After a decade absence, Sherwood Haydock returns to state with a new team

THEN: Back in 2003, Sherwood Haydock led the Harding Hawks to their first-ever appearance in the state finals. (News-Sentinel file photo)
NOW: Sherwood Haydock has built back up the Woodlan football program over his seven years at the helm. (News-Sentinel file photo)

In the winter of 2010, Sherwood Haydock was at a crossroads.

Harding High School, his coaching and teaching home for a decade, was set to close in just a few months.

What does a longtime coach north of 50 years old do? Does he look elsewhere in the state for another job? Does he call it a career after 133 victories, a pair of state championship appearances and a 2006 title?

“If Harding had never closed, I would have stayed there forever,” said Haydock earlier this week when reminiscing about his career. “It did close and I didn’t want to move.”

Then, an opportunity opened.

After a 1-9 season, Woodlan coach Barry Ehle resigned. It was the fifth-consecutive season in which the Warriors had failed to finish with a winning record.

It was a program lacking direction and without much in the way of hope.

“In my (application) letter I sent to Denny Miesle, who was the athletic director at the time, I wrote that I was going to coach for 12 more years and that Woodlan would be in the state championship within that time,” Haydock said.

Haydock has fulfilled his promise in seven years.

Woodlan’s rise as a prep football power in northeast Indiana has been built from the ground up by the architect Haydock. When Harding closed, Haydock petitioned football players to head to rural Woodburn as kids chose which other school in the East Allen County Schools district they would attend.

“I couldn’t get any seniors to come in the class (of my son Zac Bo),” said Haydock. “They said, ‘Why would we go there when you are bad?’

“I said, ‘Well, if you all come we wouldn’t be bad!'”

Haydock’s initial attempts at convincing student-athletes to come to Woodlan didn’t work out too well. He got one player in the Class of 2012.

“That was my son.”

The rebuild wasn’t easy. Woodlan won four times in its first 20 games under Haydock. It was a team that was trying to learn to play good football, let alone good WINNING football.

“I knew how much hard work it was going to be,” Haydock said.

Little by little, the Warriors began to be more and more respectable, and with that came better players. Running back Jaylin Bennett, Woodlan’s all-time leading rusher, was one of the key early cogs for Haydock in his transformation of the program.

The current crop of seniors, many who have started since their sophomore seasons, only added to the talent pool.

Now, not only is Woodlan drawing in players from outside the Woodburn area, it is also seeing greater participation from its core group of students.

“Because we started winning, we started to get more kids out,” Haydock said. “The thing about Woodlan kids is, they are so dedicated to the weight room. Whatever you say to do, they do it.”

It kind of helps being a coach who has won a state title.

“The advantage of having won in 2006 is the parents and the players all believe everything I say,” said Haydock with a smile. “Now we are (at state) and they think, ‘Everything Haydock says is going to be right.’

“I hope we can get more kids out (for the team) now.”

Ever since he won the state championship with Harding in 2006, the goal has been to get back. Seven years and 55 victories after taking the Woodlan job, Haydock has returned to Indianapolis on Thanksgiving weekend. If victorious, he will become just the seventh coach to lead two different programs to state football titles.

“I always said once you get here the first time, you feel unsatisfied every year no matter what kind of season you have if you don’t come back,” Haydock said. “The drive to get here is almost unrealistic because you want to get (to state) all the time.

“It’s one of those things where I hope at the end of my career, I can get to state the last year so I can finish here.”

Is the end of that career coming soon? Thirty years and 188 victories with five programs is quite the resume. Could it come to an end if Woodlan wins a state championship on Saturday?

“My wife said to me, ‘You could finish this year’ with us making it to state,” Haydock said.

But Haydock isn’t ready to walk away. Not yet.


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)