These coaches may not see football the same way, but they share the same goal: helping bring a winning program to AU
By any objective measure, Malik Chevry and Seth Strickland are two very different people.
At 25, Chevry has the lithe, compact build of the defensive back he used to be at Hillgrove High School and, later, at Southeastern University. He looks young, even with a neatly trimmed beard. A native of Powder Springs, Georgia, he’s been married since 2019.
Then there’s Strickland, a former college quarterback who played under Steve Spurrier at the University of South Carolina. He is a tall and clean-shaven 32-year-old bachelor who grew up in Laurens, South Carolina.
Yet, for all the importance we place on first impressions, let’s be honest: they rarely tell the whole story. The fact is, where it matters, Chevry and Strickland are in lockstep. To use a biblical phrase, the two men—hired last February as the first members of Anderson University Trojans Football Head Coach Bobby Lamb’s staff—are “intent in one purpose.”
That purpose? To help build a Trojan football team of which the campus community—and the Anderson University family around the world—can be proud.
Malik Chevry: the Builder
Football wasn’t always the plan for Malik Chevry.
That’s not to say he was lacking in athletic ability or in having that competitive gene common to all successful athletes. “I started playing sports at nine years old. I’ve always loved sports: football, basketball, track and field.”
Chevry enjoyed all of it. Yet he is as analytical as he is athletic. He played sports, but it wasn’t his singular interest.
“I always loved to build things. I thought I wanted to be an engineer,” Chevry said.
The more he played sports, though, the more he thought a career in professional sports was a real possibility. One catalyst was an early growth spurt.
“I was tall as a kid; I was 5' 7" when I was 11-years old. Doctors told me I was going to be 6' 2",” he said. What’s more, he was an Auburn Tigers fan, a kid who dreamt of emulating that university’s long history of great sports figures—Charles Barkley, Bo Jackson and Cam Newton, to name just a few. As he got older and began specializing in football, the dream became more real.
He played at Hillgrove High in Cobb County, Georgia, a hotbed of high school talent. In other words, he competed against the best “in Georgia, in metro Atlanta, and we were very successful,” Chevry said. He remembers thinking, “I have a good shot” at making it to the next level—and beyond.
Thing is, the growth spurt came too early. He never got to 6' 2" (he topped out at 5' 8"), and the injury bug bit; a broken ankle cost him his junior season. Still, Chevry was good enough to play college football. After high school, he joined the team at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida. There, he earned a bachelor’s degree in sports management.
That’s when he returned to his original plan. He didn’t become an engineer—not exactly—but these days Malik Chevry is back to building things.
Seth Strickland: the Competitor
Here’s what you need to know about Seth Strickland: he loves to compete.
It’s no surprise, really. Anyone whose entire athletic career has been at the elite level—and Strickland’s qualifies—has to be competitive.
“We’re all competitive people. We wouldn’t be in this profession if we weren’t. (As a coach or player) you’re measured in wins and losses,” Strickland said. “You have to keep that in mind.”
It’s never been far from his. Not as a successful high school quarterback at Laurens High School. Not as a South Carolina Gamecock where, under legendary coach Steve Spurrier, Strickland competed for playing time with guys like Stephen Garcia and Connor Shaw. During the years Strickland was on USC’s active roster (from 2010 through 2012), the Gamecocks beat top 25 opponents Florida, Michigan and Nebraska. They beat Clemson and Georgia twice. And, in 2010, they beat the defending national champions and No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide.
Still, like Chevry, his AU coaching counterpart, Strickland finished college understanding that a professional playing career wasn’t in the cards.
“When you get to the SEC (Southeastern Conference), you learn pretty quickly that there’s a difference between good players and great players,” Strickland said. “You learn pretty quickly that as hard as you work and as good as you are, there’s always someone better that works just as hard and is more talented. I got to play enough that it was rewarding; but once I saw (former Auburn, Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots quarterback) Cam Newton run it and throw it, I knew I’d better get into coaching.”
So he did, first by staying on as a grad assistant at South Carolina and then following Spurrier to the upstart Alliance of American Football (AAF), where he was a quarterbacks coach for the Orlando Apollos. He spent another year coaching quarterbacks at IMG Academy, an elite private high school in Bradenton, Florida, that annually produces a bevy of star college recruits. Before coming to AU last February, Strickland was the recruiting coordinator, passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Albany State University in Albany, Georgia. With Strickland on staff, the Rams went 10-2 last year, winning a conference championship and advancing to the NCAA Division II playoffs.
Fire & Ice
Along with their different responsibilities as coaches—Chevry as a defensive assistant, Strickland as an offensive assistant—the two men have divergent demeanors, too.
“I’ve been known to be emotional on the sidelines,” Strickland said. Translation? He’s not opposed to getting his players’ attention by getting in their face. If you’re looking for a case-in-point, he points to a former Atlanta Braves manager. “I was a big Bobby Cox guy growing up. He got ejected a lot. It seemed to work for him.”
Chevry? He’s ice.
“I’m a fairly calm guy. I want to motivate and understand, but I’m low-key in how I approach it,” Chevry said. “I want to talk to them and build them up.”
That’s not to say one approach is better than the other. Again, both men are after the same thing: recruiting, coaching and graduating men of high character and responsibility.
“In college athletics, you can’t compartmentalize things,” Chevry said. “You can’t just show up on time for practice and expect to be successful in life. You have to combine it all together: show up on time for class, show up on time for practice, show up on time for meetings—and then apply yourself.”
Strickland agrees. Both he and Chevry are in the thick of recruiting right now—the first signing class will come on board next February to be ready for the first game in 2024—and are looking for players who are the right fit for Anderson University.
“We’re looking for high-character guys who are highly motivated,” Strickland said. If they aren’t, they face a much tougher road. “Football players are asked to do everything other students are asked to do, and then have the responsibilities of a football player on top of that. You have to be motivated to want to do all of that.”
Finding players like that is easier said than done, of course. Chevry said one key is to dig beneath the surface of a potential Anderson University football recruit.
“When I’m with my players, I want to know them on a deeper level.” Asking about hobbies isn’t enough, Chevry said; after all, “recruits always want to say, ‘I love the weight room.’” Chevry isn’t buying that (not at first, anyway.) “I’m like, ‘Come on, man. You like to do other stuff. Tell me who you really are.’ That’s what’s important because, at some point, football is going to come to an end, whether you’re Tom Brady and you’re 45 years old or, like most guys, when you’re a lot younger.”
Which brings us back to what these two coaches have in common: like a lot of kids, they grew up dreaming of professional gridiron glory. It’s only fitting they’re recruiting and will be coaching players who were in their shoes just a few short years ago.
With a twist, of course. These young men are writing Anderson’s history.
“It’s all about opportunity,” Strickland said. “There’s only one first class. There’s nobody else on the roster right now. When we’re looking at the history books at some point, your picture will be there as the first Trojan football quarterback, first Trojan football receiver, the guy who scored the first touchdown. That’s a unique opportunity.”