By Gary Lloyd
BIRMINGHAM — A few hundred former players joined Fred Yancey at the 50-yard line at halftime.
When it was time to leave the field to make way for the homecoming court, someone motioned toward an end zone.
“Let’s go this way so they’ll follow you,” she said to Yancey.
Even today, they’re still following him.
Briarwood Christian School this week honored the retired coach, the man who led the program to 278 victories from 1990 to 2018. Yancey led Briarwood to state championships in 1998, 1999, and 2003, and finished as the state runner-up in 2007, 2010, and 2017. He took Briarwood Christian teams to 26 straight playoff appearances. He is third all-time in the state of Alabama for most wins at one school, fourth all-time for area/region games won, and fourth for most playoff games won all-time in the state of Alabama. Yancey was honored as the Varsity Football National Coach of the Year by the National Christian School Athletic Association for the 2017-2018 season and will likely be a future selection for the Alabama High School Sports Hall of Fame.
There was a celebration Thursday night at the school auditorium.
“I really had to keep my emotions in check,” Yancey said of Thursday’s celebration. “I could’ve lost it.”
Former players showed up in droves for Friday’s game against John Carroll. On Saturday morning there was a breakfast in his honor.
“It’s more special than I could have imagined because the guys, as I see them all grown up, I know every one of them had what I’d call ‘winning seasons’ here,” Yancey said after his halftime celebration. “They’ve become fine young men. That’s the payday.”
Since retiring last year, Yancey has spent time with family and at church. He’s traveled to a few places, including to Memphis for the Tigers’ game against Navy — former Briarwood linebacker Carter Bankston plays for Navy — and to Arkansas to see Razorbacks offensive coordinator Joe Craddock, who spent 2010-2011 as Briarwood’s offensive coordinator.
“We’ve done a little bit of traveling,” Yancey said.
Yancey said since retiring he has also substituted at Briarwood Christian a few times for a weight training class. It’s hard to stay away.
“That’s been fun,” he said.
Matthew Forester, now the head coach at Briarwood Christian, walked up during our halftime interview behind a goal post. Yancey couldn’t help it.
“I need to help out head coach call better plays,” he quipped. “I’m going to corner him and call better plays.”
Forester chimed in.
“If I just had Coach Yancey out there we could do better.”
After the game, a 48-16 homecoming win for Briarwood, Forester said the week having Yancey back was amazing.
“I don’t want him to ever leave, because he’s my coach,” Forester said. “You always want to hang out with your coach. He’s the guy I look up to. To see the impact and the over 300 people who came back is really special. I’m glad just to see him.”
John Carroll head coach Logan Colafrancesco said he got to know Yancey at a past Alabama-Mississippi All Star Game. He sent him a note upon his retirement in 2018.
“He’s a class act,” Colafrancesco said. “I wrote that I hope I can be half as successful as you are. He does it for the right reasons. It’s been good to have someone you can gain some wisdom from.”
Every player on the Briarwood roster saw game action in the homecoming win. That doesn’t happen often in high school football, so there is something poignant about it happening the night Yancey was honored, the night that so many former players made the trip home to see him.
“It’s really one of the finest treats I’ve ever enjoyed in my life,” Yancey said. “They mean a lot to me. It’s very appreciated.”