By Brian Paglia
So many great things happened in six seasons at Creekside for Kevin Whitley, that it's plausible he never experienced anything like his first year at Stockbridge.
Over his six seasons at Creekside, Whitley's teams won 52 games, went to the state playoffs five consecutive times and won two region titles.
But in Whitley's first season at Stockbridge, a program beset by coaching turnover more than a decade, the Tigers lost six straight to begin the season and finished 2-8.
So what is Stockbridge working on in Whitley's second spring?
"Just effort," he said. "Effort and technique.
Really, that's it, and not making excuses."
But this spring, Whitley has felt more comfortable with the operation of the program, a natural progression in year two at the helm.
"Now you have a better understanding of what you're working with," Whitley said. "You can better place people where they can be successful."
Stockbridge has just eight returning starters to work with, including five on offense.
Leon Prunty, a three-sport athlete (football, basketball, baseball), has seized the starting quarterback position, and Whitley sees great potential.
"Good athlete," Whitley said. "He's good in all three sports. He's just got to grow up. He's kind of a leader. He can't say, 'I'm not senior,' and not lead. It comes with being a quarterback.
There's a lot of responsibility that comes with that position."
Running back Marcellas Pope leads a talented group of skill players.
But the key to Stockbridge's success, Whitley says, is how they develop along the offensive and defensive lines.
"I think we've got pretty good skill kids, but we've got to get better up front," Whitley said. "Right now, we just need everybody to do their part.
"This year we're going to have to rely on guys playing both ways more than I would like to. That means we've got to get in better shape."
Stockbridge's schedule shapes up to be a daunting one. Back in Class AAA for the first time since 1997, the Tigers join Region 4-AAA, which features a team that last season made the quarterfinals (Jackson), semifinals (Eastside) and won a state championship (Sandy Creek). Stockbridge hasn't had a winning region record since 1994.
"It's tough," Whitley said, "but it is what it is."
But Stockbridge will be joined in the region by fellow county teams Dutchtown, Eagle's Landing, Henry County and Locust Grove. Whitley also scheduled Woodland for the Tigers' scrimmage.
"We've got a chance to build in-county rivalries," Whitley said. "That's going to be exciting."