There are many important components to a winning football program. Among them, good coaching, good strength and conditioning, and hard-working players. But one thing that can sometimes get overlooked is nutrition.
Athens head coach Cody Gross didn't want that to happen to his program. So, he came up with the idea of a program to ensure AHS football players get the nutrition they need to compete at a high level.
“Since I've been here, we've been the smallest team just about every game we've played,” Gross said. “Also, we have a large percentage of guys on our team who get free and reduced-price lunches (based on family income.) We want to make sure they all get plenty to eat.”
Gross took his idea to retired Limestone County judge and Athens alumnus Jimmy Woodroof Jr., and what became of it is the Feed the Eagle program. The program feeds the football players two meals a day, five days a week during the preseason and season. Players get one meal in the morning and another after practice.
Woodroof is the president of Black and Golf Circle Inc., the corporation formed to lead the Feed the Eagle program. Other officers are Chris Seibert, vice president; Greg Young, secretary; and Barry Hamilton, treasurer.
“So many of these kids in their home life don't eat,” Woodroof said. “Some go home on Friday after lunch and don't eat again until Monday at school. It's a tragedy for the basic needs of a person, but to build a football team without nutrition is impossible. Coach Gross told me that another coach told him last year that our players didn't even really fill out their uniforms. He came to me and Barry Hamilton and said, 'We've got to feed these kids and we need your help.'”
The recommended daily amount of calories for a 200-pound athlete is 5,000, but the school breakfast and lunch programs are limited to 1,400 calories per day. That's why the Feed the Eagle program is so important, said Gross and Woodroof.
The Black and Gold Circle Inc. is the fundraising arm for the program, and Woodroof said the goal is to raise $60,000.
“Cody and his wife, Karin, gave us a budget of what we would need, and we figured it would take about $3,000 per week to feed the kids twice a day, five days a week,” Woodroof said. “We're doing it for 18 weeks, so it became pretty clear we would need $60,000. Then we've got to do it again next year. So we've got to raise some big money.”
Woodroof said nearly half of the $60,000 has been raised, but the group still needs help raising the rest.
“What this is going to do is create a vested interest in the program,” Woodroof said. “Anytime you give to something, you're invested. How can anyone not get behind feeding kids? All of a sudden, people are part of the team, helping the players eat.”
One of the people invested in the program is former Athens coach Larry McCoy, who coached the Golden Eagles to a state championship in 1975. McCoy has enthusiastically embraced the program and he is one of the program's board of directors.
“Larry McCoy is a legend to the older folks,” Woodroof said. “Having him endorse this and being involved is a great thing. He's a real positive person and wants to help make a difference for these kids.”
Some of the food is coming from different restaurants in Athens and Limestone County, while other food is prepared by Karin Gross and other volunteers.
“It's a variety of food they're getting,” Cody Gross said. “One of the challenges is to get things everyone will eat. We typically have a Taco Tuesday, with a taco bar and chips. We also had chicken alfredo one night, and one night we had baked ham, mashed potatoes and banana pudding. It's some really good stuff. Karin usually cooks a big breakfast on Thursday for the players, and Central Church of Christ allows us to use their (industrial) kitchen because you can't cook that much food at home. They are huge in partnering with us.”
Anyone interested in making a contribution to the Feed the Eagle program should make it to Black and Gold Circle Inc., P.O. Box 929, Athens, AL 35612, or at blackandgoldcircle on Facebook. Contributions are tax deductible.
“There's a lot of great generous people out there willing to help a lot of causes,” Cody Gross said. “A lot of times they just want to be asked. I can't say enough about the people who are involved in this. I'm very thankful to them.”