ROME, Ga. — Phil Jones has always been thankful for the opportunity to be a football coach and help teach young men about what the game can offer on and off the field. But as the man whose career spans 47 years prepares to begin his 11th season as the head football coach at Shorter University, Jones has even more reason to give thanks.
Already blessed with the return of a lengthy list of veterans, including literally every player on the defensive side of the ball, Jones is now blessed with the arrival an eager and determined group of men who will give the Hawks’ coaching staff almost an entirely new look heading into new season.
“You always wonder what will happen when you lose people you’ve worked with and you’ve come to love. It’s hard,” said Jones, who save for second-year defensive coordinator Julius Dixon was tasked finding assistant coaches to fill the vacancies on his staff that occurred during the off-season.
“But I’m really excited about who is with us now,” he added. “The Lord has blessed us.”
Joining Jones and Dixon in welcoming the Hawks when the team reports on Friday to start preseason drills will be four new assistants – Charlie Hopkins, who becomes the team’s offensive coordinator and offensive line coach; Barry Casterlin, who will coach the linebackers and be the Hawks’ recruiting coordinator;Justin Jefferson, the team’s linebacker and equipment coordinator; and former Georgia Tech running back David Sims, who steps in to direct the backfield and serve as academic coordinator.
“They all have great knowledge about what they do and they work together,” said Jones. “It’s one of the youngest staffs we’ve have but they all have football expertise. I’m excited about what’s ahead for our football team.”
In addition, Dixon takes on the role as the team’s assistant head coach.
“He’s earned it,” Jones said of Dixon. “He’s a great coach, a great family man and a great person, and he’s done so much to keep us moving forward.”
Hopkins assumes the role as offensive coordinator that was previously held by the lone remaining member of Shorter’s inaugural coaching staff, Tim Mathis, who is now the head coach at Franklin County (Fla.) High School, and the native of Elberton will step in well-versed in the option attack that has been the Hawks’ trademark.
A four-year letterman as an offensive lineman at Georgia Southern, where he was a member of an offensive line that led the nation in rushing in consecutive seasons and helped the Eagles with three Southern Conference championships, Hopkins served as the offensive line coach at Division II Missouri Southern last year where his players helped that option-based team lead the Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletic Association in rushing.
Hopkins began his coaching career as Elbert County High School in 2009 and for two season was the offensive line coach for his alma mater before making the move to the college coaching ranks in 2011 when he joined the staff at Division III Hamline University in Minnesota where for two seasons he was the assistant offensive coordinator and offensive line coach and served as the recruiting coordinator and video coordinator.
Prior to his stint at Missouri Southern, Hopkins spent a season at Division II Brevard in North Carolina where he was the offensive line coach and under his guidance the Tornados rushed for nearly 3,000 yards and averaged 4.6 per carry.
Casterlin begins his first year at Shorter as the Hawks’ linebackers coach after spending the past four seasons as a defensive assistant at Norwich University in Vermont, where he helped the team earn its first-ever NCAA Division II playoff berth in 2011.
While at Norwich, Casterlin saw his players earn All-Conference student-athletes honors all four years and had three defensive linemen receive First Team All-Eastern Collegiate Football Conference honors. In 2012, Norwich was 15th in the nation in rushing defense while the 2013 campaign saw Norwich’s defense ranked 28th in total defense, 9th in red zone defense and led the nation in interception percentage. The 2014 campaign saw Norwich ranked 17th in total defense.
Originally from New Jersey, Casterlin earn a spot on the roster at the University of South Carolina as a walk-on and was part of the Gamecocks team that turned in one of the biggest turnarounds in NCAA Division I history when they went from being winless in 1999 to winning the Outback Bowl in 2000 and posting an 8-4 record.
After graduating from USC in 2001, Casterlin started his coaching career on the high school level in South Carolina and New Jersey and broke into the college coaching ranks serving as an assistant at Fairleigh Dickinson University coaching the defensive backs.
During the 2007 and 2008 seasons, Casterlin joined the coaching staff at Cheyney University where he served as the Recruiting, Video, and Special Teams Coordinator in addition to coaching the Defensive Line, and for the last three games in 2007 co-coordinated the offense, eventually being named the team’s Interim Head Coach when the season ended.
In 2009, Casterlin came to Georgia where he coached at NCAA Division I FCS Savanah State, arriving to coach the running backs, who finished the season combining for more than 1,000 yards. The next season, Casterlin moved back over to the defense to coach the secondary under Dixon, who was the then-interim head coach.
Sims begins his football coaching career after having established himself as one of the top fullbacks ever in Georgia Tech’s rich history, taking over as the assistant coach of the Hawks’ backfield.
A native of St. Mathews, S.C., where as a prep standout at Calhoun High School he set the school records for total offense in a season, passing touchdowns, career passing yards and career rushing yards, Sims went on to become a three-year starter at B-back for Tech’s Yellow Jackets.
Sims closed out his collegiate career rushing for 2,252 yards that ranks him 11th on the program’s all-time rushing list and ran for 23 career touchdowns and scored three other TDs on receptions
In 2013, Sims became the only player in college football with just one negative rushing attempt with a minimum of 100 carries and that same season was an All-Atlantic Coast Conference Honorable Mention selection by both the media and the coaches, eventually being invited to play in the College All-Star Bowl.
Jefferson makes his debut on the Hawks’ coaching staff where he will serve as the defensive line coach, the same assignment he coached since 2011 at his alma mater, Brevard College.
A native of Greensboro, N.C., where he was a standout at Ben L. Smith High School, Jefferson attended Brevard where he was a three-year letter for the Division II Tornadoes as a defensive lineman and closed out his career by being selected to the All-South Atlantic Conference team and was named to the Don Hansen’s Super Region II team.
After graduating from Brevard in 2009, worked with the Columbus Lions of the Southern Indoor Football League as a coaching assistant and the offensive line coach, and also served as the Pro CFL and AFL scout, then became the defensive line coach at Varitas Sports Academy in Greensboro prior to joining the staff at Brevard, where he coached two All-SAC players.
The Hawks also welcome four new graduate assistant coaches to the nest. Adding their experience to Shorter’s offense will be Trey Bray and Jordan Ollis, both former standouts at Division II Brevard, and helping out on defense will be Jarred Johnson, who played at Reinhardt last year, and Alex Dodds, a graduate of Alabama who was an intern coach Samford and at the University of Houston and last year coached at Palm Harbor (Fla.) University High School.
After reporting Friday, the Hawks hold their first workout on Aug. 10 to prepare for their season opener on Sept. 4 hosting non-conference foe University of Faith at Barron Stadium, then embark on a challenging four-week road trip.
That stretch begins Sept. 12 when Shorter heads to Jefferson City, Tenn., to face perennial Division II power Carson-Newman, a clash that is followed by back-to-back showdowns with a pair of Division I FCS teams – a first for Shorter – when the Hawks make the short trip down I-75 on Sept. 19 to face Kennesaw State that is playing its inaugural season and a week later on Sept. 26 make a long trip to Cape Girardeau, Mo., to tackle Ohio Valley Conference contender Southeast Missouri State.
The month-long road strong comes to an end on Oct. 3 whenShorter travels to Clinton, Miss., to meet Mississippi College, the first of seven rugged GSC clashes that completes the Hawks’ schedule. Shorter finally returns to Barron Stadium on Oct. 10hosting Delta State, visits West Alabama on Oct. 17, plays aThursday night game in Rome against Valdosta State on Oct. 22and closes our October heading to Melbourne, Fla., on the 31st to face Florida Tech.
North Alabama arrives in Rome on Nov. 7 for the Hawks’ final home game of the season and on Nov. 14 Shorter takes a short ride to Carrollton to meet West Georgia, which advanced to the NCAA Division II national semifinals last year, to close out the 11-game slate.