BY BROOKS HOLTON – SPORTS EDITOR
In 2014, Nate Letton played his final season of competitive football, leading a Centre College defense that held opponents to 19.6 points per game and racking up 41 individual tackles from the linebacker position—second most on the team.
This fall, his Saturdays are spent a little differently. He traded his helmet for a headset, stalking the field as a linebacker traded for perching atop the action inside the coaches’ box. Instead of hounding wide receivers unlucky enough to cross his path in the middle of the field, he is now scheming against coverages, looking for ways to get his receivers open.
The one constant from 2014 to 2015? A passion to help the Colonels do whatever they can to win.
Coaching runs deep in the Letton family. His father, Bill Letton, spent 24 years as a head coach at Lexington Catholic High School before taking over as Offensive Coordinator at Walton High School in Georgia. While Letton wasn’t exactly set in following his father’s footsteps, he couldn’t deny his interest in the coaching profession.
“I tried to deny the fact that I wanted to be a football coach for a long time,” Letton said. “But I grew up and realized it was something I really wanted to do as a career and Centre’s a great place to start that.”
Even with the familiar environment of Centre Football to bring him in, Letton admits that there were some challenges in making the transition from a defensive-minded player to an offensive position coach.
“It was a unique experience for me, going from player to being colleagues with the people who were your coaches just a few weeks ago,” Letton said. “On top of that, learning a new position from what I played, something I had little experience. There was definitely a learning curve.”
If you were to ask the incoming class of first-year wide receivers, they couldn’t tell the difference.
“It surprised me when I found out that he played linebacker,” first-year Stone Fentzlaff said. “I couldn’t tell that it was his first year coaching.”
For students like Richard Ford—one of four senior wide receivers who spent the last three years as Letton’s teammates—the successful transition from player to coach speaks volumes of Letton’s leadership abilities.
“As a college football player and a personal friend, Nate’s personality is one that you naturally follow,” Ford said. “In the coaching profession, that’s a quality that can’t be taught. Even through five weeks of the season, you can already tell that’s he’s going to do great things just based on his leadership qualities.”
Letton returned the praise to the 2016 seniors. Where there could have been issues about taking orders from a coach who was one of the guys just a year ago, or putting personal relationships aside for the good of the team, there has been nothing but respect towards someone who has been such a crucial part to their Centre Football experience.
“This senior class has really had the utmost respect for me even though I’m sure it was forced sometimes with calling me ‘Coach Letton’ instead of ‘Nate’ and little things like that,” Letton said. “The senior receivers were teaching me things early on and were helping me get acclimated to what the expectation is as their coach.”
With the Colonels currently sitting at 3-1, expectations continue to remain high. The team is hosting Hendrix College this Saturday for the 2015 Homecoming game at 2:30. And, even though he can’t take the field with all of his former teammates anymore, Letton will be there—watching, learning, and most importantly, leading.