By Rubin E. Grant
After taking over for Briarwood Christian football coaching legend Fred Yancey last year, Matthew Forester had one goal in mind: Maintain the standard Yancey had set.
“It was a huge honor for me to follow Coach Yancey,” said Forester, who played for Yancey and spent several years as an assistant under him. “It was good for me to pay attention and learn from him all those years.
“He did things the right way. His teams played with class, they played hard and they played physical. Those were the characteristics of his teams and I wanted to carry on that tradition.”
Two weeks into the season, Forester had doubts about whether he was living up to those standards. The Lions lost their first two games of the season to Chelsea 17-14 and Pleasant Grove 26-14, although Chelsea later forfeited its victory.
“We had to figure out what was going on after that second loss,” Forester said.
Forester turned to players from another sport for a solution.
“We’re fortunate at Briarwood that we have a lot of multi-sport athletes,” Forester said. “Our baseball team started out 0-11 (in 2019) and ended up in the state finals. We have a lot of baseball players on our team and I told them they had seen this before. We leaned on them and asked them what they did. They kept working and kept improving. We figured the same thing that worked in baseball would work in football.”
The Lions turned things around and won 11 consecutive games to reach the Class 5A semifinals. But Briarwood hopes of a Super 7 appearance ended with another loss to Pleasant Grove, 16-14.
Even so, the Lions finished 12-2, earning Forester the Over The Mountain Journal 2019 Coach of the Year honor in a vote of Over the Mountain coaches.
“It’s a huge honor,” Forester said. “Alabama is one of the top football states in the country and Birmingham is a great football area. Any time you win an award, it’s an incredible honor because there a lot of great coaches, legendary coaches, around here.”
Forester downplayed his role in the Lions’ success in his debut season.
“We have an administration that supports you and makes sure you have good coaches around you,” Forester said. “Then you have players who buy into what you’re doing. I just wanted to keep doing coach Yancey’s plan. It’s a good path and we just needed to get to work.”