The head coaches and top football players from each DeKalb county high school gathered at James Hallford Stadium in Clarkston July 17 for the annual Media Day, sponsored by the DeKalb County Athletics Department.
Optimism was at a premium level as the coaches reflected on the preparation for this upcoming season. “The summer has gone well and the turnout for workouts has been exceptional,” said Druid Hills head coach Mike Adams, whose team begins the season on the road at Clarkston. “Our primary goal this year is to be a state playoff team. We feel like we can compete for a region championship if we play our best ball.”
“We’ve had a really good summer and pushed our players hard to live up the high standards we have about how they should perform,” said Decatur head coach Scott Jackson. The Bulldogs host Grady in the season opener.
The summer months have also served as a time for the coaches to refocus the dedication of their player on and off the field. “The guys have been working hard since February, doing workouts at 6:30 a.m. and we’ve carried it out throughout the summer with 72 players showing up consistently,” said Chamblee head coach Allen Johnson, whose Bulldogs finished last season 8-2 and open the 2013 campaign at cross-town rival, Dunwoody. “We’re stressing academics to the players at this time and had success last year by placing nine kids in the next level because they qualified academically.”
Some programs that have had struggles on the field in previous seasons, such as Cross Keys, have gained experience from previous setbacks that will serve them well this year. “We’ve had ninth graders playing varsity football against top programs in our region such as Buford, Greater Atlanta Christian and Westminster in the past,” said Indians’ head coach David Radford. “The guys who stuck with our program have gained experience and built their confidence. This is the first year that I can put 12 guys on defense and believe that each player knows what he is doing.” Cross Keys’ first game will be at home against B.E.S.T. Academy.
Programs such as Stephenson, who open its 2013 campaign against Pine Forest out of Florida and finished last year’s campaign with a 9-3 record and an appearance in the quarterfinals of the playoffs, have used the extra practice time to diversify options for this upcoming season. “We’ve done well in some passing leagues this summer and feel that we can open up the offense more this season,” said head coach Ron Gartrell. “We’ve had around 98 percent participation since January and the kids have worked hard, dedicating themselves to being there every day and doing everything we ask of them.”
The talk among the coaches also turned to their respective schedules and regions, with mutual respect given to their opponents. “We start our season against our rival Chamblee and Coach Johnson has done a great job over there,” said Dunwoody head coach Jim Showfety. “Our region, which included Stephenson, Tucker and M.L. King, is the toughest in the entire state and there are no off weeks. If you don’t come ready to play, you will get embarrassed.”
Lakeside head coach Heath Hinton, whose Vikings share the same region as Dunwoody, Region 6-AAAAA, and travel to Holy Innocents in the opener, expressed the same sentiments. “We have our work cut out for us and we have to make sure we’re getting better every week and prepared to play our kind of football. The kids have worked hard, pushed it in the weight room and it will pay off,” he said.
The conclusion of the Media Day included a group photo and interviews with the media which gave the players a chance to interact with each other, even though many of them weren’t strangers before that day.
“These guys know each other because they’ve played with or against each other since middle school,” said Stone Mountain head coach Dante Ferguson, who will lead his Pirates against Greater Atlanta Christian in the opening week. “The guys compete against each other like brothers in a respectful way and I truly believe that they cheer for their fellow opponents in the playoffs to represent the country well.”