WILLIAMSBURG — Andy Linn has coached football at Lafayette High for 14 years, and been the equivalent of an assistant head coach much of that time, so it's not surprising to hear him say the transition to head coach the past two weeks has been smooth.
The most noticeable difference he said is fielding calls from college coaches. Christopher Newport University coach Matt Kelchner, who recruited Linn to play on the offensive line for William and Mary in the mid-1980s, phoned to congratulate him and inquire about Lafayette's Division III prospects. Old Dominion assistant Bill Dee and Maryland assistant Tom Bratton, Linn's offensive line coach at W&M, are among the growing number of Division I coaches to express interest in Rams' wide receiver Thomas Smith.
Otherwise, Linn's biggest responsibility in spring is supervising his players' weight-lifting. With nine offensive and eight defensive starters expected to return from a team that won seven of 10 games in 2010, Linn can hardly wait to get out of the weight room and onto the field.
Linn, who helped the Rams win the 2001 Division 4 state title, and to two other state finals appearances, as offensive coordinator and line coach, talked Lafayette football with the Daily Press this week.
Q: What are Thomas Smith's chances of getting an FBS (Division I-A) scholarship?
A: His prospects are pretty good. I don't have to tell you he's a phenomenal talent. He's a solid "C" student, but he has to work harder on that as he's being recruited. I tell him all the time. "Everything in the world is out there in front of you. You've got to reach out and take it."
With so many starters back, what's the biggest challenge you face with the 2011 team?
The biggest challenge is that you've got make sure there's no complacency. I tell them nobody cares about your 7-3 record (amended to 5-5 due to two forfeits for using a player without a completed physical form). Once you walk out on the field in August, that doesn't mean a thing.
Is there any complacency?
It's not a problem at all. If we had gone to the playoffs there might be. (The Rams qualified for the playoffs, but the two forfeits knocked them out by lowering their VHSL rating). These kids are hungry. They really want to get to the playoffs.
So how's the turnout and enthusiasm in the weight room?
Sensational. I would say we're at 100 percent turnout. We are not missing a soul. Of the 27 kids who finished on the varsity last season, every one of them is in the weight room three days a week. We're averaging 53 kids overall. That's pretty good.
What was your high school football career like?
I grew up in Williamsport, Pennsylvania (home of the Little League World Series) and never played a day of baseball in my life. I played for a school that was ground and pound, and in November and December it was cold and nasty: the kind of football I like. None of the spread it around stuff you see nowadays.
You don't like finesse football?
It's not that. But when you're ahead by seven points with six minutes to go in the fourth quarter, what do you have to rely on? We're the kind of team that can take the ball on our own 20, grind it down your throat for 40 yards and all the sudden six minutes is gone.
What's your best memory of high school football?
Making the playoffs. That's what all the work now and in August is about. And not just getting there, but winning all the way through and getting to the (state) final game. If they hired me just to make the playoffs, they hired the wrong guy.
How'd a Pennsylvania guy end up playing at William and Mary?
I was being recruited by Lehigh, Lafayette and James Madison, but William and Mary was the first one to offer me a full scholarship, so I jumped on it. My parents didn't have a lot of money. My father was an associate warden in the federal prison system.
Did having a father who was a prison guard and administrator keep you straight?
I was what you'd call a "good kid" in high school. I never got in a lick of trouble, believe me.
What was it like to play for Jimmye Laycock at William and Mary?
Jimmye's a great offensive football coach and I played on the offensive line. It was wide open. We were known as an offensive football team. The best thing about playing there was, even though we weren't a I-A program, we played at Navy, Virginia and Georgia. Just to go into those facilities, and play at a place like Georgia, in between the hedges, I was like "Wow!"
What did you take from assisting Antolik (Lafayette's coach from 1997-2000)?
Tough love is what I learned from him. He was a no nonsense guy in telling kids what he expected. He'd let them know it wasn't because he didn't like them, but he was clear about what they had to do. I also learned from him about handling a staff.
After Antolik left for CNU, how disappointed were you not to get the Lafayette head coaching job?
I'd be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed. Could I have done the job? Probably, but I'd never say I could've done the job Paul Wheeler did. Maddie (Linn's younger daughter) was just being born and (daughter) Logan was six at that time, so I was in a lot tougher place in my life at that time. I think they gave the right man the job.
What did you learn from Wheeler?
The first thing I learned was how to take care of your family during football season. Saturday at Lafayette High School was family day: no football. We didn't call each other as coaches. We spent time with our family. He'd always say, "You don't sleep with the football, so don't neglect your family." When I started dating my wife, I made her go through a whole football season, so she'd know what it was like.
What did you take from Wheeler about coaching?
A ton of strength stuff. He's a great strength coach. And about how to prepare a team for a game. I'm telling you right now, I don't know anyone who can prepare a team for a game in one week as well as Paul can. That comes from film breakdown to how hard work pays off on the field.
You've been on the winning end of a lot of high school football games. What's the key to winning on this level?
You've got to be able to run the football and you've got to be able to defend the pass. I was taught a long time ago, "You win with your offensive line and you keep from losing with your defensive backfield."