DUBLIN — West Bladen head football coach Russell Dove is leaving the Knights’ family.
On Monday, the Columbus County Board of Education approved Dove to become new football coach for the Stallions of South Columbus High.
“This was a really tough decision, and I struggled with it for quite a while,” Dove said. “It’s kind of been simmering since just after Thanksgiving, and I did a lot of praying about it.”
Dove has been the head coach at West Bladen for three years and was an assistant coach under Pat Byrd for two years before that. Dove took over the program after the Knights suffered through an 0-11 season and molded a team that earned playoff berths in two of his three seasons. In 2014, the Knights qualified for a playoff berth but were disqualified after a fighting incident saw three players ejected from a game during the regular season.
Dove sees the chance to coach at South Columbus is a good opportunity.
“It’s a real good opportunity at a good school with a lot of tradition, and I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said. “They have a good program with a good coaching staff in place.”
Although Dove won’t be competing with the likes of perennial powerhouses Wallace-Rose Hill, Clinton and East Bladen in the Four County Conference, he knows there is still plenty of talent awaiting him in the split Class 1-A/2-A Three Rivers Conference.
“We won’t be fighting a state champion, a state runner-up and a deep playoff run team on our schedule now — a tough road to hoe no matter who you are — but we’ll still be competing with schools like Whiteville and Fairmont, both of which have solid programs,” Dove said.
No specific date has been set for Dove’s departure from West Bladen, but whenever it happens Dove said it will be a bitter-sweet time.
“I love the kids here and I’ve formed some lasting memories and friendships at West Bladen,” Dove said. “I’m anxious to start his new chapter but, at the same time, it’s going to be tough to leave.
“I feel like West Bladen has a good program in place now — in the weight room, in the classroom and on the field,” he added. “I think I’m leaving it in much better shape than when I took over, and I wish the Knights well going forward.”
South Columbus finished 7-6 overall last season, but was 6-1 in the conference. The Stallions went 1-1 in the state’s Class 2-A playoffs with a 35-29 win over Red Springs and 44-6 loss to Fairmont.
Dove won’t entirely be getting away from the Four County Conference’s powerhouse, since the Stallions will open the 2016 by hosting East Bladen in a non-conference game.
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.