Tom Pulford has been with the Palmer Ridge football team since the beginning.
He was there for the inaugural season in 2008 when the Bears went 4-7.
He stood on the sideline in 2012 when the team went 2-8 in his first season as coach.
And he was there five years later to hoist the 3A state championship trophy on Dec. 2, 2017 after the Bears completed a perfect 14-0 season.
He is The Gazette Preps 3A-1A football Coach of the Year.
But the immense turnaround was not all his doing, according to Pulford. It takes a village.
“And we are very fortunate that we have a very good village,” he said.
But it was also the personalities on the field, and the thirst for a state championship that kept the ball rolling.
“The desire in these young men to play with everything they have for each other was something that really stood out to me this year,” Pulford said. “Their willingness to do whatever it took for each other is, I think, what really what made this team special.”
Players agree that Pulford has put together one of the best coaching staffs in the state, and the work he’s put in to ensure his players success on and off the field has led to a new legacy of success at Palmer Ridge.
“We really try to help the young men in the program to understand that we’re trying to help them become great men on and off the field,” Pulford said. “Making sure that our kids understand that anything they do in life that they want to be successful at is going to take a lot of hard work and it’s going to take an intentional plan.”
The plan, mocked up in December of 2012, was to become the best program in the state. It was a lofty goal, but Pulford said he felt a strong hunger from his players to become the best, and each year they left the program better than they found it. That progress had a direct impact on the Bears’ success in 2017.
“We started thinking about some of the things we wanted Palmer Ridge to be beyond just one year,” Pulford said. “It was a big goal and we worked hard to get here, and now there’s a lot of work to do to sustain where we’re at, and we look forward to it.”