FORT PAYNE — Editor’s note: This is the third installment in a question-and-answer series with DeKalb County coaches, taking a look at their playing journeys and their coaching experiences. In Part 3, The Times-Journal interviewed Fort Payne’s second-year baseball coach Eric Varnadore.
Q: How long have you been involved in coaching as both a head coach and an assistant coach?
A: I have just finished my 17th year coaching. I was a volunteer assistant at Beauregard High School for one year, nine years at Albertville High School and seven years at Fort Payne. I have been the head baseball coach at Fort Payne for two years.
Q: What led you to coaching?
A: I grew up in a coaching household, so it’s all I’ve ever known. Growing up, my dad coached wrestling, basketball, football and baseball for a couple of different high schools. I saw the impact he had on young men and the relationships that he was able to form with them and the men who he worked with, and knew when I had the chance I would want to do the same thing. My love for competition and sports, and knowing that coaching would keep me connected to this, was also another factor in my career decision. I have never looked at what I do as a ‘job.’ I absolutely love doing what I do. I have looked around many times before the start of a Friday night football game, or a sunny doubleheader on the baseball field and realized how lucky I am to get to do what I do.
Q: How would you describe your high school athletic career? What sports did you play?
A: I have great memories from my time as a high school athlete. I went to Sylacauga High School and was fortunate enough to play with some really talented guys that helped us win a bunch of games during those years. I was the quarterback of the football team, and played shortstop and pitched for the baseball team. My senior year, our baseball team was fortunate enough to win the 5A state championship. It was the first baseball championship in school history. The best part of the entire deal was that my dad was the head baseball coach. Going out as a champion my senior year with my dad as the coach was such a dream come true.
Q: Did your athletic career extend beyond high school? If so, where did it take you?
A: After high school, I went to Snead State Community College on a baseball scholarship. I was blessed with the opportunity to play with some great guys and be coached by an outstanding man in Gerry Ledbetter. I had the opportunity to continue to play after my two years at Snead but decided at that point to not play any longer and just finish my college education at Auburn University.
Q: How have you been able to connect with your players and coaches during the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: We have been able to stay in touch through social media, Google Classroom, Remind and text messages. I have tried to touch base with the guys on a regular basis to make sure things were going well for them and just encourage them to make the most of this situation. As I have said all along, I coach some outstanding young men, and they attacked this time off just like they do everything else: wide open. The best message I have been able to send out was the one I sent recently telling them we are all coming back June 1. We are all so excited to get back to the field. It’s going to be so good for all of us to see each other and just hang out and catch up.
Q: What encourages you about the future of Fort Payne’s baseball program?
A: The players. We have some unbelievable young men coming through our program right now. The best part is all of these guys are better young men than they are baseball players, and that is not a slight at their baseball ability. We have several talented young men coming through the program that will have the opportunity to play college baseball if they continue to progress and work. The coaching staff is excited about the leadership that is in the program now. We are ready for these guys to maintain and build the culture that we have all worked so hard to instill.