Al Way's career has come full circle.
The Hall of Fame coach who got his start at Eldorado in 1975 and who led Harrisburg to a state championship in 2000, is back on the sidelines for the Eagles this season as an assistant coach to Brandon Hampton.
The opportunity presented itself in the offseason according to Hampton when the two got the ball rolling.
The transition for Way has been seamless in a place where he got his start.
They've treated me really well," Way said. "I couldn't feel better about the way they've welcomed me and it's been a lot of fun. The kids are hard workers and all the guys here are all Saline County guys. They are guys I either coached with, I coached or I coached against as players. It's guys I knew, so the transition was easy. "
For Hampton, who has breathed new life into the EHS program over a six-year span, didn't flinch at the opportunity to bring Way aboard.
"We brought Al here to make a difference and he has," Hampton said. "We wanted to get over the hump and knew a guy with his experience could do that for us. The kids have been very receptive to him and he's a tremendous teacher. The thing I am most impressed with his he puts things in terms that the kids can understand and the one thing he and I are on the same page with is repetition. We show it to our guys over and over and over again until its second nature."
In that same breath, Hampton knew Way was the complete package in terms of what he brought to the table. A coach that is knowledgeable in all three phases.
"He is really, really good — I would go as far as to say he's the expert in southern Illinois knowing the type of kids we have, the type of scheme and how you can attack certain teams. He's really knowledgeable being in this area for so long."
Way's head coaching career started in 1975, going 6-3 that season for Eldorado, followed by a 6-4 season in 1976 with the Eagles.x
Thereafter, Way went to Harrisburg, settling in on a 21-year career from 1981 to 2001, where he went 166-64 with a winning percentage of .722 that included a state championship for the Bulldogs in 2000. Way came back to coach the Bulldogs in 2005, going 9-2, before making way for now head coach Jason Roper.
"His career has come full circle in a lot of ways, I think you could say," Hampton said. "When he was here, he was wide eyed and wet behind the ears working with some veteran guys. Now, he's the veteran guy on staff now. As a coaching staff, you have to have those kind of guys. Anytime you can surround yourself with those kind of guys, who have experience to draw on, it only helps you. You become a good coach by surrounding yourself with great coaches."
Page 2 of 2 - If there is one thing Way knows, it's the Straight-T offense. It's nothing new to Hampton, who has implemented it into his scheme since he started. The former Eagle player turned coach realized if there was anyone who could help perfect that offense, Way was it.
"We were running the Straight-T offense before Al got here, but he brings the nuances of that offense, the little things, the slight adjustments, the cheats that you might do in the backfield, where it can really give you advantage. He brings the overall attention to detail and it has made a difference."
The Eagles have produced 2906 rushing yards on the season as Dylan Roberts leads the charge with 952 yards on 136 carries and 15 touchdowns.
"Football has its own language," Hampton said. "Ninety percent of what I told the kids and what Al tells the kids was the same, the terminology was just different. That was the only real adjustment. Al and I have a lot of similarities in what we believe in."
Way said the terminology wasn't something he came up with, while he does admit to adding a few things, said that those that came before him is where he was able to cut his teeth on the offense.
"I was only here for five years when I first started, but all of the things that I learned from the Straight-T with the exception of some of the terminology I added, came from Boz Adams and Don Kingston. Getting everyone on the same page wasn't really that hard. I think the kids have adjusted to it really well."
Hampton says that Way's pedigree and his trained eye is a primary reason why the Eagles are back in the playoffs after a one-year hiatus.
"He has done a great job of getting to know the kids and what they can do. On my end, I just have so much respect for him. I have seen what he had done from when I was in high school and you hear about the success he had at an institution like Harrisburg. There is just so much experience that a guy like me can rely on, it has been a huge boost for our program."
Michael Dann can be reached at mdann@dailyregister.