Hyder captures state title in Florida

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   Jimmy Hyder grew up in Elizabethton and played for the tradition-rich Cyclone football program in the early 1990's. As successful as the team was in the years he put on the orange and black uniforms, he didn't get to experience a state championship until the end of last season as a wide receiver coach of the Rockledge (Fla.) Raiders.
   "You always hear about how the state of Florida is in football talent," said Hyder. "They take care of Florida State, Florida and Miami as well as so many other schools. So I wanted to be down there. The summer workout programs are nothing like I've seen in high school football. They're out there in 90 degree weather at 10 o'clock in the morning, running 40 to 50 yard sprints.
   "That's after they've lifted weights for an hour. The coaching staff was out there pushing the kids. That's one reason they are very successful, all the work in the offseason."
   Hyder took us step by step on getting with the Rockledge state championship team once he moved to the Sunshine State. "First, I got a job at Cocoa High School, which is the big rival to Rockledge, like Science Hill-Elizabethton," Hyder explained. "I took that job as a history teacher and the head freshman coach. I was an assistant coach on the varsity and stayed up in the booth. I didn't really have a lot to say and wasn't really satisfied. I was ready to come back to Tennessee, probably was going to get a job in Morristown and then this job came open. The slot was opened when the coach there took a job as a head coach and I took over as receivers coach.
   "When I interviewed there, they told me the staff was going to be split, with myself, head coach Chuck Wood and the offensive coordinator Larry Laskowski to be the offensive staff and three other coaches to be the defensive staff."
   Part of the appeal of coaching at Rockledge went back to a conversation that Hyder had with his own high school football coach. "I remembered talking to coach (Dave) Rider and he said the best years, he had at Elizabethton was when they had coach Hastings and each of them could concentrate on the offense and defense."
   Hyder was a standout on the 1994 Cyclone team, pulling double duty both on the offensive and defensive lines. He talked about learning the game under one of the legendary high school coaches in East Tennessee.
   "What I remember about playing for coach Rider is the respect you have for the coach," said Hyder. "Even today when I talk to him, there is a part of me that feels intimidated. I know that he knows a lot. I've learned a lot over the years, but when I went and saw him over the Christmas holiday, he was excited for me. When I would call Ryan Witten, his oldest grandson, he would always pick up the phone and ask how I was doing.
   "He told me to be sure and win the state and not to take anything for granite. All the other coaches at Rockledge, have over 100 years of coaching experience on the staff, here I am with only three years and have a state championship. I've been really blessed. Coach Rider still wants to see the ring when I come back."
   Jimmy was also grateful to the current Cyclone football coach for an opportunity he gave him after graduation from ETSU with degrees in history and physical education.
   "If it wasn't for Tommy Jenkins, I probably wouldn't even still be in football," said Hyder. "I went down and asked him if I could help when he first got the head coaching job. He opened up his arms and said, 'Yeah, I want you to help. We can't pay you any money, but you can come down here and learn.'
   "Ryan and myself did the freshman team for one year, and also during that time I got to help Richard Wilson with basketball, who I look up to a lot. I learned so much about preparation as a coach and how to treat the kids and being fair and disciplined. Coach Rider and Coach Jenkins are two great people."
   Once at Rockledge, Hyder found himself learning even more about football under Wood, a 22-year coaching veteran and now coach of the two-time defending state champions. To say the Raiders' season was remarkable is an understatement. They went 13-1 on the year, recording five shutouts. In their first game, Rockledge a 3-A school knocked off Apopka, the defending state champions at the Class 6A level in Florida.
   The year culminated with a 22-0 win over Crestview in the state title game. Their stats in the title game was overwhelmingly lopsided, with the Raiders having 14 first downs to only 4 for Crestview and holding them to 50 yards rushing on 32 attempts. Linebacker Brian Goins led that dominant defense, earning state MVP honors, while the Raiders as a whole ended the season ranked No. 10 among all teams in the Southeast in a "Sporting News" poll.
   When asked what separates prep football in the state of Florida from the rest of the country, Hyder responded, "To be up front, our team is kind of small. We're probably smaller than Elizabethton. We run the wing-T and pull a lot of people. Our guards and tackles are pulling constantly, but we have a lot of great skill kids.
   "I think the big thing is we have a lot more speed than around here. On the defensive side, you see the speed. The kids are built very well and that comes a lot from the offseason. Even during the season, the kids will start lifting weights around 6:00 in the morning.
   "On offense, the wing-T system lets us use our speed and agility with our linemen and get our backs out on the perimeter. Our quarterback was unreal. His name was Hunter Pinkston and he had five senior receivers to throw the ball to that were all play makers."
   The team racked up 308 yards per game to only 144 for the opposition. In all, the Raiders were blessed with 23 seniors on the team. They were set up much like a college team putting more emphasis on special teams than most high school teams around here do. In fact, the leading scorer on the Rockledge was kicker Clint Wright with 89 points. He was the most prolific part of the offense in the state title game, going a perfect 5-for-5 in field goal attempts.
   "Every day we work on special teams down there," said Hyder. "The defense does the punt return, the punt receive, punt block and all that. Every day we take at least 20 minutes working on special teams. We use our speed and give our best athletes the chance to make something happen on special teams."
   The state title game was played at one of college football's largest stadiums, Doak-Campbell on the campus of Florida State. The Seminoles proved to be great hosts giving the Rockledge team six brand new Nike footballs.
   Although the location of that championship game in Tallahassee was terrific, more special to Hyder this season was getting to share much of the good times with his parents, Jim and Linda, who drove 10 hours from East Tennessee to go to many contests.
   "I have to thank my mom and dad," said Hyder. "We played 16 games and they came to ten games. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't be down in Florida."
   Away from the field, Hyder is enjoying living in the shadows of Cape Canaveral and spending his workdays in the classroom. He expressed no regrets from changing his collegiate major from pre-med to the history, education combination.
   "I like teaching history," said Hyder. "It goes back to being in high school at Elizabethton and having teachers like Randy Little, Hack Hyder and doing my student teaching under Mike Wilson. I was intrigued with how they taught it. I liked the battles and the strategies. It's very much like a sporting event. I look up to the generals like Andrew Jackson and Stonewall Jackson. They're in one way like the legendary coaches like Bear Bryant and coach Kryzewski."