school football is the best sport in the world. Better than the NFL.

BGP: If I were to ask your players - past or present - if there's one thing they hear you say the most, what do you think it would be?

Coach Jones: If you'd talk to one of my players about what I say, well I say a lot, but one that would stick out is probably that I always tell them that I love them. The reason behind that, you know, Coach Haywood he never would do that to us, but he showed his [love] in a different way than I show mine. Coach Haywood taught me to coach the life, and not the football player. He was always interested in us being successful when we were 35 more than he was [interested] in what we could do for him now as players on the field. So that's one thing that my players will tell you that I say to them, and then I work my butt off to help try to make them be successful whether they're going to play football or not.

BGP: So many players come into a high school program these days with significant experience from pee-wee or middle school programs, and some of them are even walking into the 9th grade already having thoughts about getting college exposure. What is your approach to coaching your team knowing that you may have players walking onto the practice field who may not have any prior football experience at the same time as players who may have 7 or 8 years of football experience and coaching?

Coach Jones: Well, I'm at a small single-A school. When I started out coaching at Phelps they'd hadn't won a game in years. When I started we only had 7 kids on the team. We finished the season last year with 27. We've got 31 or 32 kids right now on the roster, so every one of them matters when you're in a small single-A school.

BGP: So you touched on it a little already, but when you arrived as head coach for the 2016 season at Phelps the Hornets had been on a pretty rough streak where they only had a single win in the course of 4 seasons. Then right of the bat you turned them in the right direction and got a 4-6 record in your first season as coach, and then bumped that record up to 5-5 last season. With that accomplishment to build off of, what are your plans for this season: just keep grinding and putting in the same hard work and get the most you can out of your players, or is there anything new or additional you're going to try working into this season's overall gameplan?

Coach Jones: I'm a Haywood disciple, and I understand that with work, every day we're going to get better. And a lot of people, after winning 4 games in 1 year after all those years without, they got higher opinions of where the team is when we're really not there yet. I'm a realist. I know where we're at and where we should be. And we're right where I expected us to be going into my 3rd year [coaching here]. And this year we should be even better because everyone will have been in my system from the middle school on up. We should be a lot better, and the philosophy is a lot better going into my year 3.

BGP: Spring practice is obviously behind you now. So once we get out of the dead period here and get into the nuts and bolts of summer practice in July, what strengths do you see the team having as you get ready to go into your first game of the season?

Coach Jones: We're better now than we have been at any point since I started. You know, the first year, a lot of my time as coach was spent on the sideline and in the weight room saying, "Don't give up. Don't give up." Now I'm getting to do more of the actual coaching on the field and working with them when they're coming out to the weight room. It's all about the strength of mentality for us.

BGP: If you could pare down all of the qualities that you look for in a player, and get down to just one or two top qualities that you like to see the most, what would they be?

Coach Jones: Toughness. I'm big on toughness. Blue collar toughness. I'm not about the flashiness. I'm gonna tell the kids to get on the bus, tuck their shirts in, turn the hats around - you're going to look like a human being. You're going to get on the football field and you're going to handle business. All that flashy stuff, I don't allow all of that. I teach discipline and toughness as a core within everything.

I look at some of those kids at Kentucky and what they wear and I think, "Man, Coach Brooks would have smacked us upside the head." All those arm bands and everything, nobody needs any of that.

BGP: Who are some of the players on your team this year that we should expect to see a lot out of?

Coach Jones: I've got a receiver - he's a slot - his name's Brandon Turnmire. He's getting a lot of attention right now. He actually had 7 picks last year too. And one of my best athletes, he's a quarterback, Garret Clevinger. He also plays defense. Another one is Seth Elkins. He's a corner, and I'd say he's one of the leading corner backs in the state in single-A. I've got a couple of juniors who are going to make some noise too. I've got another player who transferred back, he started at Phelps and is back for his senior year. He's going to be a guard. His name is Peyton Barnes. He'll be great for us.

BGP: Are there any teams that you would like to look at getting onto Phelps' schedule within the next handful of years?

Coach Jones: I'm actually working on the 2019 schedule. We've added Frankfort - we're actually going to play them this year. I'm talking to Raceland. We've got Harlan on there.

You're only going to be as good as your competition. I played the "getting by" schedule in my first year, but I'm not comfortable with that. It didn't make us get any better. But my second year we played a few tougher teams, a couple of 3A teams and one 2A team and we beat all three of them. That gave us a lot of confidence. So in my fourth year, I really think we'll be competing, and the same going into my fifth year [as head coach].

I've been talking with Coach Chirico at Paintsville a little bit. We almost got that one in this year. We're going to work on getting that one for 2019. And we always play Pikeville and Hazard. They're in our district.

BGP: What are some of your favorite things to do when you have a little time in the off-season and you're not in football coaching mode?

Coach Jones: I just like to spend time with my family and with my kids. I like to get outdoors a lot, and travel. I'm looking forward to going to the beach.

BGP: Which college / NFL teams do you root for the most? I've got a feeling that I know the answer to at least one of those, but it's something we're asking all of the coaches we talk to.

Coach Jones: No question, Kentucky. Of course Kentucky. And then EKU - because my nephew, RayQuan Horton, plays there. Then in the NFL I'm a Philadelphia Eagles fan. I've been an Eagles fan since Cunningham was playing. I have a lot of family from Philly, so I'm a big Eagles fan...and no one else. I had the opportunity to play with the Ravens, and everyone would say, "Oh, you must like the Ravens then." And I'd just say, "Nope, I'm a Eagles fan. Die-hard." I was an Eagles fan when we were 3-13. I don't care, I'm an Eagles fan. would like to give a big thank you to Coach Jones for offering us some of his valuable time to answer our questions!