Coach of the Week: Travis Carswell

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 8, 2005

Marengo High’s first-year head coach, Travis Carswell, isn’t bitter. He knows his school is small and out-of-the-way. But he says his school his football players nonetheless deserve more attention than they’ve been getting.

“You never hear about them, in the shadow of bigger schools. We’re a quarter-mile off the highway and if it wasn’t for the sign you wouldn’t even know there’s a school here,” he says. “But like I tell the kids, we don’t look at things like that as obstacles, we look at them as stepping stones. Just one step at a time.”

Consider last Friday a big step. Carswell’s team built upon a promising opening-week performance against John Essex by crushing regional foe Coffeeville 51-18. Coffeeville had defeated the Panthers easily in 2004 as part of a 2-8 Marengo season, but under Carswell the good work done by previous Panther head man, Dixons Mills legend Woodrow “Bear” Campbell, is starting to pay dividends.

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Carswell admits there is a certain kind of pressure to following in the footsteps of a coach like Campbell, but that the benefits more than outweigh the detractions.

“You know, I compare it to compare it to following the Bear at Bama. Every coach that comes after them is going to be compared to them, have people saying, Well, he did things this way or that way. There’s pros and cons for taking over for someone like Coach Campbell,” he says. “One thing is that Coach Campbell started things here. He built the foundation and I’m just adding on to it. People say ‘You’ve got some big shoes to fill.’ My shoes are size 12. There’s no shoes to fill. The foundation is here already.”

The foundation as concerns some of the school’s equipment and facilities could be better, Carswell says–part of why he hopes the team’s success can shine a brighter light on the school. Carswell knows a new home stadium for the Panthers would be a huge boost to the program.

“The only way to get change is by striving to make things better,” he says. “We’re trying to show a positive light on the school.”

The chance to work with a program and a group of players that had something to strive for is a big part of why Carswell joined Campbell’s staff in 2004 as an assistant before moving to the head position this season. A Georgia native, Carswell began his high school coaching career in Thomasville after serving as an assistant at the University of North Alabama. Despite some success as the Tigers’ head basketball coach (and in some ways because of it, in “football country,” according to Carswell) Carswell and Thomasville went their separate ways after two seasons. Carswell was on the brink of re-joining the college coaching ranks in the junior college haven of Kansas when he was approached by both Marengo and Wilcox Central. Marengo fit better, he says, and now that’s where he is.

“I wanted to get a chance to work with kids, especially kids with limited resources,” he says. “It tests your skills both has a coach and a person. It takes patience to build a program. Small rural schools can have a hard time getting noticed when you’re so far from big cities… The challenge of coaching where the money is limited…that’s the challenge that drove me to pursue [high school coaching] more, especially head coaching. Kids deserve a chance everywhere.”

The kids at Marengo have rewarded the chance Carswell has given them by becoming “dedicated” to the program and putting their already abundant skills to use.

“They’re diamonds in the rough. They just need some polishing,” he says. “I told my players, you were great before I came here…Now they have faith that good things are going to happen. We’re now to the point that we can win–we have that attitude and belief.”

If that belief continues Marengo’s newfound winning ways, that attention Carswell’s looking for might just come the Panthers’ way.