Calling the shots
Hartselle graduate Wade Waldrop is entering his 2nd season as Chelsea's football coach
Justin Schuver, Hartselle Enquirer
When Wade Waldrop walked onto the UAB football team in 1994, he realized there would be a lot of free time during his five years with the Blazers. He decided to make the most of it.
"As a punter you don't have to deal with as much at practice so there's a lot of downtime," said Waldrop, a 1994 graduate of Hartselle High School. "So I tried to pay attention to as much as I could and soak up as much information as I could. I knew I wanted to be a coach, so I just wanted to see how UAB's coaches worked and how I could use that information in the future."
All that paying attention has paid off in a big way for Waldrop, who is entering his second season as the head football coach at Chelsea High School in Shelby County. Last year, the Hornets finished 8-3 and with an undefeated 7-0 record in Class 5A, Region 5 play. Chelsea advanced to the postseason but was knocked out in the first round by J.O. Johnson.
Waldrop played for Hartselle coach Don Woods from 1990-93. He was the team's punter and also occasionally played quarterback for the Tigers. Waldrop was an All-Area selection by the Decatur Daily his senior season in 1993 and elected to walk on to the UAB football team, when the Blazers were still competing in Division I-AA.
Under coach Watson Brown, UAB made the jump to Division I in 1996 and Waldrop got the chance to see playing time in 1998 after redshirting his first season.
"It was very exciting to be a part of a program that was growing," he said. "I'm very thankful for my time at Hartselle and those coaches really prepared me well for the college game. It was a nice reward to get a little playing time my senior season (at UAB), after walking on and putting in a lot of work."
He earned a letter with the team that year and graduated in 1999 with a bachelor of arts degree in history and a minor in coaching. Waldrop remained with the team for two more years as a graduate assistant while working toward a Master's degree in education. Surprisingly, Waldrop's first coaching experience came when he was invited to help serve on the coaching staff of a girls' AAU basketball team in the Birmingham area. Coincidentally, that team was called the Birmingham Hornets.
"Basketball was really where I first got to experience being a coach," Waldrop said. "I'm very thankful for that opportunity."
Waldrop's first high school coaching job came when he was named the head basketball coach at Class 1A Fayetteville High School in 2001. He also was the defensive coordinator on the football coaching staff at Fayetteville, working both jobs until moving to Chelsea at the start of the 2003 season.
Waldrop was the quarterbacks/linebackers coach from 2003-04 and became the defensive coordinator in 2005; he was also Chelsea's head basketball coach those three seasons. Before the 2006 season, Chelsea's head coach Watt Parker left to become the coach at Arab and Waldrop was promoted to the head coaching position.
"That was what I've always wanted to do," Waldrop said about finally achieving the responsibility of being a head coach. "I've been very fortunate to have worked with the same offensive coordinator at Chelsea my whole time at the school, so the transition was very smooth. I rely on my coaching staff a lot and they are a great group of guys.
"I've been very lucky to be a part of a very successful program here. We've had five straight seasons of making the playoffs and we have some great kids who work extremely hard."
Being head football coach meant Waldrop had to give up his position as the basketball coach at Chelsea. Instead, he now serves as the school's athletic director and continues his other responsibility of teaching 10th grade honor's English.
The Hornets had a great deal of success in Waldrop's first season, primarily led by a junior phenom named Davin Palmer. Palmer, the son of former Alabama wide receiver David Palmer, finished the season with 1,780 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns while averaging 9.4 yards per carry.
Palmer was suspended following the ninth game of the season for breaking an unspecified team rule. He did not play in Chelsea's playoff game against J.O. Johnson and will not be back with the Hornets this season.
Even so, Waldrop is excited about his team this year and does not feel the Hornets will go away from what has made them successful in the past.
"We've got kids now who have been playing this offense since they were in the sixth grade," he said. "They know it down pat. We're going to be a run-first team and then try to mix it up offensively whenever we can."
Waldrop currently lives in Chelsea with Kimberly, his wife of five years. They have a 16-month-old daughter, Carsyn. Waldrop said he still tries to visit Hartselle anytime he can.
"There are some very nice things about living where we do now; it's close to Birmingham and anything we could possibly need," Waldrop said. "But at the same time, I miss that small-town feel that Hartselle had. I loved the way that the town would shut down on Friday nights (for high school football). You just don't see something like that here in Chelsea."
It is also possible that Waldrop could make a trip back to J.P. Cain Stadium, only this time to stand on the opponent's sideline. If both teams win their first-round playoff games, Hartselle and Chelsea could potentially meet each other in the second round of the Class 5A playoffs.
"There wouldn't be anything different about it as far as from a preparation standpoint," Waldrop said of a potential Chelsea-Hartselle matchup. "I wouldn't take it easy on them and I know they wouldn't take it easy on me, either. It would certainly be fun to go back and see old faces and old sights again, though.
"I love the community still and have a lot of respect for Hartselle's football program and tradition; it would be a lot of fun to play them."