SYLVANIA — Editor’s note: This is the 10th installment in a question-and-answer series with DeKalb County coaches, taking a look at their playing journeys and their coaching experiences. In Part 10, The Times-Journal interviewed Sylvania football coach Matt Putnam.
Q: How long have you been in coaching both as a head coach and as an assistant?
A: This will be my 11th year as a head coach and my 20th year overall. I went to Buckhorn in 2004 and coached there until 2010. Then I got a head-coaching job at Hazel Green High School in Madison County.
Q: What led you to coaching?
A: I got some baseball opportunities when I graduated and I went into education to be a baseball coach. I started coaching baseball my first three years and just fell in love with coaching football. I didn’t even really plan on it. I was asked to help coach football when I was 23. I thought, ‘Alright, I’ll do it,’ and I fell in love with it. So I dropped baseball after three years, got a varsity job at Buckhorn and never looked back.
Q: What was your high school playing career like?
A: I played football at Sylvania for coach (Paul) Benefield when he was at Sylvania. We won a lot of games. I think we were 33-5 from my 10- 12th-grade year. The two winningest teams in Sylvania history were during my junior and senior years. It was the only two times in school history (the football team) won 12 games. We won 11 games a couple of years ago, so we’re trying to match it or bypass it as soon as we can.
Q: What all sports did you play in high school?
A: I played everything. I actually played basketball and wrestled until ninth grade and then I had to give one of them up because it was just too much. ...I just liked to compete. I’ve always been a competitor. If they’re keeping score, I’m in.
Q: Where did your college playing career take you?
A:I had an offer at Faulkner University and I had a full leadership scholarship to (Jacksonville State University). I had several other academic scholarships. Coach (Rudy) Abbott at JSU recommended my to go to play junior college for a couple of years before I transferred to JSU. So I went to (Snead State Community College) on an academic scholarship and walked on and it didn’t work out. It wasn’t a good fit. But I ended up playing rugby at Jacksonville, anyway, and that was fun.
Q: Was that your first experience with rugby?
A: Yes. I actually just went to a game to watch and they gave me a uniform and put me in. I had no idea. It was trial by fire. By the end of the game, I kind of understood the game, but the first half, I thought I was going to die. It was bad. It was extremely fun once I figured out what was going on, how to play. It was almost as fun as football, almost. I was at Jacksonville for three years and I played all three years.
Q: Who are the coaches who most impacted the way you instruct your athletes?
A: For starters, coach Benefield. He was my head coach for my whole high school career. How he approaches practice and what he demands out of his players has a huge impact. Michael Jackson was the head coach at Buckhorn. He was a completely different kind of coach from Benefield. Coach Benefield was a disciplinarian and Jackson was really laid-back and played with the kids more. I guess I’m a combination of the two.
Q: What are among some of your favorite sports memories as either a player or a coach?
A: The memories of my lifelong friends who I played with in the huddle; some of my best friends who were struggling or in pain but still out there playing and giving it everything they had; obviously, with the tears running down their faces, they weren’t playing for themselves, they were doing it for us. It just inspired me to play harder. ...We played in the semifinals against Colbert County and got really close to winning a state championship that year but never got to experience that. It’s probably one of the reasons why I’m still coaching.