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Grand Saline Welcomes Three New Coaches to High School Football Program

By Vy Townsend Malcik Staff Writer
Aug. 12, 2012 at 3 a.m.

Coach Michael Ludlow said that in hiring Grand Saline High School's new football coaches he looked for experience and enthusiasm. It seems he found the right combination with Stephen Almuete, Terry LeBlanc and Tanner Thiel.

Two of them bring almost 50 years experience, and one is a wise, eager young man who says, "I want my kids to learn the value of hard work and accountability while they have some fun."

Ludlow introduced the three to the Grand Saline Sun last week as they prepared for football practice to begin on August 6. No more two-a-days are allowed by a ruling of the UIL, so mornings will consist of weight training early, then practice on the field from about 9:45 until 11:45 each day.

Scrimmages begin August 17, and the first game will be against Sunnyvale there August 31.

Ludlow said, "I feel very excited to have found knowledgeable and quality individuals. We never stop learning and we wanted a diverse group in experience but men with similar personalities.

Ludlow is pleased that some older students are coming to try out for the team as well as those who have been coming up through the football system. "I feel like we are on the right track."

He thinks the district changes may be to Grand Saline's advantage also. Mineola and Melissa moved up to 3A, and Melissa won the state championship. The Mighty Indians will not have to face those teams again.

Eustace and Kemp are new, and the team will still play Malakoff and Lone Oak plus Winnsboro. "But I think our experience is pretty high for getting back into the playoffs this year," Ludlow said. He believes he will have 10 returning players and end up with about 45 on the roster.

<em>Stephen Almuete</em> is the new defensive coordinators for the team. Football has been part of his life since he was big enough to play. He grew up in Whitney and graduated from high school there, playing football, basketball and baseball.

He graduated from Tarleton State University with a degree in education and sports studies and began coaching 18 years ago.

In eight different schools before Grand Saline, he served in positions including assistant head football coach, defensive coordinator, athletic director (AD) and head football coach. He also spent two years as a head basketball coach.

He came here from Cross Roads where he was the AD and head football coach.

He says he made the change for two reasons: one was to move up from 1A to 2A football. The other reason is, that as an assistant coach, he will have more opportunities to watch 13-year-old daughter Lauren play a lot more. She will be in eighth grade this year at Grand Saline Middle School, and her dad says she plays everything!

Almuete is married to Winona who he describes as a typical Texas coach's wife in that she is certified to teach most anything. They have been married 20 years and have lived in nearly a dozen towns.

Their daughter, Brooke, graduated from Kearns High School this year and will be a freshman at Hill College in Hillsboro in a few weeks.

Almuete says he has always liked defense, though in small schools, every coach does most every kind of coaching. Still, he says that during Indian games, people will see him mainly dealing with the defenders on the sidelines and making adjustments during the game.

One of his own high school coaches has been a role model for Almuete's coaching and life choices. "I couldn't ask for a better group of guys to be coached by. I learned a lot about football, but I also learned life lessons and respect."

He says he wants to pass on those lessons to Grand Saline players and remind them that life is not all about athletics.

He will be teaching credit recovery classes at the high school.

<em>Terry LeBlanc</em> says people will recognize him by his gray hair! He will teach algebra 1 at GSHS and recognizes it can be a fun course for students just beginning their higher math studies.

He has coached for 30 years, from Oregon colleges to many high schools in Texas. He was born in Nederland where he played football and basketball, ran track and was on the swim team.

After graduation he went to Cisco Junior College, then Sul Ross State University where he earned his degree in mathematics and physical education.

He played defensive back at Sul Ross where the team won the Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association (TIAA) Conference Championship and went on to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) playoffs where they lost in the quarterfinals.

LeBlanc spent five years as an assistant coach, 14 years as either defensive or offensive coordinator and 11 years as a head coach and AD.

In 1983 his first coaching job took him to Oregon State University where he was the defensive back coach under head coach Joe Avezzano. Most will recognize that name because Avezzano later became the special teams coach for the Dallas Cowboys.

LeBlanc returned to Texas football because he said that Oregon didn't pay a living wage for coaches. He taught in big and small schools, 1A to college level. When he was a Willamette University in Oregon the team went to the NAIA championship.

He has liked the offensive line since he was a quarterback in high school. "I like it better because it is a crowd-pleaser; it is exciting to put points on the board!" He says he has coached offense for so many years, with his wife almost always in the stands, that she now questions and critiques some of the plays he calls.

LeBlanc has coached in too many places to list during an interview, but some of them were Mabank, Anahuac, McAllen, San Ysidro and Danbury where he met his wife of 24 years, Lydia.

She is a teacher's aide in the ESL Program in Lake Dallas. They enjoy the company of their three sons often. Ian is 28 and works for an energy group, Chris is 23 and is a first-year teacher at Lake Dallas. Jason is 19 and a student at North Texas Community College.

LeBlanc will spend his weeks and weekends between Grand Saline and Lake Dallas. He says he and Lydia love to work in their yard; it is the way they relax.

They have been developing a landscape and "vacation spot" for 10 years, so now they enjoy a backyard pool, covered deck, blooming roses, huge bougainvillea hanging baskets and all the other plants they have put into their idyllic landscape. . . and escape!

Through his 30 years, LeBlanc has developed a philosophy about coaching. He said, "You want to get as many kids as you can into a continuous program. It is so important to start with young ones so they can keep learning all the way to becoming varsity players.

"Of course, the main goal in coaching is to be successful, and success is measured in different ways: on the football field, in the field house, in the classroom.

"I have coached long enough that young men call me now 10-20 years after I coached them to thank me for making a difference in their lives. That is the real success."

Tanner Thiel, who will be working with the defensive, was born in Lubbock and grew up in Idalou. He graduated from Canyon High School where he played football, basketball and ran track.

He remembers the excitement of his senior year when his team played Stephenville in the quarter finals at the "old" Cowboy Stadium.

He received his bachelor of science degree in kinesiology at the University of Texas at Arlington, and in May he finished his master's degree in kinesiology from the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). While there he was the graduate assistant for the brand-new football program.

Just beginning his own football coaching career, he says he was privileged to work with the head coach of UTSA's first football team in the school's history -- Larry Coker, former coach at the University of Miami. In 2002 Coker's team won the national championship.

Thiel looks forward to teaching freshman biology at GSHS because it is no longer just a textbook course. He plans field trips, experiments and other creative ways to help his students enjoy a subject that only opens up in high school.

Thiel says he learned the value of hard work and accountability when working on the West Texas farms of both sides of his family. "Good things will come when you stick by this philosophy," he said.

Thiel married Cara just over one year ago. She teaches U.S. history and coaches volleyball, basketball and softball. She graduated from Van High School, and her family is close by for lots of family gatherings.

He and Cara both are sports enthusiasts – he pulls for Texas Tech, and she is a TCU and UT fan, so they will go to games whenever they are near enough. They also enjoy Texas Country music.

These three coaches new to Grand Saline High School are already hard at work with weight training, morning and evening practices, studying the playbook and learning to work together as part of the cohesive team of the Mighty Indians.

Go, team, go!



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