EAST POINT — Tony Yeomans has faced challenges in the past and succeeded.
But if the former Florida State offensive lineman can build a strong foundation for the football program at Franklin County it could become one of his greatest achievements in the sport.
That from a self-confessed former fat kid who transformed himself into a four-year starter in high school, then went on to start at FSU under the tutelage of line coach Wayne McDuffie and extended his career in the NFL.
“Why not us? Why not Franklin County?” Yeomans relayed the mantra he’s preached since being introduced as the Seahawks fourth head coach in four seasons last spring. “They’ve busted their butts so far.
“I’ve taken them to 7-on-7s in Panama City and at Florida State. They’ve never done anything like that. They’re craving success.”
Yeomans, 50, said that he worked the school hallways, and with the help of some players who recruited athletes from other sports had a turnout of 75 in the spring. He said it was holding at 62 entering fall camp despite Franklin County’s 1-9 finish in 2016. The program boasts only four wins in the past four seasons overall.
Yeomans, who lives a 34-minute drive away in Panacea, has 17 years of high school coaching experience including stints at Wakulla and Taylor County in this part of the state. His initial challenge in spring was building and then re-establishing trust.
“There’s never been any continuity or stability here in Franklin County,” Yeomans said. “I told them when I got here that I’m not going anywhere. The goal this year is to win six games. We’re going to surprise some people.
“I’m cocky, but it’s like I tell them McDuffie was hard on us. We’d tell them (opponents) we were going to run it — right here — and then whip their butt and run it there. When we can do that we’ll start winning football games. We just can’t afford to get anybody hurt, but they’re starting to get a little bit of a swag to them.”
The Seahawks allowed 452 points in 10 games. That jumps out even more than the won-loss record. Yeomans said that inside linebackers Rufus Townsend and Bailey Segree, both about 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, can provide the impetus to start changing that.
Yeomans wants his team to be known for its toughness, and believes the players have to come together as a family to help achieve that goal.
“When it’s fourth-and-1 can I depend on my brother?” Yeomans said. “Right there on their locker there’s a plate that says ‘EDT’ which stands for play hard ‘every damned time.’ If they don’t that plate comes down.”
Two other keys in structuring a formula for success have been reinforcing a weight program — Yeomans said some players had 60- to 70-pound bench press gains during the summer — and eliminating excuses.
“They didn’t complain,” Yeomans said. “Before they always had an excuse. I don’t accept that. That’s gone.”
Positive outcomes early on this season will be critical in maintaining perspective and fostering optimism. The Seahawks face Wewahitchka for one quarter in a jamboree on Aug. 18 at Liberty County, then open with four games — FAMU High, North Bay Haven, Bell and Liberty County — that include only one road test.
“My goal is to come out of the first four games 3-1,” Yeomans said. “We didn’t put teams like Vernon or Port St. Joe on the schedule. These are teams we can compete against.”
The quarterback will be senior Landon Abel, a 6-2, 210-pounder who Yeomans thinks has the ability to play somewhere at the FCS level in college. He said freshman running back Lamarius “Monk” Martin has vision that reminds him of Florida State teammate Amp Lee, who also was a standout at Chipley and played in the NFL.
Center Ethan Moses, 5-10, 200, is versatile enough to play anywhere on the offensive line. Dayln Sheridan is a veteran 5-9, 175-pound senior and Ethan Riley is 5-10, 180, and approaches 4.5 speed.
“The big thing is they just want somebody to love them and care about them,” Yeomans said. “They’re starting to become a family that can depend on each other.
“They’ve bought in. The community is excited. They’re excited. We start winning and things will change.”