High School Football

Offense leads way for Dutch Fork football. How ‘coach in waiting’ made defense fearsome

It was a late touchdown that didn’t matter in the game’s outcome, but it mattered to Dutch Fork defensive coordinator Nick Pelham.

Pelham lit into the Dutch Fork defense, mainly backups at that point, for the blown assignment on the touchdown with 3:14 left of the Silver Foxes’ 47-14 win over Summerville in the Class 5A Lower State championship last week.

“Football is a game of passion. It is supposed to be fun and you are supposed to do things right,” Pelham said Tuesday after practice. “And one of the many things I learned under coach Knotts, you got to do it the right way whether it is the last play, the first play, a preseason scrimmage or a practice in May. You got to do it right and try to be perfect on every play.”

Pelham’s intensity and attention to detail meshes well with the ultra-intense personality of Dutch Fork coach Tom Knotts, who was looking for a defensive coordinator following the 2015 season.

Pelham, who got his first job coaching high school football in Michigan when he was a freshman in college, was in the market for a job and previously coached at Dutch Fork under Bill Kimrey. It was his first job after moving down from Michigan and wanting to coach big-time high school football.

After Dutch Fork, Pelham went to Richland Northeast and then was at Westwood for four seasons under Rodney Summers, who left to build the May River football program. Many of Summers’ coaches went with him to May River, and Pelham thought he was going to go too, but his wife wasn’t excited about moving.

“Started looking around at the state at the best defenses out there, who I played and who I saw on film that might give me trouble. I remember coach Pelham at Westwood, they had aggressive defense. The only thing I didn’t like they were 3-4. I have been a 4-2 or 4-3 guy,” Knotts said. “But I was getting to the age and energy level where I couldn’t do both anymore (offense and defense). I was heavy handed into the defense until coach Pelham came.

“Now, I spend little time with defense. I let him do exactly what he wants to do. He is a football junkie and football genius. We are just real blessed to have him.”

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Dutch Fork defensive coordinator Nick Pelham communicates with players during a state semi final playoff game against Fort Dorchester on Nov. 24, 2017, at Dutch Fork High School . Dutch Fork defeated Fort Dorchester 24-14. Sean Rayford online@thestate.com

Knotts said Pelham is the “coach in waiting” whenever he decides to hang it up, although it doesn’t seem to be any time soon.

The Silver Foxes’ 3-4 defense has thrived in the past three seasons under Pelham. Dutch Fork is going for its third consecutive Class 5A title Friday against T.L. Hanna. While the Silver Foxes’ defense might not get as much publicity as its high-powered offense, something Pelham prefers, the results haven’t been too shabby.

Dutch Fork’s points given up and yardage has decreased in each of Pelham’s three seasons at the school. This year, the Silver Foxes are giving up just 9.2 points and 166.8 yards a game. The 9.2 points per game is tied for the school record set in 2002.

This year’s group features Class 5A Lower State Lineman of the Year Josiah Commander and Shrine Bowl safety Hugh Ryan but has gotten contributions from almost everyone. Twelve players have at least 40 tackles on the season.

“It is easy to coach defense with coach Knotts calling the offense,” Pelham said. “We have a great group of kids, the smartest, strongest and toughest kids I have ever been around. Coach Dixon (strength coach) does a great job in the weight room.

“They care about football. It matters to them. They want to be great. They soak up information and want to put new things in. It has been an amazing group to be around and they are a pleasure to coach.”