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Jones adds former GHS star player to coaching staff

By Richard White

Greenwood Bulldogs

Former GHS football star Travis Sandifer is returning to Greenwood as an assistant football coach, replacing Larry Shuck, who is returning to his home state of Texas. Like Shuck, Sandifer will be coaching in the defensive secondary. (Photo courtesy of the Greenwood Dog Pound)

Head Coach Rick Jones is now in his 11th season at the helm of the Greenwood Bulldogs’ football program – long enough to see some of his former players returning as coaches on his staff. Former GHS gridiron star Nathan Staton joined the staff last season to coach running backs, and now a former teammate of his will do the same this season. Enter Travis Sandifer, a 2008 GHS graduate.

With the blessing of the school board at its regular monthly meeting last Thursday, Sandifer was approved as a new hire to replace departing assistant coach Larry Shuck, who is returning to his home state of Texas. Shuck coached in the defensive secondary, a position the speedy Sandifer played during Greenwood’s first run of state championships from 2005-07. Despite his small stature, he was also a top receiver and a favorite target of quarterback Tyler Wilson, now of the Tennessee Titans in the NFL.

Travis is the son of Donnie and Mary Ann Sandifer. His mother has been a member of the school board for many years, but she voluntarily resigned her position in keeping with state law, making it possible for her son to be hired.

“She was fine with that,” said Sandifer. “She’s been on the board for 16 years now, and she cares about the Greenwood School District just about more than anything else, but I know she cares about her children’s future as well.”

Sandifer is 24 years old, a 2012 graduate of the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith, and is engaged to be married next year to Hannah Watlington of Fort Smith, a 2009 graduate of Union Christian Academy and a recent UAFS grad. Ms. Watlington was also recently hired as a first-year elementary teacher with the Greenwood School District.

Asked how his sudden career change came about, Sandifer said, “I’ve been working in Fayetteville for a few years–trading commodities and sales–and I’d been looking for other business opportunities in the River Valley.

“One thing led to another, Coach Jones on a Sunday afternoon about the opportunity.” Sandifer said that the more he thought about it, the more the fire burned inside to go for it. “We had a good conversation and he told me to think on it a night or two. Coach Jones made me realize that it was going to be more than just a career change. It was going to be a lifestyle change.”

“So I called [him] back Monday morning and told him I had slept on it, and I just couldn’t get over the excitement of the thought that I would possibly even be considered. I think he could tell the urgency in my voice, and I could tell that he was getting excited about it too.”

“So we met with [Assistant Superintendent] Kevin Hesslen. The good thing is that I’ve been in the program, and I know firsthand how hard coaches and teachers work. It’s a really awesome opportunity, and I can’t help but jump on something like this.”

Sandifer will be teaching in the business education and career fields, and will spend the next few weeks preparing for those exams. He will also be entering the state’s non-traditional licensure program designed for new teachers who have four-year degrees, but lack the normal education courses.

“It’s hard to put into words, how everything has played out,” said Sandifer. “As far as teaching, I can’t wait to be a part of the school district. It’s so well respected. It’s one of the best school districts in the state. As far as being a Bulldog again, and getting to be on the sidelines, and run through that tunnel again on Friday nights. How special that is. It’s surreal to think about hearing that fight song and know that I’m a part of it again. I can’t really put it into words.”

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