Calera’s Landon Gaskins named Coach of the Year

Published 5:15 pm Monday, June 12, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

If you want any idea of how much Calera’s 2023 boys soccer season meant to the community, just look at the fans.

Even after their Final Four loss to Montgomery Academy in Huntsville, the travelling fans knew the journey it took to get here. From an area championship off a game-winning penalty to a Final Four berth off a McAdory rules violation, the road to Calera’s first Final Four berth in school history took one of the most unique journeys ever.

That’s why the city of Calera celebrated even after a lopsided loss to end the season. Any school’s first big playoff run just means more, and Calera coach Landon Gaskins knew the history he and the Eagles had accomplished.

“I couldn’t be more happy for the city,” coach Gaskins said after the Final Four. “It’s a great accomplishment from the ground up. It’s a tough way to go out, it’s a little sore right now for the guys, but they have nothing to hang their heads about.”

Neither does he. Calera head coach Landon Gaskins is the 2023 Shelby County Coach of the Year.

Gaskins helped the Eagles have a breakout year in 2023. After a down season in 2022, Calera improved to 14-4-1 in 2023, including a perfect 4-0 area record.

That perfect area record included a 2023 area championship which gave them a trip to states. From there, they went on a run in the state tournament that the city will remember for years to come.

They beat Hillcrest in the first round, and then took down a talented Northridge team, 4-2, with All-County forward Eugene Njoroge contributing to all four goals.

Just as they prepared to face McAdory in the quarterfinals, McAdory self-reported ineligible club players on their roster, and the forfeit meant the Eagles had punched their ticket to the semifinals.

They held their own against one of the most dominant programs in the state in Montgomery Academy, and by the end of the game, they had left it all on the field and fully deserved the applause they received from the traveling supporters.

Despite another dominant season from Oak Mountain and their coach David DiPiazza, a historic season of firsts for the Montevallo Bulldogs and Brandon Gurganus, Lee Miller taking Chelsea to the 7A playoffs in their first season in the classification and Cody Baxter reaching the Final Four with Westminster OM for the first time with this group of Knights, it was Gaskins’ improvements and Calera’s unprecedented success that gave the Eagles boss the edge over the other finalists.

All along, Gaskins stressed taking the season one game at a time and focusing on what they could improve on each week. The improvements kept coming, and that progress manifested itself on the field with a historic season.

“I have told the team each time we reach a goal, we need to set a greater and more ambitious goal,” coach Gaskins said ahead of the state semifinals. “I have stressed the importance of this in sports and in life. There is no ‘making it.’ Life is a constant battle of ups and downs and is never stagnant. This was a big talking point within the team after we were crowned Area Champions.”

So what’s the new goal for Calera going forward? Now that the players know how far they can go, coach Gaskins is ready to shed the underdog label and build the Eagles into a 6A powerhouse.

“It’s no longer the ceiling,” Gaskins said. “Before, it was just talked about as a myth almost to get to state, to make it there. These guys are going to take experience with them to the next guys and leave it below them and it’s no longer something we have to be shocked about when we get here. It’s something we’re just ready to do from here on out.”

It’s a bold statement. But with the momentum that Gaskins has built, those lofty goals feel like they’re within reach now.