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Back on the winning side of high school football

By Derrick Mahone

dmahone@news-daily.com

As North Clayton prepared for the second round of the Class AAAA playoffs last week, coach Rodney Hackney and offensive coordinator Demarco Mitchell shared a laugh. The two were reflecting back on their seasons as head coaches during the 2006 and '07 seasons where they had a combined record of 2-37-1.

Hackney spent two years at Lithonia trying to revive that program while Mitchell was struggling at nearby long-suffering Forest Park.

In 2008, Hackney took over the reigns at North Clayton and hired his former college teammate Mitchell to run the offense.

"We both saw how things were on the opposite end of the spectrum," Hackney said. "Those two years made me very humble. Every situation is different."

Those two dreadful seasons that Hackney and Mitchell spent at Lithonia and Forest Park, respectively, makes this season's playoff run with the Eagles every sweeter. North Clayton will take on Clarke Central in the Class AAAA quarterfinals at 7:30 p.m. tonight in Athens. Both teams are 10-2 and are making their first appearance in the state quarterfinals since the 1997 season.

The winner plays the Westside-Macon vs. Rockdale County next week in the semifinals.

"You have to cherish seasons like this after what we went through," Mitchell said. "You can't get cocky when you win. It was definitely humbling going through those seasons. This is a blessing."

It is not by accident that the majority of the North Clayton staff has some kind of connection to Hackney, either as a former college or high school teammate or previously coaching under him. Defensive coordinator Max Wiltz and defensive line coach Tommy Ector were on Hackney's staff when he was at Riverdale while offensive line coach Derrick Avery and wide receiver coach Isaac Cameron was on his Mays staff. Cameron and Hackney were also high school teammates at Mays in the early 1990s. Mitchell, Wiltz and Hackney were college teammates at Clark Atlanta.

"This is a close-knit group," Hackney said. "I hire loyalty over knowledge."

And in addition to Mitchell, Wiltz has head coaching experience at Coral Springs High in Florida.

"We are very loyal to him, because he is a great person to work for," Mitchell said. "We are all committed to the kids. The thing I like about coach Hackney is that he lets you do your thing. He doesn't stand over you and micro-manage. I know what a head coach goes through so I can offer some balance to him."

The friendship and camaraderie among the staff hasn't gone unnoticed by the players.

"They communicate on another level," senior safety Winston Williams said. "It has been a big plus having all these guys on the staff. They really give it to you straight."