When The Citadel football team takes the field at Johnson Hagood Stadium for its spring game on Saturday, Maurice Drayton will be back at the place that played a central role in most of his adult life.
THE CITADEL FOOTBALL SPRING GAME
WHEN: 1 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Johnson Hagood Stadium
Drayton, hired by new Citadel coach Mike Houston as the Bulldogs' defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach, previously spent 12 years at The Citadel as a player and assistant coach, the last in 2005.
"It's great to come home to my alma mater, the place where I cut my teeth," said Drayton, who graduated in 1998 after coming to The Citadel from Berkeley High School in Moncks Corner. "I couldn't be more excited and ecstatic."
Though he's only 37 years old, Drayton has learned from a long line of coaches for whom he's either played or worked. Those include Charlie Taaffe, Don Powers, Ellis Johnson, John Zernhelt and Kevin Higgins at The Citadel, and Chuck Reedy (Goose Creek High School), David Bennett (Coastal Carolina) and Buddy Pough (South Carolina State) at other schools.
"I've definitely learned from a lot of the great ones," said Drayton, who worked for Johnson during his ill-fated stint as a head coach at Southern Miss in 2012. "I feel like I've gained a wealth of knowledge over the years from them. Now, we'll take the good and the bad we've learned from all of them and try to create a formula for success."
During a career that's ranged from stints with the Charleston Swamp Foxes in the Arena Football League to the Seinajoki Crocodiles of the European Football League in Finland, Drayton has learned that perceptions and titles matter to those who make hires in football.
That's why this job as defensive coordinator at The Citadel might be the most important step yet for Drayton, who is married and has two children.
"For athletic directors and presidents, it's important to have that OC or DC by your name if you want to be a head coach," Drayton said. "But I've been a special teams coordinator for many years, and I believe you can be prepared to be a head coach from that position. You bridge offense and defense and you have to be an administrator, and that's what being a head coach is all about."
Even the lost year at Southern Miss, when Johnson went 0-12 after leaving his job as defensive coordinator at South Carolina to coach the Golden Eagles, was a valuable experience, Drayton said.
"Your learn that you can only control what you can control," he said. "All the other things, you can't worry about it. You can't let it beat you up and get you down."
In working for Houston, who was defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Lenoir-Rhyne before becoming the Bears' head coach, Drayton is violating one of the coaching rules taught him by former Citadel great Everette Sands, now the running backs coach at South Carolina.
"Everette once told me, 'You never want to coach for a guy who coached the position you are coaching,' Drayton said. "That's what I'm doing with Coach Houston, but he's a great defensive mind. A lot of what he believes flows from the great minds I've learned from."
Indeed, Houston runs a 4-2-5 scheme very similar to what Ellis Johnson ran at The Citadel, South Carolina, Southern Miss and now at Auburn.
"It's almost scary how much we believe in the same things," Drayton said. "We almost don't have to talk about some things, because we believe in the same things."