By Brad Fauber
WINCHESTER -- Mark McHale has bounced around from place to place during his coaching career, which has included plenty of stops at both the high school and college levels.
The 62-year-old McHale has coached under the legendary Bobby Bowden at Florida State University, was an assistant at Southern Mississippi (where he recruited Brett Favre) and most recently coached at Alcorn State in 2012.
McHale served as Warren County's head football coach in the late 1990s, and he coached a few seasons of high school football in Mississippi as well. But now McHale has finally returned home to Winchester to lead James Wood's football team in what will likely be McHale's final coaching destination.
"This is my alma mater. I've been traveling all over the place for 40 years and I get to come home," said McHale, who graduated from James Wood in 1968 and is a member of the school's P. Wendell Dick Hall Of Fame. "I've got family here -- I've seen more of my family since I've been here than I had in the last five years. I have a great staff to work with, great young men who work hard. To come back to your alma mater is a good way to end it."
McHale replaces former Colonels head coach Mike Bolin, who coached for five seasons at James Wood before stepping down from the position, and McHale's presence has made an immediate impact on Colonels players.
McHale was adamant about employing a strict strength and conditioning program in the offseason, and many players have already noticed the effects of those drills. And it isn't just the physical work that McHale has demanded that has caught the eyes of the James Wood players -- they are also aware of his extensive coaching background.
"He definitely knows what he's doing when it comes to football, and he's a big motivator for us," senior fullback/linebacker Daniel Funkhouser said. "He demands perfection, and everybody wants to be perfect for him because it's a big year for all of us seniors."
McHale said he has been pleased with the effort and enthusiasm that he has seen from his players so far in practice, and the longtime coach said he even got a pleasant surprise this offseason when the entire James Wood football program -- varsity and junior varsity teams combined -- had perfect attendance during summer workouts.
"We didn't have a single player miss the entire summer workouts out of 74 football players. That's unbelievable," McHale said. "I don't know many programs that can say every one of their players made their quotas for workouts in the summer, but they've been here since I got here March 11. They've been lifting weights, doing the speed program, conditioning program. They've done everything we've asked them to do, so I'm real tickled with them. We've got a good group of seniors who want to have a successful year."
That drive to be successful will be crucial for the Colonels, who are trying to turn things around from a dreadful 1-9 season a year ago.
James Wood appears to have an uphill climb in doing so, as the Colonels return little experience from last year's team that graduated 17 seniors.
The Colonels will also be without starting quarterback Cam Butler -- one of the few returning veterans on the team -- who was diagnosed with mononucleosis and will be out indefinitely. Butler threw for 1,163 yards, eight touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season.
Junior Brady Hepner will be the starting quarterback in Butler's absence, and McHale said Hepner has "filled in really well" so far in practice.
"It definitely hurts us with experience at quarterback, but Brady is going to step in and he's going to do fine," said senior wide receiver/defensive back Dakota Orndorff (32 catches, 453 yards, four touchdowns in 2012). "I kind of like Brady -- he's got some wheels on him, so that will help. Once he gets his decision-making down he can start just getting the feel of things."
Sophomore Tyler Bishop is the current frontrunner at starting running back, and Orndorff returns as the Colonels' top receiving threat.
McHale said James Wood will show multiple looks on both offense and defense, and the offensive playbook alone contains about 45 different formations.
Defensively, the Colonels will look to improve upon last year's performance in which they allowed 38.6 points per game. James Wood should have some good senior leadership on the defensive side of the ball with Orndorff and Barrett Davis in the secondary, Marcus Lemley at linebacker, and Christian Marchelewski and Nick Floyd along the defensive line.
McHale knows that the turnaround of James Wood's program probably won't happen overnight, but he is dedicated to getting the Colonels moving in the right direction as quickly as possible.
"The thing is they're doing everything we're asking them to do. We want to put them in a position to win, but all we can ask them to do is go out there and play hard and we'll just take it one day at a time," McHale said. "It might take one year to turn it around, it might take two years, it might take three, but we're going to get it going in the right direction and this bunch has an opportunity to possibly do it the first year, but we're going to have to wait and see."
Contact sports writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com