York Institute Seniors, Coach Derwin Wright Rewrite Dragons’ Culture En Route To Consecutive Semifinal Appearances

By Michael Lindsay


The Coaching Manual defines sports culture as “the expression of a team’s values, attitudes, and beliefs about sports and competition.”

In February 2022, the York Dragons were coming off back-to-back 3-8 seasons and in the midst of a coaching change. “Culture” was lacking for the Dragons.

In stepped Derwin Wright, a legendary York head coach from previous years who had been away from the program a few seasons but saw something in the team’s then-rising junior class.

“I knew that they were successful in middle school and were a good group,” Wright said. “They’ve grown up working and I knew they could turn this around. I gave them a direction and they went to work on it starting that winter in the weight room.

“Some of those guys were earning awards in state track,” Wright added. “It was just getting these pieces together and to fit their roles. I give them credit; they’ve believed in me and got it done. You want to set a goal high, so we talked about that and what it took to get there. They’ve done the work and committed. They’re going to give you everything they have.”

Establishing a winning culture in Jamestown began day one for Wright and his now-senior class including Myles Leffew, Aiden Sweathomas, Riylin Miller, Bryson Bilbrey, Braiden Christianson, Austin Huddleston, Marquise Thoman, CJ Brown, Ethan Hart, Landon Sells, Braden Beaty, Landen Swallows and Tristen Shaw.

“When I came in for the first meeting, the guys had struggled the last few years,” Wright said. “I asked them ‘What kind of record do you guys want to have?’ and somebody popped up with ‘three wins.’ I told the guys they need to leave and come back with something better than that, because I came back over with the hopes of winning a state championship.”

“It’s all about culture,” said York senior lineman Landon Sells. “Our freshman and sophomore year our culture wasn’t good. We were all misfits and didn’t listen, but coach Wright came in with that leadership we needed and it changed everything.”

Wright’s changes, along with a determined class of 2024, have rewritten the record books in Jamestown.

“This group has made history,” Wright said. “The 2007 team was a 12-1 team and 2009 was the first time a team had made the semifinals. We made the semifinals last year and came back this year and surpassed the previous 12-0 start and made the semifinals again,” he added. “In their past two years, they’ve accomplished so much for the school and themselves.”

Realizing what the Dragons were capable of came at different times for different players.

“We were working hard all summer my junior year, but were still a little skeptical of what all we could do,” said senior cornerback Aiden Sweathomas. “I remember going into the Monterey game here and we just killed them. Right then, it flipped a switch in us.”

“Coach Wright’s personality was so important,” Sells added on believing in his team’s potential, “He’s a tough man and has worked hard his whole life. It carried over to football practice and we all saw how hard he worked for us. That really got us going; you should’ve seen us during summer workouts. We were going as hard as we could.”

“My first two years, none of us really thought we’d win any games,” added senior running back Riylin Miller. “But when coach Wright got here, everybody started believing in each other and the coaching staff.”

The Dragons turned Wright’s first season back at the helm into a 9-5 record and a berth in the Class 2A state semifinals, where they were defeated by eventual state champion Tyner.

The deep playoff run set a new standard in Jamestown for 2023.

“We’ve all had a goal since the summer to get back here and go one step farther,” said Miller. “The determination we had in the summer time was unreal. Every day we were going 100%; it all pays off. Everybody’s hurt this time of year with injuries, but we might be one of the teams to not have as many because of what we did in the summer.”

The Dragons went a perfect 10-0 in the regular season and achieved a #1 ranking in the AP Class 2A state poll.

“When we started the season, having a perfect record was not the goal,” Wright said. “We made the semifinals and wanted to get back and go farther. The undefeated part has been their work. We scheduled some really hard teams in Stone Memorial and Friendship Christian.”

Along with a tough schedule, the Dragons run a unique offense featuring single and double-wing looks not common today.

“I thought they could handle it,” Wright said. “This fits us and it’s what we need to do against some teams. It looks extremely complicated, but we’re running the same 7 or 8 things in different ways. It’s been fun to coach and watch. Even today, it’s cold but they came out and got at it.”

Two seasons of hard work and culture change converge onto Friday’s state semifinal game in Jamestown against the 12-1 East Robertson Indians. A win clinches a berth in next week’s Class 2A state championship in Chattanooga.

“We’ve got a lot of high expectations; we’ve put in a lot of work since this summer and we want to come out and dominate,” said Sells. “Up front, we have to dominate. If we dominate, we score. If we score, we win. We have to be ready to play; East Robertson is a very good team and good all around. They’re big and have fast D-ends.”

“We have to hit hard and out-execute them,” added Miller. “They have some really good athletes, but they haven’t been hit like we hit. We have to keep them contained and not let them by us.”

Regardless of Friday’s outcome, Wright hopes his team’s memories stretch beyond the field.

“I want these guys to remember what they did and the life lessons they learned,” he said. “Football is a tough sport; the community is behind us and I hope they look back on it and realize it was a team effort.”