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BLUFFTON – The loudspeakers blare the song “Enter Sandman” and the Bluffton Tigers are heading back to the field after a water break during practice.
“Sprint it out!” coach Randy Hudgins yells. “You can't walk when Metallica's playing. State law.”
A cursory Internet search reveals no Indiana state laws anywhere in connection with sprinting or heavy metal. But for Hudgins, that's just another example of the style of coaching he brings to the table. He's serious about football, but not overbearing. He's all business when drills are run and plays are being installed, but well aware of the fact that he's dealing with high school kids and levity helps, too.
He's also still getting to know his players and seeing how they'll react.
After five seasons coaching at Columbia City, Hudgins moved to Bluffton, a smaller school with fewer players, although – somewhat illogically – much better, newer facilities with a beautiful turf field.
“A number of different things went into it,” Hudgins said of his coaching move. “Once you get past age 30, you start thinking about where you want to be and what you want to be doing and the type of community you want to be doing it in.”
Hudgins, 32, said he liked Columbia City and enjoyed his time there. He said he didn't feel any pressure that his job was in jeopardy, even though the Eagles weren't able to sustain the high mark of a 10-2 season in 2010.
“As with any job, there are always things you're frustrated with and wish were different,” Hudgins said. “I wasn't sure how things would be perceived (with leaving Columbia City) but the overwhelming reaction from people was that they were thankful for the work put in. They handled it in a classy manner. The hardest part was telling the principal and athletic director and, most of all, the young men who played and put so much into the program.”
This move was more of a life move, Hudgins said, more of a feeling that the type of job that opened in Bluffton was one he wanted to pursue as a long-term location.
Some coaches operate best in small-town, small-school atmospheres. Hudgins also reaches Bluffton as the program has been on the upswing from four seasons of quality coaching from Casey Kolkman.
Kolkman took over a program that was stuck on one or two wins a season and brought it up to 5-5 and 5-6 the last two years. He also spearheaded the move to have the facilities upgraded and the turf field installed. When Hudgins was thinking about pursuing the Bluffton job, he called Kolkman to seek his input and liked what he had to say about the school district and community, as well as the football program.
Kolkman left some talent behind for Hudgins to work with, including quarterback Jacob Wenger and running back D'Wayne Eskridge.
“I had never really been to the facility until I drove through to see what it looked like,” Hudgins said. “I was like, 'Oh, wow. That's a little bit different than what I've been used to.' ”
But Hudgins move isn't so much about the players, which always change from year to year in high school, or the facilities. It's about the feeling of the job itself. Sometimes a certain place feels like it fits for a coach, even from Day One.
“It wasn't a long process after I applied for the job,” he said. “After the interview I had, I left with a really good feeling about the place and the type of environment it is and the type of community culture. There were a lot of positives that added to it and it felt like the best place for us.”
Hudgins said his wife, Rachael, wasn't thrilled that he discussed their desire to start a family in a media interview, but that's part of the equation, too. Hudgins sees Bluffton as a place with potential to produce roots for his family ahead.
“This is a new chapter in our life and one I feel we're ready for,” Hudgins said. “We're pretty happy about how things have gone since we finally moved into our house.”
Hudgins kept four assistant coaches who worked under Kolkman, so there's still continuity in the way the program has been moving.
The differences in schemes won't be that great, and he says much of the emphasis Kolkman had on offense will be similar, with more tweaks defensively.
“I try to make sure I'm open-minded in taking their ideas and understanding the way they did things before I got here,” Hudgins said. “Certain things that Casey had put in place, it would be silly for me to try to change just for the sake of changing things. At the same time, I have my own personal ideas and ways of doing things that I'm most comfortable with.”
Hudgins, like Kolkman, knows the value of finding ways for the players to buy into the system and the approach, no matter what type of coach is at the top.
“Having a lot of seniors has helped,” Hudgins said. “They've helped to make this a fairly seamless transition. Having not only a good-sized group of seniors but a high quality group of seniors has made it much easier. I've been pretty blessed.”
No wonder he pauses and signals to the managers in the press box to turn up the volume. There's some good football music to be made in his new home.