By Zack Huffman
After months of dormancy, the practice football field is back in use at Mt. Zion high school. With spring practice underway, the latest incarnation of the Bulldogs are eager to get back into the hunt. As the players get to work running through drill after drill, there is no great sense of legacy in their behavior. There is no air of entitlement. Sure, some player may know all about the 1999 state-runner up team, or the region championships won by the Bulldogs of 1999 and 1997, but most of the players are more concerned with building upon last year's 8-5 record.
The surprise story of last year's football season was how Mt. Zion, which was never able to win more than two games in a row all season, battled to an Elite Eight showdown at Marist and came within two points of defeating the War Eagles who have not lost a playoff game at home since 1994.
As his team simply worries about repeating, new head coach Jamie Aull will handle the legacy building.
Tuesday afternoon, Aull stands to the side as Edwin Turnipseed speaks to the team. As Mt. Zion's very first quarterback, Turnipseed is big part of the legacy that Aull hopes to recapture for the Bulldogs.
Turnipseed discusses the importance of doing the little thing right, while also pressing a sense of history to the Bulldogs by showing off Aull's pair of region championship rings.
Despite being a first year head coach, Aull is definitely a familiar face at Mt. Zion High School.
The 6-foot-1 former lineman, began his football career in 1996 as a freshman at Mt. Zion. By the time he was a sophomore, he was starting at right tackle where he remained until his senior year in 1999 when he took part in the state championship game against Oconee County.
"We had some great seasons when I was here. It was some of the best times of my life," said Aull. "This is my home."
While it is easy to draw parallels between last season's squad and the one from 1999, with just seven starting positions lost to graduation, Aull believes the Bulldogs of 2008 much closer resemble the one he played with his junior year.
"We had a lot of juniors on that team. We just stepped up and took charge of the younger guys," he said. "I'm hoping that all of our rising seniors are going to step up and lead like on my team."
Perhaps the biggest hit the Bulldogs will take from graduation is the loss of receiver Drexel Copeland.
"Our goals are to replace Copeland," said Aull concerning his plans for spring practice. "He probably accounted for 95% of our yards through the air."
In order to maintain Mt. Zion's passing game, Aull is considering enlisting as many as five receivers to fill Copeland's role.
Michael Faison, who played center was the only other senior on the offense last season.
On the defensive side of the ball, Aull will have to replace five starters.
The absence of Rummel Victor, Greg Young, Rahsee Sawyer, Jarrail Harris and Diano Anderson mean Mt. Zion has a sizable hole to fill among the linebacker and defensive back positions.
"Our goal defensively is to find some big hitters at Linebacker," said Aull. "We definitely need to be tougher against the run. That kind of bit us in a couple of games."
Aull's fondest memory from his high school football days is easily the game against Marist in the 1999 state semi-finals, which took place in the Georgia Dome.
The game was tied up and the Bulldogs had possession. With 29 yards to go, Mt. Zion went for the field goal, giving kicker Phil Tullar the chance he needed to win the game for Mt. Zion 10-7.
"As soon as I heard his foot hit it, I knew it was good," said Aull, who distinctly remembers the "thunk" of Tullar's foot as it impact with the ball. "Everyone piled onto coach Jackie Green and the celebration was on from there."
Green, who coached Mt. Zion from it's inaugural season in 1990 to 2004, established the Bulldogs as a competitive football program, remembers that Aull was the sort of player who always knew how to make the coaches laugh.
"It was always a dry sense of humor," Green said. "The kids didn't always get it but, the coaches would. He was a great young man to coach. You've got to have a sense of humor."
One the things that made Green laugh the most, was not so much something Aull said, but what he did.
Green first met Aull when he was rising ninth grader in spring practice.
"He was a pretty good-sized young man, but he broke a bone in his leg on a trampoline," he said. "We didn't see him for three months and with his broken leg, he became a big young man. He probably gained 30-40 pouds over the course of one summer."
Turnipseed, who also served as an assistant coach on the 1999 team, remembers Aull as dedicated team player who also knew how to keep his fellow players focused.
"We had to go up to Dacula. And All week we heard how good they were. they had Kenny Iron, who is now in the NFL. I remember going into the locker room before the game and everybody was intense and quiet," said Turnipseed. "Jamie just stood up and said 'hey they haven't seen what they're about to see." before we looked up we were up 45-14. He would be the one to break the tension but he lever lost the intensity and focus."
According to Green, as a player one of Aull's greatest assets was have a mind for football.
"I think he's going to do well. Not only was a good student in the classroom, he was a good student on the field," said Green. "That fact that he was a smart player leads me to believe that he'll be a good coach. I definitely want to see his first game this fall."
Mt. Zion's first official game of the season will take place Aug. 28 at Twelve Oaks Stadium when the Bulldogs meet the Lovejoy Wildcats.