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Titans’ Warner sees accountability as key to building winning tradition

Kevin Mays • May 27, 2020 at 1:00 PM

NICKELSVILLE — Keith Warner knows how to win.

As a former assistant coach in various sports at Gate City, Warner was part of championship-winning staffs, including the 2018 boys basketball VHSL Class 2 title team.

As a football player at Twin Springs, he helped lead the Titans to back-to-back Region 1D runner-up finishes in 2003 and 2004.

Now entering his third year as football coach of the Titans, he’s hoping he and his staff can continue to instill winning ways in his team.

Warner directed the Titans to a 6-4 campaign last year, the program’s first winning season since 2010.

The Titans missed the Region 1D playoffs by mere percentage points, but it left them hungry for the future.

BUILDING BLOCKS

Warner, a three-sport star at Twin Springs, returned to his alma mater in 2018 to take over the struggling football program.

“It’s something I’ve always dreamed about, being from here, playing here,” Warner said.

His first season was a rough one, record-wise. The Titans went 1-9 in 2018, their only victory coming against North Greene, and finished winless in the Cumberland District.

Though the final score of the games weighed against the Titans, Warner saw plenty of wins off the field.

It started with his coaching staff, which features former Powell Valley players Joel Davis and Jerry Shuler and Twin Springs alums Matt Bays and Charles Quillen.

“Those guys are great,” Warner said. “I can rely on them to hold kids accountable. I knew going in I had to get good guys around me.”

His experience with other coaches also influences the building of Warner’s program.

Retired Gate City coach Bill Houseright was Warner’s defensive coordinator at Twin Springs. When Warner went into coaching, he was an assistant on Houseright’s Blue Devils staff.

“I learned so much from him and so many other coaches, so much stuff that’s just so valuable. You just can’t put a price tag on it,” Warner said.

One of the greatest lessons Warner said he learned from Houseright was how to communicate with kids and let them know that they’re loved.

“Coach Houseright always said, ‘You got to coach them hard and love them harder,’ ” Warner recalled.

“You have to let kids know you care about them and their lives. All that football stuff will come later. But first you have to let them know that they’re loved and you care about them as individuals.”

Warner said he’s also learned to call on VHSL Hall of Fame coach Phil Robbins, who guided Powell Valley to seven state championships.

“He shoots it straight. He doesn’t pull any punches and that’s what I like,” Warner said.

The state championship coaches are just part of a network that Warner relies on for advice and support.

“I learned a long time ago that you surround yourself with good people,” he said.

STEADY IMPROVEMENT

Warner said holding kids accountable has been key to building the program.

“We didn’t set unrealistic expectations for these kids,” he said. “We had team goals off the field like keeping the fieldhouse clean and keeping your locker clean.

“We wanted them to take pride in their fieldhouse and their field and the team. We pushed the little things. We wanted to make them accountable as kids before focused on blocking.

“One day football is going to be over,” he added. “The life lessons they learn are going to be more important than the wins and losses on the field.”

Warner said it took awhile his first year, but the players started to buy into what he and his assistant coaches were selling.

“We came in one day and the lockers were perfect and the fieldhouse was perfect,” Warner said.

Improvement on the field followed.

“We won the one game and we finished off the season with some close games that we were in and could have won,” Warner noted. “We know they were buying into everything we were doing and that carried over to the next season.”

A WINNING RECORD

“After that first year there were three or four kids working out in the weight room in the spring of 2019. This past spring before the (coronavirus) thing hit, we were averaging 24 kids in the weight room,” Warner said. “A couple of days we had 30 kids in our weight room.”

Not bad for a program that usually has fewer than 30 players on its roster.

“I’ve never seen it like that, not even when I was playing and we were winning a lot,” he said. “My juniors and seniors love the weight room and the young kids are buying into it.”

The pandemic put a stop to those workouts, but Warner said he’s been communicating with the players from time to time.

“We’ve been challenging them to keep things going on their own,” he said.

Regardless how things shake out with the upcoming season, Warner knows he, his coaches and his players are all going in the same positive direction.

It’s a direction he hopes translates to wins on and off the field.

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