Former Lion returns as defensive coordinator

New North Alabama defensive coordinator Brett Borden preparing pregame drills during his tenure as defensive line coach for the Lions 2012-13. Borden also played linebacker at UNA from 2004-05.

After nearly three years out of the sport, Brett Borden, North Alabama’s new defensive coordinator, makes his return to football running the defense.

Borden, a former linebacker for the Lions in the 2004 and 2005 seasons, replaces former defensive coordinator Chris Willis, who accepted the head coaching promotion upon the retirement of Bobby Wallace.

“This place has always been special to me, and I’m excited,” Borden said. “I knew I was a football coach, but I got a great opportunity to do something different. It was my first time being away from it, and I knew I wanted to get back in it. When this opportunity presented itself, I was all over it.

Prior to his return to football, Borden spent three years selling medical supplies for Stryker Medical in Jackson, Mississippi, as he left UNA as the defensive line coach in 2013 to pursue a different career.

“I was working in hospitals selling hospital beds,” Borden said. “When I left (UNA) in 2014, I wasn’t looking to leave. It was an opportunity I was approached with, and financially, I had to do it. I didn’t really want to do it because my passion is football, and I knew I wanted to get back in at some point.”

Willis said Borden’s willingness to give up a high paying job to work with student athletes embodies the character of the UNA program.

“I just want people to know the type of person he is,” he said. “I’ve never heard a bad thing mentioned about him. I probably got as many congratulations about hiring Brett as I did about getting my own job. That just tells you a lot about him.”

Willis said the Borden hire has been in the works for about two years, as he anticipated the possibility of being the next head coach.

“He felt like he had a lot more to offer than what he was doing and felt like he needed to be around the student athlete and be a football coach,” Willis said. “He approached me a couple of times, and we didn’t know what was going to happen here.”

Aside from his two seasons as a defensive line coach at UNA from 2012-13, Borden has held stints at Troy University, Independence (Kan.) Community College, Milsaps College and Spain Park High School. He began his coaching career at UNA as a student assistant in 2006.

Willis said while other resumes might look better on paper, coaches like Borden deserve a chance to prove themselves.

“To me, it wasn’t a tough decision just on the simple fact that I know him as a player, a student coach and a full time coach,” he said. “It was all about his work ethic and the kind of person he is. He’s a step ahead of me all the time. I don’t have to tell him what to do.”

Borden, a Phil Campbell native, will see a few familiar faces on the defensive side of the ball that he coached in 2013, including defensive linemen Freddie Reed and Brian Puckett.

Puckett, who plans to return from a season-ending injury he suffered against Jacksonville State in the 2016 season opener, said Borden is a big reason he has seen success on the field.

“He’s actually the one that transitioned me over to defense,” he said. “I originally came in as a tight end because we were really low on tight ends. It kind of worked out that I wanted to move positions, and it was kind of his call to move me over. He got me started on the rest of my career playing defensive end.”

Borden officially assumed his new role Jan. 12 and is already working on the recruiting trail for the 2017 season, as UNA’s signing day is Feb. 1.