New O-line coach experiencing big life changes

New O-line coach experiencing big life changes

It’s been a very interesting year for Austin Moreton and his family, and not just due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that’s reshaped America in 2020. But despite a recent family health scare, all is well, and the future looks bright for the Bulldogs’ new offensive line coach. He will also teach physical education.

Moreton replaces Brian Sims, the Bulldogs’ offensive line coach for the past several years. In turn, Sims has moved to the junior high staff in the position vacated by John Kincade, who will dedicate himself fulltime to teaching at the middle school and leading the state championship wrestling program he founded in 2012. The Bulldogs now have two highly qualified offensive line coaches at both the junior and senior high levels.

The latest addition to the GHS football staff granted a telephone interview this week while driving back to Central Arkansas to be with his wife, Mallory, who is pregnant with their first child, a daughter named Preslee, due to arrive in early August.

The couple met in college at Arkansas State University where Austin was an offensive lineman for the Red Wolves and Mallory was a volleyball star, one of only three All-Americans in school history. Presently employed as an ultrasound technician, she will soon leave her job to care for her daughter and make the move to Sebastian County with her husband.

Moreton, age 26, is the youngest member of the Bulldogs’ staff and the only assistant coach still in his 20s. He was hired in March, one of three new GHS coaches recruited to fill out Head Coach Chris Young’s first staff.

“I’m fired up about Austin. He’s got great energy,” said Young earlier this spring. “He’s from this area. He played at [Ft. Smith] Southside and went to Arkansas State and had a great career there as an offensive lineman. He’s been at Little Rock Central coaching their offensive line on the 7A level.

“I heard Austin’s name [through] the [coaches’ association]. He was the offensive line coach they picked to do [their] clinic. I heard several different coaches comment on how impressed they were, so I went after him.

“He didn’t apply for anything here, we went and found him,” explained Young. “We’re thrilled to get him. It’s good to have a young coach on the staff. I talked to the Ft. Smith coaches and they said the difference in Central’s offensive line since [Austin] got there is unbelievable. We did our research on him and we were lucky to get him, because there were some other good programs trying to get him.”

Indeed, Moreton confirmed that he was likely just days away from formerly accepting a similar position at Conway High School when he was contacted by Coach Young and asked to come for an interview.

Moreton’s parents, Raymond and Melissa, originally from Mansfield, moved to Fort Smith and raised sons Austin and Hunter as athletes from a young age. Both boys graduated from Southside High School and both attended ASU. Younger brother Hunter is currently a defensive lineman for the Red Wolves.

Raymond works in a lab at Rheem while Melissa is employed as a secretary with the Fort Smith School District. Luckily, the Moretons were all together a few weeks ago in Fort Smith when their 55-year-old family patriarch had a heart attack.

“We were very fortunate to be there,” said Austin, recalling that scary moment. “My dad came home from doing some yard work for his mother. He went to take a shower and was feeling sick. My mother checked on him and found him unconscious on the bed gasping for air. My wife called 911 and I performed CPR until the ambulance got there.”

The family’s proximity and their quick response likely prevented more serious heart damage, and Raymond has since made a full recovery. “He's doing wonderful now,” said Austin. “He’s been walking every day and he’s doing a whole lot better. We’re really blessed he’s still with us right now.”

Like most good parents, the Moretons were instrumental in shaping the character of their young sons. “I’m very close to them. They mean the world to me,” declared Austin, citing his dad and mom as the source of his core principles and beliefs.

“Most of them are from my parents,” he said. “Some I picked up through sports. My parents’ values are all faith-based. Everything I’ve learned in life comes from my family, football, and faith. At an early age they instilled great values in me.”

Moreton said his dad was an athlete, playing baseball in college, nurturing a love of sports that would see its greatest expression in the lives of his two sons. “When I was younger my dad introduced baseball, football, and basketball to us as early as we could play,” explained the coach.

“[My parents] told us, ‘We love you, but we don’t have the means for you to go to college.’ They made it known that if I wanted to go to college, I would have to get a scholarship through [grades or sports]. So academics and athletics are both huge in my life. Without football I don’t know where I would be.”

Moreton also talked about his childhood in a home divided by ecclesiastical differences. “My parents are both religious, but it was awkward because my mom is Pentecostal and my dad is Catholic. I actually got saved my junior year in college through our team pastor,” he shared unashamedly.

Asked about how he met his future wife, the coach admitted it wasn’t under the best of circumstances. “We met in college. She lived below me in the athletic dorm,” he explained. Both had roommates at the time.

“We lived above them and we were a little too loud,” he continued. “They knocked on our door and very politely told us to shut up. We went on our first date [in Memphis] a couple of weeks [later]. I have a lot of the same personality traits that she does.

“I knew in seventh grade that I wanted to coach,” said Moreton, who played every game at Southside for three seasons, earning a scholarship to ASU, recruited by Fort Smith’s own Gus Malzahn, then the Red Wolves’ head coach before moving on to Auburn University. As boys, Malzahn also played baseball with Raymond Moreton.

The younger Moreton played college football at 6’2” and 315 pounds, a frame he still maintains today. Graduating from Southside in 2012, he redshirted as a freshman at ASU then played four seasons, interrupted by a couple of knee surgeries that limited his availability.

“My college career was a little bumpy because of injuries,” he recalled, the first one costing him a chance to start as an underclassman. He finally found some consistent playing time as a fourth-year junior.

“I was a rotation guy and got about 40 snaps a game as a redshirt sophomore at center and guard. I was kind of a utility guy. But I started every game my junior year,” he explained.

Moreton also played for three different head coaches and four different offensive line coaches. Besides Malzahn, he also played for Brian Harsin and Blake Anderson. Despite all the coaching changes, the Red Wolves have become a power in their conference over the past decade.

“It was crazy, because all those guys got their dream jobs,” he said of his three former college head coaches. Malzahn is currently at Auburn, one of the top programs in the nation, while Harsin returned to his alma mater at Boise State, another top tier college team.

“They’ve (ASU) been very fortunate to keep Coach Anderson around. He’s a great coach,” offered Moreton. “Four out of my five years I was there we won conference and went to bowl games every year.”

Asked about aspirations for professional football, the coach said he harbored those thoughts growing up and early in his college career, until the injuries began piling up, causing him to re-evaluate.

“I’ve always wanted to coach,” he said. “[So] when pro day came around, I didn’t even go. If I played [pro ball] I probably wouldn’t be walking later in life,” a reference to crippling injuries suffered by some NFL players as they age.

The youthful GHS coach also shared his nickname with Bulldogs’ fans. “I’ve played D-line and O-line all my life, and my nickname is Tank, since first grade. My teachers would even call me Tank.

“I had four [job] offers as a line coach in college,” he continued, “and was originally going to take a job in West Memphis.” But a former coaching connection led to another offer from Little Rock Central, where Moreton spent the last two years. After going 1-8 in 2018 for new head coach Kent Laster, the Tigers rebounded in 2019 to earn their first playoff berth since 2014, finishing with a 6-5 record. Moreton’s influence on the offensive line was a big part of that success.

Moreton never played against the Bulldogs, but was well aware of Greenwood’s winning tradition and growing reputation across the state. “I think [Southside] started playing [them] the year [I graduated]. I never actually played against Greenwood in high school.”

The two schools have battled every year since 2012 when the Bulldogs moved up to the 6A classification, and Greenwood has won every game since over the Mavericks. The schools will meet again in the season opener this coming September.

The new GHS coach described the rest of the state as having a love-hate relationship with the Bulldogs when it comes to football. Despised and envied by some people because of its great gridiron tradition, those same detractors want to emulate Greenwood’s success in their own programs. Others admire Greenwood for its dominance on the field.

“It's been amazing so far,” said Moreton of his limited Greenwood experience. “We are happy to be a part of the Bulldog family.” The Moreton’s are currently building a new home off Highway 71 near Fort Smith.

He also talked about how great the Greenwood community has been. “When my dad had his heart attack, Coach Young got the community together and they provided meals for [our family] for a week. The love the Greenwood community has shown – we greatly appreciate you accepting us as a family. We’re thrilled to be here.”

Asked about the recruiting process that brought him to the Bulldogs, Moreton said, “The day we had our [baby] gender reveal I got a text message from a random number.” The mystery number was Coach Young reaching out to him.

“I called him and we talked about 30 minutes. He asked if I could come down that weekend and speak with him. We talked football, life, and family, and he asked if I was interested in the job. I said yes, but I wanted to talk with my wife. About a day later I called and told him we were in. We prayed about it and we thought Greenwood was the place for us.

“I didn’t know Coach Young before he [texted] me,” added Moreton. “I was fortunate enough to speak at the AAA clinic to the O-line group and I think he heard my name through some contacts. He did recruit me.

“I kind of freaked out,” admitted the coach, recalling his initial reaction to the text message. “Greenwood is a huge football school well-known throughout the state. But God’s timing is never off. I was really close to accepting the job at Conway. The head coach there is one of my former high school coaches, and I love that guy to death. Telling him I was going to accept the Greenwood job was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.”

Moreton said it was Greenwood’s winning tradition that really appealed to him. “The program is what pulled me in. It was a job I could not pass up. Being close to home (Ft. Smith) is just a perk. Anyone in Arkansas knows that if you get offered a job at Greenwood High, you take it. It’s probably one of the top five schools in the state, especially in the last 20 years.”

The former ASU lineman also talked about his two years at Little Rock Central, one of the most legendary football programs in state history that had fallen on hard times in recent decades. How did Moreton help with their recent turnaround?

“The biggest thing for me was the technical aspect of the game,” he explained. “Central is always going to have athletes, but I found a way to really connect to them. I [tried] breaking everything done, teaching them the fundamentals of the game. [It was] small things that really changed the way the kids played.”

As for his best trait as a coach, Moreton cited his enthusiasm. “I’m enthusiastic about everything I do, and [that] energy rubs off on other people. I told our linemen, ‘I’ve going to be your biggest fan and your biggest critic at the same time.’

“When they do something [good] I’m going to give them love for it, because they deserve it. The O-line is all guts and no glory. The big guys up front never gets shown love. I want them to know they are appreciated,” he said.

“Besides caring [about my players], I want to stress physicality and technique. I stress assignment and effort. Know where you are and what you’re looking at and where you’re going. Play with fanatical effort, with their hair on fire almost, but under control.” The new coach is big on situational awareness and tenacity for his linemen.

“I want the biggest strongest guys, but that doesn’t always make the best football players. I’m telling them to put [the opposition] on the ground every play, and not let them up,” he said, adding there is more to football than the game itself.

“We’re teaching these athletes to be exceptional young men. That’s our top goal. Sure, I love great football players. But I love seeing them develop into exceptional young men. I can’t stress enough how important sports are for young kids, and not just football, because sports is a [life-long] thing, and I love it. It’s fun to help them try to achieve that.”

The GHS staff held video meetings with players by position groups since schools were closed in mid-March. Coaches were finally able to see their players in person starting June 1st, though the past two weeks Coach Young has allowed coaches and players to go on vacation or do voluntary workouts before returning fulltime on July 6th.

Moreton also addressed his age (26) with respect to working with older coaches and players just eight to 10 years his junior. “I’m going to coach the same way regardless of whether I’m the oldest or youngest [coach],” he said. “I’m going to work my tail off. That’s one of the things I noticed about Greenwood – all the coaches try to out-work each other – which I love. I’m going to make sure my position group is trying to out-work every other group on the field.”

“They have been amazing,” he said, referring to his fellow coaches. “I noticed very early that everyone competes with each other. Who’s going to be there first? Who’s doing what? Lately we’ve been competing on who’s going to spray off the benches and sanitize the weight room.”

Moreton has also been impressed with his new colleagues’ knowledge of the game. “It’s nice to just sit around talking football,” he said. “I’m just soaking up everything like a sponge.”

He also acknowledged the staff’s emphasis on family, noting, “the love and camaraderie the coaching staff has for each other. I played under Coach [Steven] Thessing at Southside. It’s nice to see him and be a part of the staff with him as well.”

As for his players, Moreton agreed that his age could make a [positive] difference. “I think it does,” he said. “Being closer to their age helps a lot. Not only do I know the kind of music they listen to, but I listen to it [myself]. I know the music in the weight room. I can joke around with them about that kind of stuff. Rap and hip-hop are among my favorite genres of music, and country, which is a weird dynamic. But I know in Greenwood a lot of kids do that as well. I do like being younger and able to relate to them off the field in different aspects of life.”

Asked to assess his crop of 2020 linemen, Moreton was characteristically upbeat. “We have tons of potential up front, and I’m excited for it. I only have to say something once and they catch on very quick. When I say something, it sticks. I’m expecting a really good year, and that’s what I preach.

“We’re going to be the hardest working and most technically sound group on the field,” he added. “Our guys are going to pay attention and do the job well. We’re going to work our tails off. It’s a blue-collar group for sure.”

The new coach has a solid foundation of returning linemen to build upon, including a pair of starting seniors. “[Senior] Easton Erwin is a returning starter, [senior] Braden Stein is a returning starter, and [junior] Jeremiah Presson played a lot last year,” recited Moreton. “Ethan Cole is a senior and Christian Brown is senior.

“We have a ton of experience returning. I can just come in and teach technique. They know the offense and know where they are going, for the most part. The plays are the same, but the technique and how we’re getting there may be a little bit different,” he explained.

Moreton is also impressed with the number of players that have reported for work. “This is unheard of for me,” he said. “Coming from [Little Rock] Central, I had about nine or ten linemen total at a 7A school. We have about 20, or enough for four [offensive] lines. We have tons of depth and I’m excited about the younger guys. A couple of sophomores could even earn spots.” Moreton says the sophomore class is particularly full of potential.

“Hayden Webb is about six feet and 285 [pounds] coming out of ninth grade. He’s a strong [kid] who listens well. He’s a 4.0 student. That whole sophomore class listens really well. There’s five of them. Cooper Young and Matthew Ranney are both about 6’3” or 6’4”. They [need] to gain some weight, but its fun to look at those five guys and think about what they could be and the potential they can reach.

“The sophomore class is looking really good and the junior class as well,” he continued. “[Juniors] Trevor Reeves and Hayden Leonard have the possibility of playing time this year. There are some uncertainties about who is going to start, but we have about eight or nine guys that can play right now. It’s a big group.”

Asked about their overall size, the former Red Wolves’ lineman seemed pleased. “Greenwood didn’t always have the biggest linemen,” he said. “But there are now four or five of them taller than me at 6’3” or above. I was not expecting that. Braden Stein is 6’6”, 285. He’s a big boy. Christian [Brown] is 6’5”, 270. We have guys all along the line that are decent size.”

Finally, asked about his career ambitions in the coaching profession, Moreton said, “Right now Greenwood is my long-term goal. I’m [still] young. My future goals are to be an offensive coordinator somewhere and a high school head coach at some point in time.

“We plan on being here a while, and it may be for good. It depends on what the Good Lord lays out for us,” said the impressive young coach. “There’s a lot of things I still need to learn before I try to become a head coach.”

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