Daniels | Adkins, Halsey to reunite -- but on opposite sidelines

Sep. 15—Don't expect to hand Jon Adkins or Brian Halsey a box of tissues before Friday night's kickoff at Trojan Hill near Charleston High School.

They won't weep when they greet each other with the sun about to set. The two salt-of-the-earth high school football coaches who are accustomed to succeeding under the glow of the Friday night lights will have their focus on their respective teams.

For Adkins, that's the two-time reigning Apollo Conference champion Mahomet-Seymour Bulldogs. For Halsey, that's the resurgent Charleston Trojans he led to nearly unprecedented success at the Coles County school earlier this century. But for a brief minute or two, they might reflect on their past. With fond memories.

Because the student (Adkins) gets to see how he fares against the teacher (Halsey).

See, Adkins is intimately familiar with the surroundings at Trojan Hill. It's where he started for two seasons as Charleston's quarterback, helping the Trojans compile a 17-4 record and make consecutive Class 5A playoff appearances in 2003 and 2004.Coaching those successful Charleston teams?


This isn't the first time Adkins, now in his fifth season at M-S with a 31-11 record in charge of the Bulldogs, has coached against his alma mater before. He carries a 4-0 record against the Trojans. But Friday night's game marks the first time he'll see Halsey on the opposite sidelines.

Halsey led Charleston from 2000 through 2014, going 75-75 and taking the Trojans to seven playoff appearances before he was fired as Charleston's coach a month after the 2014 season. But Halsey kept his teaching job at Charleston and became an assistant coach at Newton. Charleston, meanwhile, went through three different coaches in the near-decade that passed.

Before Halsey was brought back as Charleston's coach this past winter. So far, so good, as the undefeated Trojans (3-0) get set to meet the Bulldogs (2-1) at 7 p.m. Friday.

"Shocked was maybe my first reaction when I heard he was coming back to Charleston," Adkins said this week after the Bulldogs wrapped up a Tuesday night practice. "He knows how I feel about Charleston and everything when it all went down. I was shocked in the beginning, and sure enough, he called me right away and wanted to explain it himself. What I told him was, at the end of the day, 'It's your decision, your family and your life. You've got to worry about it.' I was taken back by the fact that, No. 1, they wanted him back, but then No. 2, he even would want to go back."

Halsey is glad he has a second chance to coach the Trojans, the same team he played for in the late 1980s.

"It's emotional to get this opportunity again and to be around these great kids," Halsey said. "Even though I wasn't coaching here, I was teaching here. Seeing the heartbreak of so many losses and unable to see the fulfillment they're experiencing now, that's a breath of fresh air. It's pretty special."

Special coincides with the relationship Adkins and Halsey have created in the last two decades. Once Adkins was done playing for the Trojans, he served as an assistant coach under Halsey before embarking on his own coaching journey that took him to Peoria Heights, Jerseyville and Cape Coral, Fla., before M-S hired him prior to the 2019 season.

What was it like to play for Halsey?

"You walked on eggshells when he was around, and that was a good thing," Adkins said with a laugh. "He demanded that respect. Thank God he had his glasses on because if he didn't, you were worried you were going to get a staredown, so at least the glasses hid that a little bit. He's an intense guy. He gets a lot out of his players. He's a great motivator, and again, he's going to get his kids to play hard, work hard and get better."

Passion and intensity radiate off both Adkins and Halsey like a heat wave in mid-August does around these parts. Having a coach like Halsey when Adkins was in high school played a main role in Adkins wanting to become a coach.

"I got to see this being a quarterback for him and the impact a coach could possibly have. I said, 'Man, if I could have a small impact in one kid's life, then that's absolutely what I want to do for the rest of my life,'" Adkins said. "There's no question that Brian Halsey is one of the main reasons why I got into coaching."

Talk to Halsey for 10 minutes about Adkins, and the word proud comes up a half-dozen times.

"The one thing that I tried to convey, hopefully, whether it was wrong, right, good or bad, is that it's all about the kids and we're truly a family," Halsey said. "I truly believe he has a family with Mahomet-Seymour. To see him grow and employ some of the same things I believe in, like coach them hard but love them hard, is real rewarding."

Neither coach gets too sappy or chokes up on the phone about seeing their relationship evolve and grow through time. But make no mistake.

Even though the former quarterback who never wanted to get a glare from his coach back in the day now can call him a friend, Adkins wants to beat Halsey on Friday night. The same applies to Halsey.

"We know that Charleston is going to give us their best game that they've had this entire season because of how much this conference game means to them," Adkins said. "We're going to have to make sure we know the gameplan and understand it and perform for four quarters because this is a team that if you let hang around, you're going to stub your toe against them."

The chance at an Apollo title now runs through Mahomet. Not Charleston, like it was back in Adkins' playing career.

"The conference championship, as far as I'm concerned, goes through Mahomet-Seymour until someone takes it from them," Halsey said. "They've got a good ballclub and are real close to being undefeated themselves."

Wherever Adkins and Halsey might meet for a pregame chat to catch up on Friday night at Trojan Hill, both coaches expressed the same sentiment. They're eager to see each other, but can't wait for kickoff.

"It's going to be emotional," Adkins said. "They have a cheer clinic night, and a couple of my cousins are bringing their daughters because they're going to be cheering. The majority of my family that is still around the area is going to be there, and certainly friends will be there. I'm going to see all these people that I've known for a long time, and I'm going to think about when I wore No. 17, the last time I walked off Trojan Hill as a player and all the times we got to ring the bell after a win and celebrate. But then I absolutely need the ball to be kicked off because once that ball is in the air, it's go time."

Kickoff is in less than 24 hours, but here's one more sentimental note to tug at your heartstrings.

What is it like for Halsey to hear Adkins say his former coach's effect is why he got into the profession?

"It means a lot that maybe I did something right," Halsey said. "Playing quarterback for me is not easy. He excelled. The teams he was on are some of the fondest coaching memories I have. Not to sound cliche, but one of our goals is we always want these young guys to go on to be good husbands, good fathers and good men. Jon is the poster child for it."

Now go find the box of tissues.