Franklin County High School head football coach Justin Cunningham, center, answers questions at an introductory press conference at the high school Thursday. Flanking Cunningham are FCHS Principal Dr. Roger Alsup, left, and FCHS Athletic Director Don Rhoton.

New Franklin County High School head football coach Justin Cunningham was officially introduced on Thursday in a press conference at the high school.

The event began with FCHS Athletic Director Don Rhoton giving his thoughts on the hiring of Cunningham.

“We met with the players just a few minutes ago and, as I told them, if the players can get half as excited about this situation as Justin is, then we’re not going to have any problems with our team getting better,” Rhoton said.

Cunningham, a 2005 graduate of FCHS, talked about his excitement in returning to his hometown school after coaching as an assistant at various schools across the state.

“It’s truly a dream come true to come home. I’m so excited for this challenge,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham was previously the offensive coordinator for the Rockvale High School Rockets in 2019. He has also had previous coaching stints at Blackman as a run-game coordinator, at Springfield as an offensive coordinator and at Harnett Central and Smyrna as an offensive line coach since graduating from Austin Peay in 2009.

Following the opening remarks, Cunningham fielded questions from the media in attendance. He was first asked about what kind of offense he would like to run with the Rebels.

“It kind of depends on our personnel. Defenses try to stop the run so we’ve got to find a way to run the football,” Cunningham said. “We obviously have to pass the football too. That depends on our quarterback though. Usually when you can successfully run the football, they’re going to have to bring somebody from outside the box to help stop the run and that’s where you find open spaces on the field and attack them.”

Cunningham then talked about a need to gain the trust of the athletes on the roster during the offseason.

“My No. 1 goal is to chase the hearts of these kids. I feel like if they really understand that, then they’re going to work for you,” Cunningham said. “We’ve got to get bigger, faster and stronger, but I really don’t think they’re going to give you all they’ve got unless you chase the hearts of them.”

Cunningham reiterated the importance of his Franklin County roots and how it is fueling his excitement for taking over the program.

“I just remember the brotherhood that we had, and it was awesome. We put our whole heart into it,” he said. “Being a Rebel means so much to me. It’s been a true goal to get back here.”

Cunningham talked about how being named to his new position in January will be very beneficial as he gets to know and work with the roster.

“We’re going to get a huge jump in the weight room, we’re going to get a huge jump in planning for spring practice and we’re going to get a huge jump on getting our kids through agility drills to create mental toughness,” he said. “And it means the world to build some camaraderie around this staff and get to know each other. We’ve got plenty of time.”

Cunningham was asked by Rhoton what he thought of the current personnel on the Rebels after reviewing some film from the 2019 season. The Rebels went 4-6 with a 0-5 record in regional play last season.

“I’m not coming into an empty ship. We need to get better up front, but we’ve got some skill guys coming back,” Cunningham said. “That whole young class is really something special, and I think that class can push the older ones. There’s nothing better than competition in bringing the most out of you.”

Cunningham closed out the press conference by talking about what his players can do to find more success against the top competition they will be facing both inside and outside of regional play.

“We need to control what we can control and that’s us getting better and grinding every day to maximize what we have. It is going to be tough, but you play the games and you play to win,” Cunningham said.

The Rebels will make their debut season with Cunningham as the head coach in August.