If you talk to Laurence Manning Academy football head coach Austin Floyd for five minutes, one thing will be abundantly clear. He loves his team.
Some people may have scoffed when the Swampcats hired a 25-year-old head coach this spring, but …
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Some people may have scoffed when the Swampcats hired a 25-year-old head coach this spring, but Floyd and his team quickly shut down any criticism as they put together a first season for the record books. LMA has gone 11-1 to this point in the season and will play Hammond for the SCISA 3A state championship on Friday. This season's success begins and ends with the relationships Floyd has built with his team.
"A lot of it is just your attitude, your effort, your willingness and your ability to communicate with young people," said Floyd. "It's all about relationships. If you can't get those young people to believe in you, that you're the guy for the job and you care about them and you love them and you tell them you love them, it doesn't matter how many Xs and Os you can throw on the board. Because if you watch us defensively and offensively, we're not complicated, but a lot of it is our attitudes towards one another and our ability to love on one another. The kids can tell whether you're real or not.
"When I first took the job, I was weary to tell people I was 25, but now I just don't really care. It is what it is. My experience is my experience and I kind of look at it as quality over quantity," continued the LMA coach. "I said when I interviewed here that I thought it would be an advantage because I'd be able to relate to the kids."
Floyd said the seeds for this spectacular season were own when he invited the seniors to his house not long after taking the job. He wanted to build those crucial relationships as soon as he could, and it all started at a dinner at his house.
"It's very difficult for a senior to have a coach for one year and to want to buy in and do things differently than what was done before," said Floyd. "One thing that helped was that I had all the seniors over at my house for dinner at the beginning of May before spring practice started. I just wanted them to know that I'm human and I care about them, I wanna try to win as many games as we can for them and for the program, and that they were laying the foundation for us to build in the future.
"They bought in and they laid a foundation," Floyd continued. "When they graduate, if they come back and look at this program and see where it's at in a few years and know that the efforts they gave and the expectations they set ultimately led to where we're going to take this program."
While Floyd's youth may have originally been seen as a negative, it proved to be a huge positive once he stepped into the locker room. His ability to relate to the kids and carry himself with a youthful energy endeared him to the team quickly.
"At first we were like 'Man, he's not that much older than us,' but we started talking to him and going through the offense and we really started piecing things together," said quarterback Burgess Jordan. "We had to come together and believe in what he came in with. (His age) definitely helped because we felt like he could relate to us, for sure."
Senior running back Wyatt Rowland echoed those sentiments.
"Most of the things we talk about, he's able to relate to, because he's gone through things we're going through now. It's definitely been easier to relate to him," said Rowland. "When I first found out (about the coaching change), I was thinking the worst, but he came out and had good energy. He was calming and he got things done and it was a good adjustment to him."
Floyd is big on preparation and execution, but the biggest key to LMA's success this season has been its bond as a team. Floyd wanted to make an environment where the Swampcats felt like a family, and they wanted to succeed because it would benefit their "brothers." Stressing the importance of those relationships led to seven straight wins to open the season.
"I think it goes back to our first team meeting. I told the team I wanted to focus on relationships and get to know them. I wanted it to be more than just football," said Floyd. "You move into spring practice and summer workouts and they grind together. They built that bond that you want to see. It's about the kids, man.
"It's been a wild ride," continued the LMA head coach. "If you told us that we'd be 11-1 going into the final week of the season, I might have laughed a little bit, but I didn't think it was out of our realm of thought."
One prime example of how important those relationships are to Floyd is how he was planning to spend his Friday night before the championship game against Hammond was moved from Saturday to Friday.
"Right now, I'm planning on Friday night to drive an hour and a half to Wagener-Salley to watch Lamar (the school where he was an assistant before coming to LMA) play (in a 1A state playoff game), because I've got kids that I love," said Floyd. "It hurt to leave that place when you come here and you're still a part of their lives. Even though you're not coaching them anymore, you're still their coach and you want to be around them and kids can tell that."
Regardless of the outcome on Friday, Floyd is proud that his team was able to make his first season as a head coach one to remember.
"It's awesome. I went to high school at East Clarendon and we had one winning season, and I think sometimes we don't realize how special it is to have years like this and win all these games," said the LMA head coach. "I've been very fortunate with my last two years at Lamar and this year. I've coached in the last game as a coordinator and as a head coach. It's an awesome experience. Only six (11-man) teams in SCISA are going to get to experience it. It's special."
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