Leroy coach Jason Massey took the Bears to their sixth state title last year but will report for duty with his Alabama National Guard unit in October and will miss the rest of the season. (Call News file photo)
By JIMMY WIGFIELD
Leroy coach Jason Massey is accustomed to giving orders but he knows how to take them, too.
On Labor Day weekend, he received official orders to deploy with his Alabama National Guard unit for an unspecified time beginning in October, which means he’ll miss the rest of the season with the defending Class 1A state champions.
“You never know when it will happen,” said Massey, a non-commissioned officer who will turn 50 on Oct. 1. “There are always rumors, there are always lists and the lists change from time to time.”
Massey was concerned during the offseason he might get called up but hadn’t heard anything during the summer, so he and his players were surprised when he got his orders.
“They didn’t like it but they understand,” he said. “They know I’m in the Guard and they realize being in the military is like being on a team. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice your wants and desires for the team. … It’s something bigger than yourself.”
Massey initially enlisted because he needed money for college but his father and uncle also served. This will be Massey’s third tour in more than 30 years; he has served in Iraq and in the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Defensive coordinator Chan Lowe will be the interim head coach but Massey said he will stay involved with the program as much as possible.
“He’ll make decisions he feels is best,” Massey said of Lowe. “Most of my assistant coaches have been with me multiple years. They have that routine down. I’ve got faith in them. I’m going to (help) as much as I can. The way they’ve got things now compared to 20 years ago, with all the film online, I’m going to try and help those guys in preparation week to week.”
Lowe — who was named 2022’s Class 1A assistant coach of the year by the Alabama Football Coaches Association — said he is going to hold the steering wheel until Massey returns.
“This is where I got my coaching education,” Lowe said. “This is my eighth year here and Jason Massey has been my mentor. He’s more than a boss, he’s a brother type. He took a shot on me eight years ago and said, ‘You’re running the defense.’ I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was learning on the fly and he was very patient. I don’t know any other way to run it other than the way Jason Massey runs it. It’s still his program.
“Being a head coach is something I’ve wanted since I decided to get into coaching but I really didn’t want my first taste of it to be this way,” Lowe added. “It’s a first-class program that’s been built here for years and you couldn’t ask for a better chance to get your feet wet.”
Massey is 86-41 in 11 seasons at Leroy and won the school’s sixth Blue Map last season. He is 40-14 in the last five years with one other appearance in the state championship game and two other semifinal appearances.
It’s likely he will watch the Bears play for a second straight state championship from afar.
“I hope I have to,” Massey said. “When I told the team, I told them it’s the next man up and I’m going to be their biggest fan. That’s going to be the hard part, not seeing those guys every day on the practice field and in the weight room and being a part of their lives day in and day out.”
Massey’s final game before his deployment will be Friday when Leroy (3-0) hosts Class 2A St. Luke’s (5-0) at Bobby Farish Field at Palmer Stadium. Then he’ll get his hair cut shorter than normal and report for duty.
“We all hate it but it says a lot that he’s willing to go serve his country like that,” Lowe said.