FORT PAYNE — With Tom Shanklin leaving the Fort Payne boys soccer team to help further develop the county’s club soccer program, D.C. Inferno, longtime assistant coach Steve Cornelius will step into his role and become the team’s new co-head coach.
Michael Farmer will continue calling the plays and providing schematic direction during matches and practices, while Cornelius will focus on the strength and conditioning aspect of the sport.
“I make sure the kids are capable of running for 80 solid minutes,” Cornelius said.
Cornelius started helping the Fort Payne girls soccer program in the late 2000s, before transitioning into a boys assistant around 2013. He helped prepare the boys for their 2015 state championship run and assisted in the team’s previous two state finals appearances.
“The boys are willing to allow us to mold them,” Cornelius said. “They’re willing to change positions from maybe one they want to play. A player may come in and want to play a certain position and we see that they’re better fit to do something else.
“We have that discussion at the beginning of the season. In order for us to get to that final spot, you have to be willing to change with us and allow us to make moves on the field so that we all reach that end goal.
“They may not start out 100% on board, but once they start seeing the rewards, the wins coming from it, they do.”
Cornelius said he’s known Shanklin for more than 20 years and admires his love for soccer and the players he coaches. He said he’s absorbed a lot from Shanklin’s approach to coaching.
“You build that relationship with players on a personal level. You don’t demand respect, you earn it,” Cornelius said. “You tend to get more out of players that way. Tom brought a lot of that to the table.
“...We love (our players) like they are our own kids, and we want excellence out of them. We just see more out of them than they may see out of themselves sometimes.”
The Wildcats were poised to make another deep postseason run before the spring sports season was cancelled due to the rising threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since Farmer became the head coach of the boys team in 2011, the Wildcats have played in five state finals and won two state titles (2011 and 2015). With 10 seniors in play and looking sharp in their pursuit of another championship, this spring brought a disappointing end to another promising season.
“The players were very disappointed but understood why everything had to happen like it did,” Farmer said. “It was just very disappointing that we weren’t able to finish the season out.”
This summer’s safety guidelines restricted all competitions and made it difficult for the boys to do much with their workout opportunities. The team held a couple of workouts earlier this summer, but cancelled the remaining ones until near the end of the month due to the county’s rise in COVID-19 cases.
“Usually during the summer we just split players up and let them play and have a summer camp,” Farmer said. “There are three weeks during the summer when we can play other teams and we go to Florence for a play date. Albertville usually has one and Southside usually has one. We go on a Saturday and we play two-three shortened games, 20- 25-minute halves. We weren’t able to do that this summer.”
Said Cornelius, “You just hope the kids are retaining what we teach and in time, when we get lifted from some of these restrictions, hopefully they can put into play what we’ve tried to teach over the summer.”