Briarwood Christian hires new football coach

Forester ‘key component’ to Lions’ success for over a decade

By Gary Lloyd

BIRMINGHAM – I should not be able to write this story.

I have covered Briarwood Christian School athletics on a freelance basis the last three years, and I have only spoken to new head football coach Matthew Forester in passing. It has really been just the occasional hello before and after games. We became Facebook friends this week.

But I feel as if I know him well, and that is a credit to Briarwood Christian School’s dedication to its programs and its consistency in athletics. I learned about Forester in a release that rivals those of Southeastern Conference schools when they hire new football coaches.

The Coach

Forester, the Lions’ defensive coordinator for the past eight seasons, takes over for Fred Yancey, who retired after 29 seasons at Briarwood Christian on Nov. 26. Forester has been a teacher and coach at the school for 13 years. In 2017, he was named the Class 5A Assistant Coach of the year by the Alabama Football Coaches Association.

RELATED: Briarwood Christian head coach Fred Yancey retires

Matthew Forester (photo courtesy of Briarwood Christian Athletics)

Over the last three years that I have covered the Lions, the defense has allowed only 11.4 points per game, helping Briarwood achieve a 35-6 record during that time. In the last two seasons, Forester’s defenses have allowed fewer than 100 yards rushing per game. During Forester’s tenure as defensive coordinator, the Briarwood defense has compiled 16 shutouts. By comparison, St. Paul’s (14), Hoover (13), and Clay-Chalkville (9) have fewer.

If that isn’t enough, Briarwood provided more background on Forester. His great-grandfather, Herschel Forester, was a physics teacher and coached several sports in Dallas, Texas. The Dallas Independent School District named an athletic complex after him in 2004. His grandfather, Bill Forester, played for Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers for 11 years (1953-1963). He was a three-time first-team All-Pro, four-time Pro Bowl linebacker and defensive captain. He played college football at Southern Methodist University. In 1974, he was inducted into the Green Bay Packers Hall of Fame. In 2002, Bill Forester was inducted into the Texas High School Football Hall of Fame.

His father, Mike Forester, played football at the University of Mississippi and is currently the head football coach at Mount Pisgah Christian School in Johns Creek, Georgia. In 2013, he was named Atlanta Falcons High School 1A Coach of the Year. Previously, he served as defensive coordinator at Briarwood Christian School and helped coach Briarwood teams to three state championships.

Matthew Forester earned his master’s degree in Education from the University of Montevallo. He attended Samford University on an athletic scholarship where he was a three-year starter at linebacker, earning All-Independent honors his senior year. Forester graduated from Samford with a bachelor’s degree in history. He is a 1999 graduate of Briarwood Christian School and holds the Alabama High School Athletic Association record for most tackles in a season (285). He ranked third in AHSAA history for most tackles in a career.

In 1997 as a junior, Forester was named First-Team All-State, and he was also named an All-Metro, All-County, and All Over-the-Mountain player. He was the County Player of the Year.

Forester leads defensive players through drills (photo by Gary Lloyd)

In 1998 as a senior, he earned the same accolades as he did as a junior, as well as captaining a Lions team that went 15-0 and won the Class 3A state championship and playing in the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game. The Briarwood defense that year allowed 11.9 points per game.

Forester is married to Kelly Forester, and they have three daughters: Katherine (7), Caroline (5), and Emily (2). Katherine and Caroline attend Briarwood Christian School. The Foresters are also members of Briarwood Presbyterian Church.

The Process

If that was not enough information on the hire, Briarwood Christian School provided more. Forester’s selection was the result of a vetting process and recommendation by Athletics Director Jay Mathews.

The vetting process included posting the job, receiving resumes, conducting inquiries, and working through a vetting team of high school and college coaches who know Briarwood well. Each applicant filled out an extensive questionnaire that included questions of faith, football, philosophy, and procedures.

From the questionnaires and resumes, Mathews selected prospects, semifinalists, and finalists after interviews and phone conversations. Finalists were interviewed on the BCS campus by Mathews and members of the vetting team.

School Superintendent Stephen Steiner was kept informed daily of the process through a Google document and numerous texts and conversations.

There were 55 official applicants – and more than 65 inquiries – representing Alabama, California, Kansas, New Jersey, Mississippi, Georgia, Florida, Ohio, Kentucky, and Arizona. This was narrowed to 27 prospects, then 10 semifinalists, and finally three official finalists.

“Evaluating coaches over the past few years has made me acutely aware of the qualities essential in coaching today’s student-athletes,” Mathews said. “The next generation of successful high school coaches will need to connect with their team at previously unprecedented levels. The degree of that connection will allow coaches to push and demand excellence which contributes to a healthy team culture. This is where Matthew Forester excels at Briarwood. I watched Coach Forester coach junior high track athletes last spring. His love and passion for those seventh and eighth grade students are symbolic of what makes Coach Forester great. In his mind, every coaching opportunity matters. He was coaching those young athletes as hard as he could, no different than if it were a football state championship game. That passion comes from his relationship with the Lord. You want that guy coaching and mentoring your kids.”

Yancey, the outgoing Lions coach, said he was proud to have coached Forester, thankful to have coached with him, and now excited to see him lead the program.

The vetting team included University of Arkansas offensive coordinator Joe Craddock, Mississippi State University special teams coach Joey Jones, former Briarwood and Auburn quarterback Barrett Trotter, former Clay-Chalkville head coach Jerry Hood, Mountain Brook head coach Chris Yeager, former Vestavia Hills assistant Bruce Evans, and former Briarwood and Alabama running back Tim Castille.

Briarwood provided statements from them all. Among the highlights, Craddock said, “I am so proud of Matthew and for the Briarwood football program moving forward. There is no doubt he will continue to build on the championship culture that Coach Yancey instilled during his tenure at Briarwood.”

Forester takes over a program that has gone 35-6 over the past three seasons (photo by Gary Lloyd)

Trotter, now an offensive assistant at Auburn, said, “Matthew has been a key component to the success of the football program as both a player and coach for over a decade. On and off the field, he continues to be an example to the players and staff of how to be a man of God, and I can’t think of anyone better to follow Coach Yancey and carry on the tradition and excellence of Briarwood football.”

Hood said Forester was the right man at the right place and time for Briarwood.

“There is no doubt that Coach Forester loves the Lord in a mighty way,” Hood said. “I have seen it on display during the time that I had to work with him. Coach Forester’s knowledge of the game of football is tremendous. Watching him work with kids and scheme on the football field taught me a lot. Coach Forester is ready. Congratulations to Briarwood on choosing Matthew Forester as your new head coach. I can’t wait to watch the godly influence that Matthew will have on Briarwood Christian School.”

Forester was a strong internal candidate early on and Mathews received numerous endorsements for him by players, coaches, and parents. He emerged as the best candidate for Briarwood after a thorough search was completed. Forester will begin evaluating and assigning his football staff from grades 7-12. This staff may include one or two additional outside coaches. Briarwood does not expect to announce these additions until the beginning of 2019.

Wow. What a tremendous amount of detail in one release. I feel like I know Forester much better already, and I can’t wait to speak to him about his teams soon.

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