As the 2019-20 school and athletics year approaches, the Star Local Media sports staff will be checking in with area coaches to discuss topics ranging from their outlook for their respective seasons and how they celebrate victory to what they consider the most notable part of their 2019 summer.
First up is Plano East football head coach Joey McCullough, who had a productive offseason as he preps for a fall campaign that will feature a nearly from-scratch Panther team in the wake of the departure of a sizable 2019 class.
What excites you the most about this season?
McCullough: It’s a new team. I’m excited about the way these kids are working. They’re great kids, they come to work every day, and they’ve had a great summer. We’ve gotten stronger. I just like the way they work, you know? They’re hungry, and they’re eager for knowledge. We’ve been talking all summer long about team, team, team … If you give great effort, there is no defeat.
What's the biggest challenge facing your team?
McCullough: We’re going to be younger, and we’re graduating a lot of people. I’m not going to sugarcoat it and say that it’s going to be a deal where we’ve got experience like we did last year, but we were picked fifth and sixth in some polls, last year. … It’s all about one game at a time for us, but what do I see as the challenge? The district we’re in. We’re in a tough district. Every team is good.
What's your ideal team identity?
McCullough: To be honest with you, I’m hoping that it is about a team that plays physical. I’m thinking about a team that plays hard for four quarters – giving effort, but playing with physicality. It’s got to be our identity. We’ve got to be blue-collar.
What do you look for in a leader?
McCullough: I’m not looking at somebody that yells or puts other people down. I’m looking at somebody like [senior] K’Von Hamilton, who encourages. … You’ve got guys that lead by example. They show the young guys the way, and when they’re not in, they’re coaching the other guys. I think they instruct, I think they lead by example, and I think they’re positive on and off the field.
What was the most notable thing you did this summer, away from coaching?
McCullough: Me and my wife, we celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary this summer. She’s a coach, I’m a coach, and it’s really a tough life. I’ve got kids that are going to be coaches and those things, but we spent a week in Jamaica, and that was a really awesome experience getting to be with her and to enjoy her and her company. … [Also], so far, as of a week or so ago, I have lost like 56.6 pounds. Just working my tail off and working on nutrition and the way that I’m working and rehabbing. It’s really been big-time support from my wife supporting me in something that I wanted to do.
What's one thing you wish you'd done more of this offseason?
McCullough: I did exactly what I needed to do. I was with my family. … I stayed close to my family, to my parents that I owe everything to, and I just did the little things that sometimes you may not be able to do [during the season].
What's your go-to pregame ritual?
McCullough: I don’t like to eat. I know I’m not playing anymore, so I don’t like to eat. I like to have an empty stomach. I like to get away. I like to turn the light off in my office – I’ll even lie down on my couch and close my eyes. … I also like it because the kids get their pregame meals, and the kids just come sit in my office. They sit in the chairs, they sit on the floor, they sit on my couch. I like that. That’s special to me, because I always want to be the best two or three hours of their day.
What's your favorite way to celebrate a win?
McCullough: I want to enjoy a win, because it’s so hard to win. You know what, though, we have to come to work so early that it’s one of those things where you can’t sleep. … I may have my wife turn on the hot tub, and we may just sit out back and watch SportsCenter, or whatever. I know this – I have something good to eat and just try to wind down.
Who's your hero right now?
McCullough: I get a little emotional about it, but my mom’s got Alzheimer’s. She’s 79, and my dad’s 81, going to be 82, and I see the way my dad takes care of my mom. My dad is most definitely my hero. … He’d leave before dark and wouldn’t come back in until dark. The only time he might come back in, as a plumber, is if he had to change his blue jeans because he sweated through them. Seeing my dad take care of my mom is one of the most awesome things that I always want to portray to my kids. When I bring the dads and moms into the locker room, I think that it’s important that the kids understand – my dad, man, as hard and tough as he was on us and as hard of a worker as he was – man, he sure taught me how to love, too.
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