MILDRED -- It's been a long and winding road for Duke Dalton, but Mildred's new football coach already feels right at home.
Dalton's a man who likes to put down roots, and he's looking forward to not only digging his feet deep into the North Central Texas dirt, but building something special at Mildred.
"I'm excited," said Dalton, who takes over as Mildred's new head football coach and athletic director. "I'm really excited to be here. It feels a lot like home."
Mildred's glad to have him. When he moved into his house in Mildred there were signs in his front yard saying "Welcome to MISD," and "Good luck coach."
Dalton grew up in Boyd, north of Fort Worth, but he knows the area well, and knows Mildred football. He was the head coach at Palmer for four years from 2010 through 2014 and knew the Nic Shimonek-led Eagles team that went to the state semifinals when Shimonek was a junior in 2011 and played for the state title in 2012.
"I used to fish at Richland Chambers with my father-in-law," said Dalton as he sat in his office this week getting ready for a football season that will be here any minute. "I've always liked this area."
Mildred opens summer practice on Aug. 5, and Dalton plans on having his kids on the field at 7 a.m.
Dalton's new but when the Eagles take the field there will be some familiar faces returning to the team. There was a group of kids who played two years ago, but chose not to play football last season. They're back and bring talent and depth to a Mildred program that had some tough luck over the past two years.
Two years ago the Eagles were set to explode with a huge season, but Wesley Huitt, a four-year starter who was a star at quarterback and in the secondary when he was a freshman and arguably the best player in the district, suffered a broken foot in the district opener and was lost for the season.
The younger players stepped up and Mildred not only had a winning season (6-4) but made the playoffs. Last year the Eagles fielded a young team that was hit hard by injuries and finished 3-6.
Coach Cody Fagan, who did a great job in his two years coaching the Eagles, left for a job at Whitesboro, and when Dalton saw the position was opened, he applied and secured the job.
Dalton's an old-school coach who knows how to mix discipline and values with insight about today's players and get the most of of his kids.
He still quotes his own high school coach, the legendary J.G. Cartwright who won 274 games at Boyd, but Dalton also realizes players are different today and wants to field a team that will not only work hard and run through a brick wall, but know why they're doing it.
He brings a ton of knowledge and experience to Mildred. He was a track star in high school and in college at Tarleton State and North Texas, and got his first coaching job right out of NT, spending two years as an assistant at Springtown and two years as an assistant coach at Boyd. He moved on and was Chad Worrell's defensive coordinator at Tom Bean before Worrell went on to become a legend at Brock, where he built a powerhouse,
Dalton was a defensive coordinator at Bowie for eight years and then went to Godley, where he was the defensive coordinator for a 13-1 team in 2009 that lost in the final three seconds to eventual state champ Pilot Point on a field goal in the playoffs.
"We would have won the state title if we had beaten Pilot Point," Dalton said.
Dalton left Godley in 2010 to become the head football coach and AD at Palmer, where he turned the program around in his first job as a head coach.
Palmer had been 2-28 before Dalton arrived.
"They didn't even have a field house," Dalton said.
He flipped the program upside down, and in 2012 he took the Bulldogs to the playoffs for the first time since 2004. HIs team lost a heartbreaker (44-42) to Teague in the playoffs. When he left after four years, Dalton, who won 19 games at Palmer, was the winningest coach in the program's history at that time. Dalton left to become the head coach and AD at Godley, where his son Kaid, was a star quarterback for two years.
And now he's at Mildred with his wife Stefani and his daughter, Kenli, a sophomore. He's hired a new staff that includes offensive coordinator Brandon Owen, and defensive coordinator Lance Key, who will also coach the boys basketball team. Key was Hubbard's boys basketball coach last year and led the Jaguars to the playoffs.
Dalton has been busy and has hired a half dozen coaches since June, including baseball coach Stanton Thomas and softball coach Josh Jones, who will both be assistant football coaches as well, and Kari Burks, who will coach cross country.
He has been busy but happy.
"The people of Mildred have really made this transition easy," he said. "I want to be a part of Mildred and a part of the community. I want to be here as long as I can."
Dalton likes what he has seen not only from the community, but from the Mildred athletes, who has a reputation for playing hard and rising to the occasion.
"The thing I'm excited about is that all the kids play everything," he said. "We celebrate the multi-sport athlete. Coach Cartwright always said the kids need to play hard for you. As long as they do that you have a chance to win. I believe that."