CORDOVA — Following a successful stint as a head coach in Tennessee, Justin Palmer is back in his home state looking to bring his winning ways to Cordova High School.
The Hamilton native was recently approved as the Blue Devils head football coach, replacing coach Justin Jones, who left after one season to take a position at Prattville High School.
Palmer spent the last decade coaching in Tennessee. His first head coaching job came at Creek Wood High School in 2015. For the last four years he was the head coach at Shelbyville High School.
He’s excited to accept the challenge at Cordova, which is moving up to Class 5A for the first time in 2020.
“For the most part it’s hard to find a place like Cordova where everyone loves football. It’s a different type attitude with the community, the administration and the players. I’ve been hungry for this type of (job) since I started coaching,” Palmer said. “It’s similar to Hamilton, football is important. We are going to work hard and be good at what we are doing.”
Palmer led Shelbyville to four consecutive playoff appearances, culminating with an 11-2 record and a spot in the 5A quarterfinals last year. The 11 wins tied the school record for wins in a season. He was 33-14 at the school and has a career mark of 36-21.
“At Shelbyville, we had a good run the last four years,” said Palmer, who also served as the offensive coordinator at the school from 2011-14. “They had some success in the 90s, but when I got there they hadn’t won eight games in the regular season in 20 years and we did it three out of the four years I was there.”
Palmer comes to Cordova along with coach DJ Emerson, a former Walker High School assistant. Emerson will be the defensive coordinator at Cordova. He spent the last three years with Palmer at Shelbyville.
During their playing days at Hamilton High School, both Palmer (quarterback) and Emerson (receiver) were first-team All-State selections in 2003 while playing for coach John Holladay. Palmer was also a finalist for the 4A Back of the Year award.
Cordova is coming off an up and down season in 2019. The Blue Devils started 0-5 before reeling off five straight wins to close the regular season.
The Blue Devils finished 5-6, losing in the opening round of the playoffs to eventual state runner up Jacksonville. This year’s 5A, Region 5 schedule includes Pleasant Grove, John Carroll, Ramsay, Wenonah, Carver, Parker and Fairfield.
Of the seven region opponents, Cordova has played just two — Pleasant Grove twice, splitting games in 2016 and 2017, and John Carroll eight times, from 1950-58. Cordova’s non-region games are against Dora, Carbon Hill and Oakman.
“It’s different for Cordova because they’ve never been a 5A but there are good teams in every region, whether you are 4A, 5A or 6A. There is so much good football in Alabama. It’s not unique to certain areas, it’s the whole state because of the pride everybody takes in football. There are so many good coaches in the state. We will have to bring our best game just like the kids do every Friday night,” said Palmer, who also looks forward to building relationships with his new players.
“I know there are coaches who probably say I don’t care if the kids like me or not. I do care. I don’t think they play hard for you if they don’t love you and believe in you. So I want them to know who I am.”
Palmer has seen Cordova play in person just once. He was on the sideline the last time the Blue Devils won a state football championship in 2007 at Legion Field.
“When I got out of (high) school, me and some buddies would go to the state championship games every year. We got press passes and I was on Cordova’s sideline when they won it with Tim Simon. I was just standing down to the side. I thought about that the other day. It’s kind of neat that I was there for that game,” Palmer said.