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Root for the home team: New coaches take reins of revived athletics at Northwest-Shoals

FRANKLIN LIVING—

Budget cuts were the name of the game 10 years ago when Northwest-Shoals Community College found it necessary to suspend its athletic programs – but that wasn’t the end of the story when it comes to sports at Northwest-Shoals. It was in October 2021 that the college announced the reinstatement of baseball and softball teams. The Patriots are back in action.

The exhibition season is scheduled to begin in September 2022, with conference play beginning in March 2023. Both teams will compete against opponents within the Alabama Community College Conference, National Junior College Athletic Association and National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Their fearless leaders, head coaches David Langston for baseball and Angel Brown for softball, were welcomed to the school in March, and the two have wasted no time getting things in gear for their inaugural season – because really, there is no time to lose.

“There’s a lot of moving parts, and everyone has jobs to do,” said Langston, “and as coaches, we have to be patient with that.” New athletic director Taylor Franks agreed – time is of the essence, and time is the challenge.

Timing also played a big role in bringing both Langston and Brown to the Shoals to take on these new roles.

Langston, 49, is a familiar name and face to Franklin County, or at least to Russellville, having worked the past several years as an assistant coach on the Golden Tiger baseball team. He’s also no stranger to his new program at Northwest-Shoals.

“I played here on the first team they had on the Shoals campus in ’93,” Langston said. “That first year we were 39-8, so from the beginning it was a very successful program.”

His success as a Patriot was just the first step in what has been a long career in athletics. After two years at Northwest, Langston continued to Birmingham Southern College, playing for the famed Coach Brian Shoop and working with pitching coaches Butch Thompson, now head coach at Auburn University, and Daron Schoenrock, now head coach at the University of Memphis. “I was very fortunate, as a player, with who I was able to be around, and I’m very thankful for those opportunities,” Langston said.

After college graduation, Langston had stops across the state, including as head coach at Minor High School in Birmingham, assistant coach at Jefferson State Community College, head coach at Muscle Shoals High, head coach at Bob Jones High, assistant coach at Florence High and assistant coach at Russellville High. The bulk of his career, though, was right back where it all started and where it has returned – the head coaching job at Northwest-Shoals, which he first took in 2001.

“It was an opportunity to get my family back home,” explained Langston, who met wife Challice when they were both students at NW-SCC; they married in 1996. Returning to his old stomping grounds, Langston found himself in the position of many new coaches – in the middle of a major rebuilding season. “When I got here in 2001, they had won 10 games the year before, so there wasn’t a lot of excitement at that time. Just through recruiting, we tripled the win total – won 30 games.”

In returning to NW-SCC to restart the program, however, Langston has found a different reception than he did those 20 years ago. “Now there’s a lot of excitement. The kids around here want to be a part of that” – a part of the revival of Patriot athletics. Although restarting a team means Langston might need some time to recapture the program’s former success, “being a two-year school, where we’re all going to be competing against other teams that have freshman and sophomores – it’s not a long-term deal. I think we can have success right away, and that’s what I’ve shared with athletes and their families. We’re going to get this thing going, but we’ve to have the right players, and I think we have a good plan in place for how we’re going to get them.”

Langston grew up in Jasper, graduating from Curry High School in 1991. He was a multi-sport athlete in high school, and sports were a central part of his childhood. “Where I grew up, it’s just what we did. If I wasn’t competing in a game, we were playing in the back yard – whatever sports season it was, that’s what we would do, what me and my friends did. I’ve always been passionate about it.” He said although he once thought his future was in basketball, he ultimately found baseball would be his path forward as both a player and a coach.

Langston said he has enjoyed his recent opportunity to be part of the state championship-winning Russellville program. “The culture Coach Heaps and the system there has created – it’s unbelievable. It’s not a coincidence they are playing for championships there every year.”

Langston said it’s the competition that draws him to coaching, as well as his love for preparing and organizing a program. It’s also a job that keeps him young. “Someone was telling me the other day, ‘Coach, you haven’t aged in 10 years,’ and I credit that to who I’m around every single day – those 17, 18, 20-year-olds.”

“I don’t really know anything else I’m good at, to be honest with you,” he joked.

For Brown, who will be heading the softball program at Northwest, the opportunity to rebuild the Lady Patriots is not her first experience reviving a suspended athletic program. The 2006 Pickens County High School graduate played softball at Bevill State Community College and later returned to the school to help reboot its once defunct program in 2016-17.

Brown, 34, said she takes pride in being a JUCO product – a pride that drove her to seek the coaching job at Northwest. “There is something special about a two-year program. It was probably the best two years of growing that I got to do,” she said. “The ability to come and do what I wanted to do – to impact lives and spend time helping foster better citizens – was a big pull for me to come back to this level.”

Brown played for two years at Bevill State before an injury pushed her to take a break from sports for awhile. She continued her education, keeping her desire to be a teacher and influence young people at the forefront of her mind. “I took that time and went back to school and graduated from UAB with my undergrad in 2014,” Brown said.

From a young age, Brown said, she knew she wanted to work with young people. It began with going to church with her grandparents and teaching at Vacation Bible School during the summers. “I knew I had a call to serve people, and when I fell in love with softball, it tied together,” Brown said. “I had really great coaches who were big influences on me, and I know a lot of the decisions I made – to be a teacher, to be a coach, and just the character and integrity I have – came from them, and that’s something I wanted to pass on to another generation.

“I started playing softball when I was 12,” Brown added. “My dad played baseball at Stillman, so that kind of started me with that.” She was widely active in high school, dipping her toes into the band and groups like Beta and Rotary, but softball was a constant. “I’m pretty competitive by nature, and I like to have fun with it. I was blessed to be pretty athletic,” Brown said. “It was just something I enjoyed – spending time with my friends and teammates and being competitive.”

After earning her bachelor’s degree, she taught physical education at Maddox Middle in Jasper and at Hoover Middle before her return to Bevill State as coach. After two years as the Bevill head coach, Brown continued her career for two years at the University of West Alabama, followed by some time as a volunteer coach at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

For both coaches, the hiring process featured a committee – comprising a variety of program stakeholders – that interviewed candidates and decided on the right people for the job. NW-SCC public information officer Trent Randolph said the openings drew wide-ranging interest, with applicants from as far west as Nevada and as far north as Maine, as well as from the region and surrounding states.

Langston said there was never any indication from the selection committee that he had an advantage based on his history coaching for the school. He prepared and was considered for the position on a level playing field with the other candidates. His ties to the region, of course, certainly worked in his favor and have aided him as he has begun the talent search and recruitment process. He came into the role with a list of potential players already prepared. “After I was given the job, I was able to get on the phone that night and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got the job, and you’ve got an offer,’ and kids began committing.” Langston signed his first player in early April, Hayden Hawk, from Central High School in Florence. “Recruiting has been – that’s the most important thing, if you’re going to be successful, at the college level.”

Randolph said NW-SCC President Dr. Jeff Goodwin has emphasized a strong focus on pulling local talent to build a successful Patriot program. “The foundation of these programs is going to be the best local talent, from all over our five-county service area,” Randolph said. “We’re not just trying to win championships. This is a service for our community. This is an avenue for those student-athletes to be able to come and get an education that they sometimes might not have been able to get.”

The baseball program will offer 24 scholarship spots and welcome about six walk-ons. Langston said he expects to have four players from Russellville on the inaugural team and in the future will be recruiting talent from Phil Campbell, as well.

The softball program, like baseball, has 24 scholarship spots. Brown said in their first season, the Patriots plan to bring in 10-12 freshman as well as attract some sophomore transfers, with an 18-woman roster as a baseline target. She’s been traveling around the region to watch teams play and feel out her prospects.

“Success for us going to be being able to establish a culture,” Brown said. Developing responsibility, respect and strong work ethic in her players will be key in her mind. Of course, putting a few wins on the board is a goal, too. “I’m not going to put numbers out there to say we’re going to have a winning season, but what I will tell you is that we’re going to be competitive when we step on the field,” said Brown.

Brown said that, like Langston, she has been met with great enthusiasm from community stakeholders and the Patriot fanbase as well as high school programs around the region.

“Softball is growing rapidly across the board from the Division I level on down, and the more success Division I and Division II schools have, it trickles down,” said Brown, adding everyone she has spoken with seems excited to welcome this opportunity for young women locally. As of early April, she had three player commitments and expected to sign her first players mid-month.

Rehabbing the programs’ playing facilities is paramount. The teams will enjoy superior practicing and playing opportunities with the installation of artificial turf for both fields – a $1.4 million project.

Franks, who is in the unique position of having been hired as athletic director at an unusual time – after the new coaches were already hired – said the fields are expected to be ready by July, depending on the weather and other factors, such as supply chain issues. Site prep was underway starting in early April. The college has recently hired a director of facilities, Dillard McCowan, who will oversee the fields’ completion. Hellas Sports, based in Austin, Texas, will do the turf installation.

Langston and his wife have three children: Landon, 23, played baseball at the University of North Alabama and is a graduate assistant at Troy University; Peyton, 20, is a freshman at UNA; Banks, 17, is a junior who plays football and baseball at Russellville.

“This is the job that I wanted. The 10 years I spent here were some of the best of my life,” said Langston. “There was one point I was tired, but I’m ready to go. I’m excited about the opportunity to build this thing back.”

“I’m really thankful for the opportunity,” agreed Brown. “I’m grateful for how the administration has been so supportive already, and the community has been so excited, so I’m just really thankful.”

Franks echoed similar sentiments, particularly her gratefulness that both Langston and Brown bring such valuable experience to the table – both having played at the community college level, Langston bringing his former experience at NW-SCC and Brown bringing her expertise from restarting the Bevill State program.

“We have two stellar coaches to restart our programs.”

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