In one sport or another, Jeff Lofton spent time in the mid-1990s being mentored by almost every coach on the current Idalou staff.
Now, he becomes their mentor.
The school announced Wednesday that Lofton, a 1997 graduate of Idalou and an assistant coach at the school since 2009, has been hired as the Wildcats’ new athletic director and head football coach.
“I have been blessed with the opportunity to have played for some great coaches here,” said Lofton by phone on the road, where he was traveling with the boys’ basketball team in its fourth straight appearance at the state tournament in Austin.
“Their style has rubbed off on me, and I’m a reflection of how I was coached as a player. It’s really a neat deal to have been to battle on the same team that now I get to lead those kids into battle.”
Lofton takes over for former athletic director and head coach Don Long, a longtime assistant who resigned after two years as head coach to become the defensive coordinator at Andrews.
It will be the first head coaching job for Lofton, 34, who was salutatorian of his 1997 coaching class. He has had stints as an assistant at Midlothian (2002-04), Midland Greenwood (2004-05), Monterey (2005-07) and Kennedale (2008-09) before returning to Idalou to start the 2009 season.
He has served as the head freshman football and varsity defensive assistant football coach, varsity boys assistant basketball coach and has helped with strength and conditioning.
Idalou superintendent Jim Waller said Lofton’s background gave him an advantage over the other 74 applicants for the position.
“He’s in house,” Waller said. “When looking at all the applications, what it boils down to is that. You’d be taking a chance on someone just going on references. But he was here and we got to see his work ethic and his values and the way he handles kids and motivates kids. That put him over the top.”
Lofton also has the unique advantage of being able to tap a valuable resource within his own family, as he is the son-in-law of longtime Idalou head coach Johnny Taylor, who retired after leading the Wildcats to the 2010 Class 2A state championship.
“I learned from him how to take the wins and how to learn from the defeats,” Lofton said. “Taking this job, one of the things I know is that if I have any questions about things, I have some great people to give me feedback. It’s a really neat deal to have those guys that I can feel comfortable running ideas by.”
Lofton takes over at one of the most successful times in Idalou athletics. Not only did the football and basketball teams win state titles in the 2010-11 school year, but both are consistent playoff contenders. The Lady Wildcats basketball team this year also reached the regional tournament before falling to eventual state finalist Merkel.
Taking that level of success to the next level in all sports is one of Lofton’s top priorities.
“I want to leave this place in better shape than what it was and what it is when I’m finished with it, which is hopefully a long time from now,” Lofton said. “It’s a great, great place to be. As much success as we’ve had here, I want to keep building. There’s always room for improvement.”