Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts has proven that he is one of the best coaches in the state of South Carolina.
All you have to do is look at his track record. Knotts took a program that was 2-9 a year before his arrival and led it in the state championship game in his third season. The Silver Foxes are back again in his fourth season and hope to deliver the school’s first state championship in football.
Before arriving in South Carolina, he reached legendary status in North Carolina coaching history. He was part of Independence High in Charlotte setting a national record by winning 109 consecutive games between 2000 and 2007. He was the head coach for all but one of those years and won state championships in 2000-03 and 2005-06.
Knotts also coached West Charlotte to state final appearances in 1991 and 1993 before claiming the Class 4A state championship in 1995. He made his first state championship game appearance Harding High in 1987.
“We say our goal is to reach the state championship and that’s what we’re going to do,” Knotts said. “It’s a demand and I believe in excellent relative to football. I’ve won with good players at Harding, West Charlotte, Independence and now here. It’s been the same system and same approach each time.”
Trying to get into the mind of Knotts shows why he has been successful at each stop. He believes in his system, has proven it works and doesn’t waiver much on his demands.
“When you have a program and you believe in whatever your way is and your assistants and players buy into it, the rest takes cares of itself,” Knotts said.
Knotts said as soon as he arrived at Dutch Fork, he saw the pieces in place to be successful. He said the players were eager to become better and did everything asked of them.
His first order of business was changing the off-season weightlifting program. He retained strength and conditioning coach Noah Dixon from the previous staff. The results were almost immediate.
“Obviously you have to have players but when I look at film, most schools, some don’t, but most schools have players that you can build a program around,” Knotts said. “If you have those types of players, it’s all in how you approach it. I approached it by getting coach Dixon, our strength and conditioning coach, to be my right-hand man. We have the same philosophy. We have a year-around program – not practicing but program – where we’re focusing on getting better for football.”
Knotts then implemented his system into the junior varsity and middle school teams. In the past those programs would go 8-0 or 7-1 but once they reached the varsity level the results weren’t nearly the same.
Being able to utilize the feeder programs has been key. Traditional powers such as Byrnes, Gaffney and Northwestern use a system that is also being run throughout the lower levels of football.
“I have good middle school coaches and they’ve bought in whole-heartedly and run exactly what we run,” Knotts said. “They don’t ad-lib any. They run our system. That helps because you don’t have to reteach your verbiage and schemes to the kids. They already know it.”
Another thing that Knotts uses to his advantage is the rule that a kid can play eight quarters per week. Knotts uses a junior in the junior varsity games on Thursday if they are not expected to contribute much on Friday nights. The expectation is that player will be able to be a contributor the next season.
Most of the starters on this year’s offensive line played together on the junior varsity level last year.
“They’ve been together,” Knotts said. “I’m starting to see more people adopt the philosophy of taking advantage of the junior varsity.”
Other coaches are trying to learn Knotts’ system. Demetruis Davis, the head coach at Fairfield Central, was one.
“When I first took the Fairfield Central job, I called one of coach Knotts’ assistants to see how they conduct their off-season program,” Davis said. “He is one of the best and I wanted to duplicate what he was doing. He is good at holding not only the kids accountable but also his coaches. Everyone knows who is in charge and runs the show.”
It’s a formula that has spelled success at every stop along the way.