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Class AA blog: Checking in with Dodge County

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As teams struggle to stay physically conditioned while being locked out of their school gyms, there are probably few teams more prepared to handle this obstacle than Dodge County. Their head coach, Ken Cofer, who is in his second season leading the Indians, knows strength and conditioning inside and out. Over the years, he’s racked up certifications from USA Weightlifting and Air Raid and a doctorate degree — all while coaching.

If anyone can devise the perfect workout plan for his team, one would figure Cofer would be near the top of that list.

“That sounds awesome and I’d like to believe that too,” Cofer said. “But honestly, this is 15- to 18-year-old kids we’re talking about. Don’t get me wrong, we have a hardworking group that loves to be pushed. But we can’t keep our eye on them enough to know if they’re getting it done 100 percent and if they’re doing it right.

“We’ll know in the summer who has and hasn’t been working hard.”

For an example of character and working hard when no one is around to see it, the Indians need to look no further than Cofer. Always eager to learn more, Cofer refused to remain content in his role as coach and, out of his determination to grow as a person, sought higher learning via the weight training certifications and doctorate degree.

His motivation for continuing his education stems from wanting to be the best he can for his daughters, who are now in their late teens.

“My dad, who passed away, was a good coach and a good man,” said Cofer, “but I wanted to leave more for my girls when I pass on. I want them to be proud of their daddy and I want to hold my family to a higher standard. Not that they have to do what I did, but to not settle for the bare minimum”

Cofer began his coaching career in the mid-90s as an assistant and became a head coach at Cook in 2010. He also led Bacon County (2014-15) and Wilcox (2018) before returning to Dodge County ahead of the 2019 season, where he served as an assistant on Rex Hodges’ staff during the 2016-17 seasons.

When Cofer graduated from Jacksonville State in 1996, he told his mother he’d never go to school again. However, in 2002, Cofer — now married with a child and another in the plans —  was an assistant at Manchester when coach Zeke Geer handed him some literature about the United States Sports Academy.

Cofer was intrigued.

“I checked it out and it was sports management education,” he said. “It was basically a business management degree that was sports-related.”

Cofer would earn his master’s from the Sports Academy in 2006 and then saw a doctorate degree as within his grasp. By 2013, he’d earned that from the academy as well. This was all while going through his daily grind of teaching and coaching.

“Any time the girls would go on a trip, or went to bed early, I was on the computer knocking out units,” Cofer said. “I’d spend whole weekends pushing myself to get it done and I’m glad I did it. I’m still paying off loans.”

Cofer is hoping that same determination rubs off on the Indians this offseason, which will be unprecedented and challenging. He’s expecting a big year from the Indians and not just a return to the playoffs for a ninth consecutive season, but a deep run.

The Indians finished 4-7 last year in Cofer’s first season, which was down from 10-2 the year before and 10-1 in 2017. While 2019 doesn’t stand out on paper, their final two games — both losses — were actually a positive in Cofer’s eyes.

In the last game of the regular season against No. 7 Bleckley County, the Indians nearly completed a rally after trailing 27-7 at halftime, losing 41-34. The next week, in the first round at No. 6 Thomasville, the Indians had their chances to win in a huge upset, but came up just short, 31-26. Thomasville would end up advancing all the way to the semifinals.

“I don’t like losing at all,” Cofer said. “Even if the other team is better. But I can handle losing better if the effort is 100 percent, and that’s where it was at the end of the season.”

The Indians have a lot working in their favor for 2020, highlighted by eight returning starters on each side of the ball. Both quarterbacks — junior Kade Harpe and sophomore Hunter Kirkley — return along with their nearly-1,500-yard rusher Daylon Gordon, who has offers from Coastal Carolina, Navy and Western Kentucky. Safety/receiver Michael Carr will be a four-year starter and holds offers from Coastal Carolina, Jacksonville State and Troy.

They’ll compete in a tweaked Region 3 that loses defending state champions Dublin and East Laurens and gains Monticello/Jasper County and Lamar County. The Indians are shooting for their first region title since 2017. They’ll prepare for aspirations of a run past the second round, where they haven’t been since reaching the quarterfinals in 1999, with a tough non-region schedule that consists of Dublin, Fitzgerald, Toombs County and West Laurens.

“I’ve always believed that playing tough competition gets you prepared for the playoffs,” Cofer said. “I want to win every week but the objective isn’t to win every regular season game, it’s to win in the playoffs. Our region is going to be tough too.”

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