Class A Blog:  Coach Speak - Rich Fendley, Bowdon

Bowdon head coach Rich Fendley does not mind telling you that he is not the greatest “exes and ohs guy.” His strength in coaching lies somewhere else.

“I’m really good with kids,” he said, Tuesday evening. “I don’t know. I just know I love kids and they love to play for me. Kids I’ve coached have always given me everything they’ve got.”

That certainly appears to be the case this season, as Fendley, now in his second year in charge at Bowdon, has the Red Devils at 3-0 for the first time since 2013. Fendley is rebuilding the west Georgia program that has been playing football since 1926. Legendary head coach Dwight Hochstetler compiled a record of 241-89 and won 13 region championships and a state title in 27 seasons. Since then, Bowdon is 15-28, including last season, the first under Fendley, when the Red Devils went 1-9.

But that one victory, a 14-7 win over King’s Ridge Christian, came in the Region 6 crossover game on the final week of the regular season. That momentum has carried into 2019, which Fendley and his staff expected. After all, with only five seniors last year, Bowdon returned 20 starters.

“We saw where we were getting better and better each week,” Fendley said. “We lost [four] games by 10 points or less and we were in every game we played for the most part, and we were doing it with freshmen and sophomores. I think our kids realize it, too. They said, ‘Hey, we’re playing with these teams that are two or three years older than we are, and we’re hanging with them.’ I think that gave them a lot of confidence coming into this season.”

Class A Blog: What has been the biggest difference maker in the turnaround?

Fendley: “When I got the job, we had 28 kids in our program. Now we have 60, so we have been able to develop some depth. We only had five seniors last year, and so we played a lot of young guys, a lot of freshmen and sophomores. All of those kids came back with 10 games of varsity experience. We returned 20 starters.”

Class A Blog: How were you able to keep the team upbeat last season and during the off season, after going 1-9?

Fendley: “We lost five games by 10 points or less, and a couple of those we lost by one point. Then we won our last game. Me and my staff, we knew we were getting better each week and our kids knew they were young, but getting better. We knew with a full offseason program, and with our kids having a full season of experience, we’d be better this season.”

Class A Blog: How were you able to keep the team upbeat last season and during the off season, after going 1-9?

Fendley: “We lost five games by 10 points or less, and a couple of those we lost by one point. Then we won our last game. My staff, and me we knew we were getting better each week and our kids knew they were young, but getting better. We knew with a full offseason program, and with our kids having a full season of experience, we’d be better this season.

“But the key is keeping all of your kids from one year to the next. These days, if parents don’t like the way things are going, they will take their kids somewhere else. I told my principal when I took the job that I never, ever want to lose a kid to another school, and we’ve done things to improve our program. We have a new $200,000 field house, a new locker room, a new weight room, our sound system in the stadium is top of the line, and at the end of this season we’re going to get new [artificial] turf. But you also have to do the little things that make a huge difference, like spend time away from football with your kids. Go watch them play their other sports. Show them that you care about them and that you love them.”


Class A Blog: That’s a huge commitment from you and your staff. 

Fendley: “My principal allowed me to bring in eight coaches for my staff. I’ve got veteran coaches as my offensive and defensive coordinators, but the rest of the staff are young guys who really relate well to the kids. Spending time with them shows them how much we care, and because of that they trust us.”


Class A Blog: Traditionally, Bowden has been a wing T team on offense. Why the change to a more multiple look?

Fendley: “Bowden has been wing T team forever, and we ran it some last year. But now we’re about 50-50 run and pass. We can spread it out and throw it a little bit, which we proved against Breman when they put eight in the box. Then [against Monticello] we ran the ball well because they had their safety playing 20 yards off the ball. You have to be able to do both in today’s game.”


Class A Blog: Who are some of your key players?

Fendley: “Our quarterback, Rob McNeal (5-8, 150), is super talented and has a chance to be really special. He led the middle school to two championships, one in seventh grade and again last season as an eighth grader. Another one of our young guys is our tailback Gage Stephens (5-9, 160), a sophomore. He is going to be a big-time player, too. Jarrett Anderson (6-0, 200) is a junior linebacker who is our leading tackler. He didn’t even start for us last year, so he’s been a real hidden gem for us. And a couple of our seniors have really stepped up, too. Ben Fortson (5-10, 180) plays receiver and safety for us and he has a few small Division I offers and Cooper Smith (6-2, 285) is a great two-way lineman for us who has committed to Army.”


Class A Blog: After such a great start, how are you able to keep your team focused and not look too far ahead?

Fendley: “I end every practice telling them we’re not there yet. We have a whole lot of room to get better in a lot of areas. We have to get better in the weight room. We have to be better in class. We have to be better when we’re studying film. We turn up the heat on them to keep getting better, but this senior class is still hungry. We have 16 or 17 in this senior class, and they’re all hungry.”


Class A Blog: How has the community reacted to the team’s success?

Fendley: “Year One was rough, I’ll tell you. Our community knew we had two senior Division I players who left before the start of the season last year and went to Heard County, and they went on to win a [Class AA] state championship. But folks around here are proud of this program and its tradition, so they weren’t happy [last year]. But this season we opened up by going down to Valdosta and beating a Valwood team that is supposed to compete for the GISA state championship. Then we beat Breman, which was huge, and then Monticello. This feels like the old Bowdon.”


Class A Blog: What do people not know about football in west Georgia?

Fendley: “People around here are proud of their programs and there is a lot of tradition in this area. Bowdon has won a state championship [1992]. Villa Rica has won a state championship [AAA – 1986]. Carrollton has won multiple state championships and is as good as any program in the state. Schools like Central [Carrollton] and Mt. Zion [Carrollton] and Heard County all have great community support and fan bases. The superintendents have done a great job in supporting all the programs. Football is really important to every school in this area.”

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