Rudy Free is among a familiar setting as the new head football coach at Kinston.
“ I grew up between Elba and Kinston,” Free said. “The Kinston school bus came down my road, but I still went to Elba.”
Free and his family have been living only a couple of miles from Kinston while he spent the past four years as defensive coordinator at Luverne.
His aim now is to rebuild a Kinston football program which went 2-8 last year and has had a revolving door of head coaches. Free is the fifth coach in as many years at the school.
During his first meeting with the team after being hired in April, Free stressed the importance of working hard to control what can be controlled.
“ We need to work on the things we can control, which is showing up every day, doing things right in the classroom and on the field,” Free said. “The Miami Dolphins have a sign up somewhere in their facility that says TNT – takes no talent – and it takes no talent to do some of those things every day.
“ We had a big talk about having the right mindset – coming into workouts every day, coming into practice every day – even just being at school on time. It’s about how your mindset is. If you’re going to compete, just get after it every day.”
Free has spent 18 years as a football coach in the Wiregrass, with stints in Geneva, Elba, Ariton and Cottonwood before Luverne. This past season, he helped the Tigers to the state finals by leading a defensive unit that allowed only 11.6 points a game.
“ I got hired in April and I started going over there about three days a week during seventh period so I could work some of the kids out and get to know them a little bit,” Free said of the transition. “I was able to learn the kids and be able to figure out what they could and couldn’t do and be able to build off of that throughout the summer.”
Offensively, the Bulldogs return four starters across the front – junior center Jaken Davis (6-0, 280), junior tackles Gunnar Fleming (6-3, 300) and Steed Windham (6-0, 260) and senior guard Brian Grudzinski (6-0, 205). David Free (5-8, 205 sophomore) is projected as the other starting guard.
“ Three of those guys have really good size and can be really good and have a lot of potential,” Free said. “With all of those big guys, and even the senior (Grudzinski), that gives you a good starting point for the season to have four guys coming back who have good size and have a lot of potential.”
Colby Copeland, a senior running back, is the lone returner in the backfield. John Free, a sophomore, is expected to start at fullback.
“ Colby Copeland is a smaller guy, but he’s a go-getter; hard-worker,” Free said. “He’s just a competitor.”
Blayne Moore, a senior, is expected to be the starting quarterback after missing last year with an injury.
“ He’s a leader and really a good senior to have because of his leadership qualities,” Free said. “At that position, I want somebody in there that can do that.
“ He’s just a guy that will do what you ask him to do. He may not have the strongest arm in the world, but he does what you tell him to do, and he can throw it pretty good.”
When Moore does throw, Hunter Hughes is a top target at wide receiver, while John Davis and Trae Hilburn will be counted on at tight end.
Look for the Bulldogs to have a run-oriented attack.
“ I think in small school ball, you’re going to have to run the football,” Free said. “You’re going to have to be able to take care of the ball and control the ball. We’ve got to do what we can do that fits our personnel. If we’ve got guys that can run the spread, maybe we’ll be able to run the spread, but really, we’ve got to run the ball.”
Defensively, Harley Bigger, Dray Weeks and Addison Hudson return at linebacker slots. Copeland returns as a defensive back.
“ There’s not a whole lot of guys coming back on the defensive side,” Free said. “You start with Colby (Copeland) and Harley Bigger (linebacker) and those guys. Addison Hudson – now he’ll play a little running back too, along with Colby. Dray Weeks is coming back as a linebacker.
“ All of those guys are hard workers, but there is just not a whole lot coming back on that side of the ball.”
Free says changing the mentality of the team will be of most importance.
“ I told them, ‘We’re our own worst enemies sometimes,’” Free said. “It’s not about the talent, it’s not about the opponents – it’s about us believing we can compete with these other teams.
“ That’s the kind of thing we’ve got to work on and it’s going to take a little bit of time. But I think right now we’re going in the right direction.”
BULLDOGS AT A GLANCE
>> Head coach: Rude Free (1st year at Kinston, 4th year as a head coach, 7-23)
>> 2018 record: 2-8 overall, 2-5 in Class 1A, Region 2
>> 2018 results: Samson (L, 18-37); at Brantley # (L, 0-39); Elba # (L, 6-38); at Red Level # (L, 40-41); at Zion Chapel (L, 12-37); McKenzie # (W, 43-21); at Pleasant Home # (W, 20-14); Georgiana # (L, 0-46); Florala # (L, 0-35); vs. Cottonwood (played at Rehobeth High School because of Hurricane Michael damage to Cottonwood field) (L, 6-35)
>> Points scored/per game: 145/14.5
>> Points allowed/per game: 343/34.3
>> Returning offensive starters (5): RB Colby Copeland (Sr., 5-7, 160); C Jaken Davis (Jr., 6-0, 280); T Gunnar Fleming (Jr., 6-3, 300); G Brian Grudzinski (Sr., 6-0, 205); T Steed Windham (Jr., 6-0, 260)
>> Returning defensive starters (4): LB Harley Bigger (So., 5-8, 200); LB Dray Weeks (Sr., 6-0, 175); LB Addison Hudson (Jr., 6-1, 165); DB Colby Copeland (Sr., 5-7, 160)
Aug. 30 at Samson
Sept. 6 Brantley #
Sept. 13 at Elba #
Sept. 20 Red Level #
Sept. 27 Zion Chapel
Oct. 4 at McKenzie #
Oct. 11 Pleasant Home #
Oct. 18 at Georgiana #
Oct. 25 at Florala #
Nov. 1 Cottonwood
# Denotes region games