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Vigor's Kerry Stevenson earns Press-Register Class 4A-6A high school football coach of the year awar

To start the 2008 football season, Kerry Stevenson and his Vigor coaching staff decided to do something a little different.

The Wolves conducted a three-day preseason camp — beginning on the Sunday before August practice started and running until Tuesday — and every player ate meals together, attended church, practiced and slept in the school gymnasium.

Having adopted a team motto of "One team, one family, one goal," Stevenson designed the preseason camp to cultivate a family atmosphere and lay the groundwork for what he believed could be a championship run.

It worked, as the Wolves went on to post a 15-0 record and won the Class 5A state championship. Stevenson led the Wolves to their first state title in 20 years while also teaching three math classes in the fall.

For his work, Stevenson is the Press-Register's Class 4A-6A coach of the year.

"I think that had a whole lot to do with that family part," Stevenson said of the three-day camp at the school. "We slept there in the gym — it wasn't the most comfortable situation — but we made sacrifices and studied in the gym and had team meetings in the gym. That became our rallying point.

"When we got ready to play a game, whether at home or away, that's where we'd come together. I'd tell them, 'Remember, this is where we started. Stop being selfish. This is where we start winning a championship.' That just set the tone for the season."

Vigor opened the season with four straight wins — edging Williamson 36-28 in overtime in the opener and beating Citronelle 25-22 in week three — but the Wolves had not begun to believe in themselves.

The coaching staff agreed that the team had a championship pedigree, but Stevenson said his players didn't believe until traveling to Class 6A Opelika and earning a 34-28 win.

"After that Opelika game, they really started to believe it," Stevenson said. "No one expected us to go to Opelika and win — against Spence McCracken's disciplined team and we're supposed to be those undisciplined guys from Prichard — but we went up there and the score was close.

"That's when I really think they felt, 'OK, we might be good.'"

Vigor was rarely challenged in the final 10 games — trailing at halftime against Spanish Fort the most notable exception — and claimed the state championship with a 50-30 victory over Russellville.

Running back Ken Houston said the players noticed a difference in Stevenson and the coaching staff, especially when it became evident the Wolves were championship contenders.

"They were on us a lot more, and they were pushing us a lot," Houston said.

Vigor's success came as a surprise to many, considering the Wolves lost do-everything back Burton Scott, who signed with Alabama, after the 2007 season.

"I think having Burton around hindered a little bit," Stevenson said. "He had always been there for us. Instead of determining what we could do with other people, we wanted to know what we could do with him to be successful. But I thought we had all the pieces of the puzzle together and that this would really be a great year for us."

The Wolves excelled despite having just four paid coaches — Stevenson and assistants Brent Dearmon, Brent Orso and Jeff Moody. The other 15 coaches, including former Vigor and Alabama lineman Roosevelt Patterson, worked as volunteers.

Stevenson said it's impossible to overstate the importance of his volunteer coaches.

"This year, we had a good corps of coaches who worked their tails off and knew what they were doing," Stevenson said.

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