Pike Liberal Arts School’s new football coach, Travis Baxley, got his hands on the program and spoke to him about his goals for the Patriots and his reasons for returning to Troy The messenger on Thursday.
Baxley has lived in Troy with his family since 2016, when he became an assistant coach at Charles Henderson High School. Even after he was hired as defensive coordinator at Pike Road, he and his family stayed in Troy. His knowledge of the Troy region was just one of the reasons that led him to PLAS.
“I’ve been in the Troy area for a few years now, working for Charles Henderson, and then we stayed when I went to Pike Road,” recalls Baxley. “I know the reputation and I know the community here and I know the kind of kids and athletes that we have here.
“As soon as I heard that (PLAS) was moving to public school prom, I knew right away that this is a place to build a championship program. That drew me in and opened my eyes.”
Many of Baxley’s goals for the Patriot football program depend on development, whether it’s the development of individual players or the program as a whole.
“Our first goals here are to go to work every day, improve the program, put in the work and attention to detail, and develop our athletes,” Baxley said. “We want to continue developing our program while maximizing our potential. That’s the goal no matter where you are, and then drop the chips where they want. Go to work and make sure we push everyone in the program to be the best version of ourselves they can be.”
While the Patriots go through back-to-back AISA State Championships, PLAS now competes in AHSAA competition, and the 2022 Patriots will look nothing like the 2020 or 2021 teams. A number of players from these teams have graduated and others have transferred. However, Baxley said he was only focusing on the Patriots, who still wear “Pike Liberal Arts” across their jerseys.
“You always want as much involvement in your school as possible, but we don’t cry about kids who don’t want to play here,” Baxley said flatly. “We value the kids who value us and we will invest our time and energy in our internal kids, developing them and developing the core of our program and the culture of our football program around the kids that we have. A house. That’s the way it should be and we’re happy and excited for the players who walk through those doors every day.”
A defensive coach for most of his coaching career, Baxley brings a defensive wit that made Pike Road one of the best defenses in the Class 5A last season, but he also has new plans for the Patriot offense.
“We’re going to tailor the offensive line to the type of athletes we have,” Baxley said. “The last few years they’ve been a distributed team and I don’t know who we are now.”
Baxley noted that many teams across the state are reverting to a stronger offensive running style and that he believes the style also suits the athletes PLAS currently has.
“If you look at it, the evolution of the game 20 years ago (to go) went from more condensed formations to a more open, empty (backfield) look that stretches people sideways,” he continued. “In the last five years, the game has kind of tightened up again. If you look at the state champions for the past five years, regardless of level, you see a lot more tight ends, two backs, ’21’ (two running backs, one tight end formation), and ’22’ personal (two running backs, two tight end formations) groupings and adding gaps to the line.
“That’s how the game works anyway. I think that suits us perfectly. We need to get people in a phone booth and be great inline blockers and that requires a great offseason program. If you want to play this style of football, you have to be more than fast. You have to be strong and tough and that’s what we want to be.”
Baxley and his Patriots will begin their offseason program next Monday, and he said he’s already working to set up organized team activities (OTAs) and 7-on-7 competitions for the month of July.