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Thacker set to guide Pickens Academy football

Josh Thacker landed his first head coaching job in May, and what he’s seen so far has only increased his enthusiasm.

Thacker, a 29-year-old graduate of Berry High School, will be directing the Pickens Academy football program this fall.

“The biggest thing we’re trying to push on our guys is hard work, faith, family and football,” Thacker said. “We believe that if we can do that, everything else will take care of itself. We want to try to breed a family environment and establish a never-back-down, never-say-die attitude.

“I tell our guys that they should walk through every door heart first. Even if the University of Alabama is waiting on us, I don’t care. They’re going to get our best game.”

Thacker played basketball and baseball and was a quarterback in football before graduating from Berry in 2002. He earned a degree in history from the University of Alabama. He was a volunteer coach at the University of West Alabama, and he also coached at Hillcrest and at Leroy. Thacker was an assistant on the first football coaching staff when Sipsey Valley started its program in 2010.

Thacker expects to start fall practice with approximately 45 prospects in grades seven through 12. He wants to get sixth-graders involved in the junior high program, which he will direct.

He arrived in time to get in the full allotment of spring practices. For the spring game, the sides were chosen through a player draft. Thacker, who favors an efficient, up-tempo style, called the offensive plays, and “we went out and got after it.”

Once school let out, Thacker conducted weight workouts throughout June. Players were scheduled to work out four times per week, and Thacker said there were no unexcused absences.

“That’s a testament to the work ethic these young men have, and to their parents,” Thacker said.

Thacker replaced Robert Gartman, who coached the Pirates to a 19-15 record in three seasons. The 2012 Pickens Academy team, which featured 10 seniors, went 10-3 and finished as the runner-up to Restoration Academy in the AISA Class A playoffs.

Gartman resigned and is now the defensive coordinator at Escambia Academy in Atmore.

“I enjoyed it,” Gartman said. “It was a lot of fun, especially that last year. We had a lot of seniors who had been playing for us for three years. It was great to have such a very good season with them.”

Garrett Estes and Joel Pratt were senior running backs who moved on, but Josh Lewis returns for his senior season as a starting quarterback and defensive back.

“He’s such a special player, and it’s more than just his athletic ability,” Thacker said. “He’s an on-the-field leader and a great guy in the community. He makes great grades, and the parents love him. He’s young for his class, but he’s really mature beyond his years as a football player. I’m proud of him for that.”

Thacker said he plans to do enough coaching and teaching — through film study, camp participation and the repetitions of practice — that the new starters will understand their roles.

“I know they graduated 10 seniors, but what we don’t do is rebuild,” Thacker said. “It’s not in our vocabulary. I believe that you teach them every in and out of what you’re trying to accomplish and give them the opportunity to learn everything about game of football they possibly can. I think you just plug people back in who know what they’re going to do, and we’re going to try to be very good at what we do.”

Reach Andrew Carroll at or at 205-722-0223.