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Alto Head Football Coach + AD Keith Gardner to Retire

Alto’s Zac Sturns runs for yardage during a 35-28 second-round playoff victory against Hull-Daisetta in November. Sturns will be one of Alto’s top playmakers for a new head coach in 2013 after veteran boss Keith Gardner’s retirement. (Ronnie Sartors,

In a move expected for weeks, the man who led Alto to back-to-back state championships will retire.

Veteran head football coach and athletic director Keith Gardner submitted his resignation Tuesday night, according to Alto offensive coordinator Paul Gould.

Gardner, who coached 29 seasons that included 11 as an athletic director, said he looks forward to being a “full-time husband, full-time father, and full-time grandfather” now that his coaching days are over. He also plans to spend more time with his hobby, which is tending to family land and cattle near Centerville.

“Twenty-nine years, I loved it all. I’d do it all again,” Gardner said.

Gardner had a stellar eight-year stint in Alto, leading the Yellow Jackets to an 80-19 record and consecutive Class A state championships in 2006-07. Alto went 28-0 in those two seasons. Gardner took Alto to the playoffs every year and won at least eight games each season, losing no more than four in a campaign.

“Alto’s welcomed me with open arms. I know (retiring) has been a shock to a lot of people in Alto, but it’s been good. I came in under good terms and I’m leaving under good terms,” Gardner said. “I love the kids the coaches. It’s just time to turn the page to a new chapter. It’ll be fun being able to go to a football game and enjoying from the aspect of a fan. I know it’s gonna be hard on Friday nights, but it’s gonna allow me to do more hunting, fishing, and golfing.”

Alto enters the 2013 season with a strong backfield tandem in running back Jacolby Whitaker and quarterback Zac Sturns. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Whitaker ran for 2,696 yards and 38 touchdowns in 2012, which saw the Jackets finish 11-3 with a Class A Division I Region III championship appearance.

The 6-foot-3, 180-pound Sturns ran for 1,265 yards and 13 scores while throwing for 939 yards, 10 touchdowns, and two interceptions.

Alto carries a 25-year streak of winning seasons into 2013. The Jackets have reached the playoffs 21 times in that span, including 20 of the last 21 years.

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