David Holifield has plenty of nicknames to toss around.
For Russell Christian head football coach, it’s “Gnomeo.” For junior receiver Tyler Reeves, it’s “Flea.” And there are countless others, not all his own creation, the Russell assistant coach likes to use to help him remember players.
“I’m so bad with names, I use nicknames all the time, because it’s a whole lot easier for me to remember,” Holifield said.
And there are no shortage of players, current and former, for Holifield to supply with nicknames. That’s because he’s been around since the school was started 11 years ago, having been on staff at Russell Baptist Church for 14 years. He currently serves as youth pastor and spiritual life director at Russell and helps coach several sports at the school, in addition to serving as a teacher.
“We wanted to be able to mentor and equip these kids to impact the world for the cause of Christ,” Holifield said of the school’s vision when it opened. “We wanted to build character and develop young men and women.”
Having started the baseball program at Russell, Holifield has also coached basketball and softball. He serves as special teams coach for the football team but has his hands on all aspects of the Warriors’ squad.
“The kids love him,” Ballard said. “They’ve always liked Brother David. He’s a good teacher and coach. He’s honest with them, and I think they appreciate that more than anything. He holds them accountable and does a good job with them.”
Holifield himself is known as Shrek, after the green ogre in the “Shrek” movie franchise, and Ballard’s “Gnomeo” nickname stems from Holifield poking fun at Nick Saban, head coach at Ballard’s favorite college football team, Alabama.
“We all have nicknames, and David’s the one that kind of started that,” Ballard said. “He also loves those little one-liners. He’ll hear a quote or a saying and it sticks with him. If you say, ‘Effort and attitude,’ all the kids know that’s Brother David’s saying.”
For Reeves, the nickname frenzy is a fun way to leave a permanent mark in one another’s minds.
“He didn’t give me the Flea nickname, but he’s kept it alive,” Reeves said. “It’s fun because it’s a way to remember people by. Normal names come and go, but a nickname is something that’s special to you.”
Reeves said he’s glad the Warriors’ staff includes a man like Holifield, who combines his Christian faith with his coaching abilities.
“He’s always positive,” Reeves said. “When we’re in our bad times, he’ll take it all upon himself, but when we’re doing good, he points back to us. He’s really humble and always uplifting — never negative.”
Holifield said he hopes his players take more than just Xs and Os from him.
“I want them to know that I love them, first and foremost, and that I care about them way more than just when they’re here,” Holifield said. “I invest in them long-term and just want them to know that I’m real and love them and care about them more than just as an athlete.”
Having someone with Holifield’s spiritual background is a tremendous asset to the team, Ballard said.
“Not only do we coach these kids, we mentor them,” Ballard said. “Some of these kids come from bad situations, and sometimes a football coach has influence, but there’s more influence when they’re a minister or pastor, and David has both aspects.”
One of the things to which the players look forward is the pre-practice and pre-game devotions supplied by Holifield. The spiritual development isn’t limited to just the devotions, however.
“All throughout practice, he’s trying to give us spiritual points and thoughts to help us with our spiritual walk,” Reeves said.
The chance to let his ministry work carry over into athletics gives Holifield the ability to relate his teaching points to practical situations.
“All athletics are great (for teaching people spiritually), but especially football,” he said. “You’re going to get knocked down, so are you going to get back up? It’s tough, and there are days you want to quit, but in life, that isn’t an option. You have to go to work, and one day you’ll be married and have kids, so they’re going to need to be able to depend on you.”
Russell (0-7, 0-4) will play at Jackson Academy at 7 tonight.