78 Photo Essay: Garrett Kirkland

Words by Terrell Manasco | Image by Blakeney Clouse

Garrett Kirkland had been teaching for only a few weeks when he got the news. 

A self-described “gym rat” who played basketball at Carbon Hill High School, Garrett had dreamed of coaching the Bulldogs since middle school. After graduating from Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, he returned to Carbon Hill in 2017 and served as assistant basketball coach under Saige Beaty.

The following year, Garrett transferred to Sumiton Elementary, but had hardly settled in when he got word that he would be heading back to Carbon Hill. Beaty had been named assistant principal of Curry High School and Garrett was now the Bulldogs’ head coach. Word even reached Wimp Sanderson, the former Alabama coach who began his career at Carbon Hill in the 1950s. 

“He told me he was in those shoes many years ago and wished me good luck,” Garrett beams.  

The Bulldogs ended the 2018-2019 season with an overall record of 12-15. Regardless of the numbers, Garrett’s coaching philosophy is based on three words. “Do your job,” he says. “Every player has a job. Take pride in doing your job to the best of your ability.”

Robert Epps, his former coach at Carbon Hill, has been a major influence on Garrett, who still considers him a role model. Garrett says Epps instilled in his players the importance of effort. “We may not always be the most athletic team but hopefully when the game is over, the other team looks and says, ‘Man, that was a dogfight out there from Carbon Hill,’” Garrett says. “Effort and grit has always got to be there.” 78

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