Pulaski Academy football experienced its biggest shakeup in nearly two decades when longtime head coach and analytics guru Kevin Kelley announced in May that he'd be leaving for the college ranks.
Later that month, the Bruins hired Kelley's successor in Anthony Lucas, who had served as PA's receivers coach since 2012. With Lucas and three other assistants from Kelley's last PA staff -- Adam Thrash, Madison Taylor and Jason Wyatt -- all returning to the Bruins, the four quickly decided on a crucial element heading into this season -- keep everything the same.
"These kids have been running this system, offensively and defensively, since fifth and sixth grade, and we didn't want to change that," Lucas said. "This is all they've been doing and it has worked."
That system, which calls for high-flying offense and analytically-based decisions that usually result in going for it on fourth downs and two-point conversions, is still shining through for the Bruins this season. And in a lot of ways, the on-field product looks just hardly different from what it was under Lucas' predecessor.
According to its box scores, Pulaski Academy has converted 78.3% of all its points after touchdown attempts so far this season, only 0.1% lower than its conversion rate in 2020. The Bruins' two-point conversion rates are also similar the past two seasons, converting on 63% this season and 66.7% last year. Fourth-down conversions are also holding steady, up to 50% from 47% a year ago. And, of course, the program still hasn't punted since 2014.
The Bruins don't keep track of their onside kick success, at least in their box scores, but Lucas said he knows the importance of it. He keeps the Bruins' record with onside kick success in the notes app of his phone.
Since Kelley came to PA, the program has lost 22% of the games in which it doesn't recover an onside kick. It's lost six times when recovering one kick and it's only lost once when recovering two kicks or more. This season, the Bruins have recovered one onside kick in every game except their Week 2 win against Madison (Miss.) Ridgeland.
The only noticeable categorical shift to this point is an 11.2% drop in third-down conversion success, but beyond that, the differences appear few and far between with successes looking quite similar.
"At the end of the day, if the players understand what's expected and we as coaches work together, why change it?" Taylor said. "It's really been more of just continuing on like we always would."
While the Bruins have continued on like always, the approach of the two men at the helm, from Kelley to Lucas, has been "very different," Taylor said.
Kelley was known for his intensity, especially at practices. Lucas is noticeably laid back in that same setting and, though his voice commands attention, he's delegated some this season, Taylor said, "as a first-year coach at any program would do."
Lucas said he's learning the expanded duties of his role, too.
"I get emails like crazy," Lucas said. "People want to sell you this and do this, do this ... and the recruiting thing now, as head coach, it's so different from when I played. There's so many different ways that kids are being recruited, so I'm learning and adjusting to that."
While Lucas and some of the nuances of his Pulaski Academy football program are adjusting, the principles and priorities are still the same.
"There's more than one way to grow a tree," Taylor said. "The roots were laid by Coach Kelley and the fruit is what's happened over the last 10 years. Now we just have a different way of picking the fruit."
At a glance
PULASKI ACADEMY (2020/2021)
PAT CONVERSIONS 69 of 88 (78.4%)/36 of 46* (78.3%)
2-POINT CONVERSIONS 34 of 51 (66.7%)/17 of 27* (63%)
3RD DOWN CONVERSIONS 77 of 153 (50.3%)/27 of 69* (39.1%)
4TH DOWN CONVERSIONS 31 of 66 (47%)/18 of 36* (50%)
*Through 6 games