• B.P. Cox

Interview With Barton College Head Coach Chip Hester

Barton College Head Coach Chip Hester

With the end of the of the short football spring season and academic year, focus shifts from on the field to off the field for not only the Barton College football players, but also the coaching staff. In the ever changing world we now live in, everyone is trying to adjust to new ways of operating. This reaches from offseason conditioning to recruiting.

The Bulldog Insiders caught up with Barton College head football coach Chip Hester to discuss how things are progressing now that students have left campus for the summer and the preparations for a full fall schedule gets closer to reality.

How have you spent the first part of your offseason so far?

Our coaches have been transitioning from closing down the season and then also in finishing recruiting for the 2021 class. Exams were over last week so we're getting our guys to finish with the semester, starting with the summer plans, and then also finishing up this 2021 recruiting class is what we've been working on the last couple weeks.

What can you tell us about the summer plan, in terms of the conditioning, or do you have guys on/off campus, how does that work at Barton?

So you know we're still working through it all (laughing). And here we are again, here we are with our Covid and all the different rule tweaks that are going on. We just got word last week from the NCAA that we can do some voluntary workouts with coaches starting in July, July 6th I think is the date. So, having said that, we just found out last week. Up until last week, you can have in Division II some voluntary weight workouts so our strength and conditioning staff can supervise the weight room, but it's very limited. And then summer school offerings are pretty limited at Barton right now; we have some online courses and things like that. So there's not a bunch of housing for summer school and things like that. We will have some local or off-campus guys that can lift in our weight room and things like that. But then in July, we're trying to get all the details kind of squared away at this point to find out what we can do, how many guys we can have out there and, so, we're kinda working through that this week and hopefully finalize that next week. And then the big thing for us as coaches for the next couple of weeks is once we get finished with recruiting for the 2021 class, we'll start to prepare for fall 2021.

This is going to be a very broad question. With everything COVID presented, what were a few positives that came out of the short season?

No, I think it's a legitimate question. And as I look back and I kind of evaluate, probably having the season in the spring as opposed to the fall, and then having it only be five games, that was probably about what we needed as a new program. And the reason I say that is we had an extra fall to get the guys that we, you know, the true freshmen in and kind of adapted to what we're trying to do, and I think it was really important for us to have some outside competition because, you know, you can scrimmage amongst yourselves as much as you want but until they turn the scoreboard on, and until you're playing against a different color jersey, you never know how guys are going to respond. It's just a different variable that you can't replicate in practice, and so I think that that was very good for us. We were able to play really the best of the best in the conference. Obviously tough this year, you know, came up and really did a nice job, but, to play against Wingate, Lenoir-Rhyne, and Newberry, really have a good taste of what the best of the conference looks like. I think that was really good for us. Five games was enough that we got into some routines and they understand how the flow of the season goes. And then, you know, in the end I think we got better. We got a couple guys banged up, but in the end ,you know on the whole, I think it prepared us well for this coming fall.

So you mentioned the [SAC] conference, the best of the conference. How was the setup going to be, as far as I see right now, correct? We were playing under them, but technically the school recognizes the Conference Carolinas, but are we going to continue to play under the SAC or how, how was that going to go?

So we're under a scheduling agreement through this coming fall. There have been discussions about where we go from here. We've had good conversations in my opinion. And I think, I think by mid-June, I think we'll have a really good view of what we're going to be doing in 2022 & 2023, and I hope that's sooner than later in June. I think it's important for us to have a good plan going forward and I think we've done all we can do on our end and now we'll have to wait for some other parties that are involved in [the process]. I think we'll have some good things or at least some solid things coming up to announce sooner than later this year. So for 2021, we play all the schools in the SAC and we'll play Erskine and we've added Bluefield State. So hopefully that schedule will come out pretty soon for this fall.

You mentioned that your assistants are recruiting and whatnot. Are there recruiting blackouts and dead periods like Division I? Are they the same for Division II? Is that across the board with the NCAA or is that just per division?

No, it is different for Division II. So we are not in a dead period, rather, we are in a quiet period so we're able to evaluate [players] and some things like that. Having said that, different schools are in very different positions; most are in some kind of hybrid type deals. Our guys are not doing a bunch of in-school visits like we normally would. We're trying to get over the phone, Zoom calls, and do some things like that. We have been able to get some kids on campus. Everybody's got to go through the admissions [department] at this point for protocol purposes and things like that. So we've been able to continue to recruit in some ways, and we've been able to catch some games during the playoffs and things like that in person where the Division I guys have not been able to.

That leads into a good point. It seems like it's almost a blessing the way that a lot of these schools are playing the playoffs now in the spring. Especially with you having a short season, that'll probably allow you to catch a few games yourself and for your coaches to be able to hit the recruiting trail, correct?

Yeah absolutely. And then the other thing that's such a weird year is that everybody is able to come back next year. We're in a pretty unique situation because we had two classes that redshirted. We have very few guys that will be graduating and leaving, but that's across the board and so the class of 2021 is in a really weird situation. There are probably some really good players out there that have not signed on with folks that are probably capable of playing it at higher levels.

Now with that being said with your numbers, of course, you've got a young team anyway so you don't have the turnover that you would with players graduating. Of course the transfer portal, it's crazy with the way that things have kind of changed and adjusted with that. You've got players looking to move to new places and new homes, like we had discussed, a few looking at does that play in it? Does it get to a point where you just have to shut the gate and say, we're at the max capacity or do you continue to look?

So we're getting to the point where we're going to shut it down. But, you know, every year you need to continue to bring in guys and so every position is different. You know big guys are so hard to find so we're really searching and looking for big guys, defensive line, offensive line and some different spots. So it is a case by case basis, but you're right. We are not going to have the first two years where we had 80 and then over 60 in the next group. When it's all said and done we'll bring about 20 guys in.

Considering this, do you anticipate possibly losing anyone that might want to look elsewhere for possible playing time, or they might just want to change schools or anything like that?

Well, we don't want that. I think you and I have talked several times about how much I like our guys. They're a great group of guys and so you don't want to lose anyone, but it's just the nature of the beast that some guys are gonna, you know, depth charts are gonna affect things and on the Division II level, you've got guys with a range of scholarship dollars, and some don't have a scholarship and some things like that. So there are some financial situations, some family situations, and things like that. But I don't think, I don't think I've seen anything that's gonna really affect our two deep [roster] at this point and hopefully that will stay true.

Okay, moving back onto the field...give us a few players that came out of left field and surprised you with their play and leadership this past season.

So there are some guys that I was really excited about. You kinda knew that Jordan Terrell was going to be one of our really valuable players and most valuable player as a matter of fact. But I guess, you know, we had some high hopes for guys like Jaquan Lynch, but I think he really, he came in and exceeded our expectations. He's coming from a different style of offense over at Rocky Mount. We knew we had a good arm, great character, and was a great leader and things like that, but his running ability really was a pleasant surprise. We knew he could run, but he really was effective so I thought he really stepped in and did a nice job.

And then wide out, I think a guy that has really done some good things in practice and I think you're starting to see it is Kameron Johnson, we call him "Jay" Johnson. He was a high school quarterback and you know, we thought we knew what we were getting as far as an athlete and things like that. And again, a high character young man, and is just a great young man. But he is really, I guess, taking the bull by the horns, and he's probably a lot more instinctual as a wide receiver than I thought he would be and he's really developing really quickly. And so I think he's one of those guys that I feel really good about.

On defense we had a bunch of guys really step up. Connor Stanley was the guy that started the spring on the scout team and he ended up making some plays for us down the road and started a couple of games. And then it was good to have Kendarius Jenkins back so I thought made a big impact in the last game that he was able to play. He was only able to play in one game, but I think with Connor doing what he did, you've developed some depth there. We've got some guys in the secondary that have really come through and I think those are some guys that kind of popped up there and did some good things.

Okay, so first play from scrimmage, here you go. We'll do a hypothetical...first play from scrimmage...first play on the 2021 fall season. Are you doing another end around pass, or what do you have?

(Laughter) I can tell you that it looks like our first game will be against Newberry, and I don't know if your reach goes into Columbia, greater Columbia area, so I might not want to give too many details. But I would bet that if they're doing their homework, that they're going to play in some zone coverage and maybe be a little cautious against us on the first play.

Well I'll say that I hope my coverage can reach Newberry, but I don't believe it will at this point so I'll be realistic with The Bulldog Insiders reach this year. But another question is about black uniforms. I know that we've seen a few pictures here and there of some of the alternate colored uniforms and such. Is that something that the Bulldog Nation could possibly see in 2021?

Well, I think that is something that might just be around the corner, you know, it's one of those things that I think will be if it happens, it'll be a really good surprise. I think our color scheme is outstanding. I think our field, the blue on our field looks great and I think that our guys are excited about different color combinations. I will definitely give The Bulldog Insiders a heads up the week of.

Okay, that sounds like a deal. Regarding the progress of the construction on Truist Stadium, will it be completed by the start of the fall season?

Yes, with everything I've heard we're still on track to be completed in August. And man, I've got my fingers crossed. You just never can tell with the weather, these construction delays that come up, but I think they feel good about it. And they've been working on it and you see progress taking place so I'm really hopeful and it's something that will work out okay.

I know that speaking with alumni, a lot of folks were putting off going back for reunions this spring to wait for homecoming this upcoming fall. They're really biting at the bit to get back and see everyone in action. So will the "Bulldog Walk" that we had at the beginning of each game where the team was dropped off at the Bell Tower for a little pep talk, a prayer, and then a walk across campus, that was a very unique experience. And I've seen it at other universities, you know, Division I programs and everybody that has their own twist to the team's arrival. I've got to say that seeing the players walk through center campus like that was a very, very cool scene and a good testament to the growth of the college. Do you think it will be a mainstay and a staple moving forward, or are you going to change that up a little bit?

No, our plan is to continue it and I agree B.P., I thought that even with the year that was so restricted with COVID, I thought that that worked out really well. I'll give Dr. (Doug) Searcy a lot of credit, that was his brain child. The unique thing about it is, and the good thing about it, I think is it gives the Barton community, the greater Barton community and Wilson, you know, anyone that's on campus that's going to be there to tailgate and the families, it gives them a little chance to be a part of it. And our guys, man, they responded well to it. I thought it was the start of a good tradition in my mind and I think it's something we'll continue.

Good to hear. So here's the in-depth question for you. If you could go back and tell yourself something after your introductory press conference with Dr. Searcy, what would it be?

Oh man, what a great question. I guess it would be, the advice would be "hold on, it's going to be a bumpy ride", you know (laughing). Just with the college starting the football program, that's a challenge. But with all the different COVID complications and different things, man, what a crazy couple of years. But, you know, I've told a bunch of recruits that I've talked to this spring, it's been fun. As tough as it was, you know, I think we learned a lot, but it has been an adventure so I think we've come a long way since then, I think we're in a good position, but we're not where we want to be. We want to be competitive and really successful in all aspects, and so I think we're on the way and I feel good about where we are today. But we've got a lot of work to do and then you talk about the coaching staff and making sure that we've got the right players and can compete in the recruiting battles out there. And then on the field, you know, I think we've made a ton of progress. I think we got better every week of the season. And so I think we're in a good position, but boy, the journey is not complete and so I think there's going to be more adventures ahead.

So last one and this, this one's a little bit lighter. What does Chip Hester do whenever he's not "Head Coach Chip Hester"? What do you do whenever you're off the clock?

You know, I played a little golf back in my early coaching days, and my wife played a little golf. We played together and back in our first stops, but you know, when my daughters started playing sports, we would watch our daughters play, but now that's getting a little tougher. Now one is graduating from grad school and the other one is playing volleyball in Alabama at Troy University.

So Trish and I have actually talked about picking golf back up a little bit. I'm not one of those guys who doesn't have a lot of hobbies...I like to grill out, I like to eat out, I like to go to the beach when I can. But you know we've talked about picking golf back up.