August 29, 2015

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Hancock takes wheel as St. Al coach

Published 10:05 am Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Last summer, Steve Hancock was temporarily out of coaching baseball and recovering from a shoulder injury when he got a call from Derrik Boland.

The St. Aloysius coach had an opening on his staff and wanted Hancock to fill it.

Appreciative of the opportunity, it’s now Hancock’s turn to repay the favor by finishing the job his friend started. The 52-year-old Biloxi native has been hired as Boland’s successor at St. Al, where he’ll try to push the Flashes over the hump toward the Class 1A championship.

“Our philosophies are very similar. So this has been a good year. We didn’t reach our goals. I was hoping he’d (Boland) be able to stay on,” Hancock said. “He left this program in good shape. From when he arrived to now, he’s done some remarkable things.”

Boland resigned at the end of the season to move to Birmingham with his financeé, who is entering graduate school at UAB.

Boland led the Flashes to a 40-39 record and two division championships in three seasons as their coach. They won three games the season before he arrived, and six in his first rebuilding season.

Six starters, as well as a number of talented reserves and underclassmen, will return in 2015, and St. Al is once against expected to contend for the division and state titles.

“We’ll lose two top pitchers, but we’ll have guys that step up and make vast improvements,” Hancock said. “I think we’ve got kids that are eager to jump into those roles. The cupboard’s not bare.”

Hancock brings a wealth of experience to his new job. He’s spent 25 of the last 28 years in the game, with coaching jobs at Millsaps and UAB as well as seven other high schools ranging from small to large.

St. Al is his fourth head coaching position. He also was head coach at Calhoun City, Wayne County and Heritage Academy.

“He’s been a head coach. He’s coached college-level baseball. More importantly, he knows the kids and we’ll be able to keep him and his assistant (Brady Ellis),” St. Al athletic director B.J. Smithhart said. “We can keep continuity and not miss a beat going into the summer.”

Hancock was an assistant with New Hope when it won the 2003 Class 4A championship. He gave up that post because the long hours were taking him away from his family, but remained as New Hope’s golf and cross country coach until 2008.

It was during his stint at New Hope that Hancock first crossed paths with Boland. Millsaps coach Jim Page asked Hancock, one of his old assistants, to scout the then-star catcher from Nettleton as a favor.

Boland ended up going to Millsaps, and the two developed a friendship through that connection. In addition to being a former Millsaps assistant, Hancock played there in the early 1980s.

In 2013, Hancock tore his labrum and rotator cuff. He left his job as an assistant at West Jones, but as he recovered he got the call from Boland about coming to St. Al.

“It worked out pretty quick,” Hancock said.

And now, less than a year after he came to St. Al, Hancock is taking the reins of the program. The new head coach said he plans to tweak a few things on his watch but keep others the same.

“There will be some things I don’t do the same as Derrik, and some things I don’t do as well as he does,” Hancock said.

Returning assistant coach Brady Ellis will take on some new duties within the program, Hancock added, as the two of them try to continue what Boland started three years ago.

“If you sit there and say here’s 20 things you have to do to win, we probably do 16 of those things,” Hancock said.

The Flashes will have high expectations going into 2015. The large number of returning players will make them a favorite to win the Class 1A championship.

A tough schedule that includes a number of Class 4A, 5A and 6A schools — St. Al played eight of its 24 games against teams in those classifications this season — will make them battle-tested.

Hancock is eager to embrace the expectations, and the challenges that lay ahead.

“This isn’t a game for the meek or mild. It’s not chess,” he said. “You have to be able to lay it on the line and lay down the challenge. We played better against the tougher teams we played. Our kids love the compeition.

“I’ve got kids asking me if we still get to play Northwest Rankin next year,” Hancock continued. “They don’t shrink from the challenge, and that’s what I think is most special about these guys.”