‘It’s been a whirlwind’
EARLY — On a sun-drenched morning in Longhorn Stadium, Daniel Price watched as about 110 athletes — boys and girls — ran and sweated their way through summer workouts.
In December, Price was named interim athletic director and head football coach after Blake Sandford announced his retirement from coaching. Early school board members in February approved Price for the job on a permanent basis, although the job isn’t officially his until July, when the new contract period begins.
The sounds of whistles being blown and shouts from other coaches filled the air. “Hit it to the middle … hit it to the middle! Good .. good! Short-short, long-long ...Come on seniors! Finish hard. Finish hard right here.”
Price, a Sweetwater native, is beginning his 17th year in coaching and fourth year in Early. Previously he was the Longhorns football defensive coordinator and head boys basketball coach.
“We started Monday — Monday the 8th is when the UIL cleared us to start summer strengthening condition,” Price said. “And they allowed for us to do sport-specific practices. So — with a bunch of restrictions because of what we’re in — they’ve allowed us to throw and catch the football and shoot the basketball and do some basketball drills. We’ve taken full advantage of that.”
Price graduated from Sweetwater High School in 1999 and from McMurray University in 2004, then spent five years on Kent Jackson’s coaching staff in Sweetwater.
When Jackson got an opportunity to go to Frisco and coach at a new high school, Price also went to Frisco.
“So we went in ’09 and opened a brand new school in Frisco,” Price said. I ended up being a defensive coordinator at a 5A Frisco school for about six years.”
As Frisco grew, Price said he and his Sweetwater-born wife knew they wanted to get back to small town living with their three children.
“We got to experience and do all the things we wanted to do,” Price said. “The reality of it for us in Frisco was, that wasn’t going to be an option for our kids. We started looking to come somewhere else and see something else. Blake had an open position (in Early) and I called him and he was all about it.”
Price was referring to Sandford, who had previously coached with Price in Sweetwater and Frisco.
Reflecting on taking on his new responsibilities in the midst of COVID restrictions, Price said, “Of course missing a lot of the spring, I didn’t get to incorporate a lot of the things that I would have liked to, because we didn’t get to come back from spring break.
“I’ve been excited since I took over as interim in December with the hopes that this would happen in February, when they approved me. It’s been a whirlwind — definitely not how I foresaw my first go at this, because I’ve never been in this position. Whenever we got it, I was excited — and all of a sudden we get to the spring, and it’s gone, like that.”
It’s been an interesting transition, Price said.
Looking ahead to the Longhorns football season, Price said coach Rusty Cleppinger will be in charge of the defense.
“He’s going to take over the defense and it won’t change a whole lot,” Price said. “Offensively we’re going to, hopefully, run the ball a little bit better. That’s what I want to do.
“My big deal is, we’ve got to do a good job of creating some relationships with these kids and trying to build a program of them buying into us, and us buying into them, and really starting to build something with a lot of team unity.”
Price said he hopes the athletes will want to “compete for each other.”
When asked how he thinks football will look following COVID, Price said, “the optimistic side of me says it’s going to be the same. That’s what I want to believe — that it’s going to come back and we’re going to be full go, just like we normally would be.
“The reality of it is, is I’ve heard all kinds of things from, no fans in the stands to not starting school until later, maybe missing a couple of games. There’s been a lot of things kicked around but nothing’s been solidified yet. I’ve been really happy with what Governor Abbott has done as far as releasing some things and getting us open. The more he gets us open, the more, I think that we have a shot at actually coming back to something that resembles normal.”