Photo by Derrick Mahone
In his head coaching debut tonight, Don Williams will lead his Forest Park squad against playoff contender Chattahoochee in Alpharetta.
Welcome to the Southern Crescent, Don Williams, Ervin Starr, Greg Manior and Joe Dupree.
These four coaches will take to the sidelines for the first time as the leaders of their respective football programs.
Fellow first-year coach Larry Foster could serve as a mentor.
He has already cut his teeth into life as a Southern Crescent football coach, as his Mustangs suffered a 35-6 home loss at the hands of Campbell last week.
Despite the loss, Foster said he was encouraged by what he saw from his Mustangs and is excited about the prospect staying around long enough to turn things around for Morrow which is the last Clayton County school to win a state championship when they did so back in 1987.
“I’m definitely not looking at this as a one-and-done,” said Foster, who won three state titles while coaching in Florida.
“Hopefully they’ll keep me around for a long time. I want these players to know what it feels like to be a part of something and give them something to smile about around here. They’ve been neglected for so long.”
Foster knows he has a long climb ahead, taking over a program that has experienced 13 straight losing seasons and hasn’t won since November 5, 2010 against Forest Park.
Speaking of the Panthers, Williams is getting in the driver’s seat of a program that has stalled since its glory days in the mid 1990s. Forest Park has had 12 consecutive losing seasons itself, but Williams has worked long and hard at doing things to inject a winning attitude into his team.
But today, much of the focus shifts to what Williams and company will be able to do on the field.
And what a tough draw he gets, having to travel to Alpharetta and play a Chattahoochee team which went 10-2 in 2011, losing to Warner Robins in the second round of the playoffs.
But Williams isn’t shying away from the challenge. As a matter of fact, he sees this opportunity as a long time coming for him.
“It’s about time,” Williams said. “Me finally coaching my first game at the age of 54, I’m just excited.”
As difficult as Williams’ first game promises to be, he may not win the prize for the most difficult opener.
If there was a trophy to be given for it, Mundy’s Mill’s Manior would take home the hardware.
Manior has the unenviable task of facing the Class AAAA state runner-up Lovejoy, who with 16 total starters returning, is equal parts bitter and hungry to take that last step toward a state title.
Meanwhile, Starr opens his Mount Zion coaching career against a Jonesboro team that was arguably Clayton County’s second-best team in 2011.
Though the Cardinals must replace a few parts this season, they still look to be dangerous. And Starr, who last coached at Rex Mill Middle School and has had players from both schools on some of his teams at the same time, seems ready to embrace the long standing rivalry.
“They are our biggest rivalry,” Starr said during Clayton County’s media day in July. “They’re right around the corner from us, same type of players. That game sets the tone for our season. Who ever controls the tempo of the game best is going to win.”
Dupree, with just three returning starters on each side of the ball, has a chance to truly put his first-year imprint on the Warhawks. But traveling to Sharpsburg to face steady East Coweta may not be the ideal place to break in inexperienced players.
If Dupree can coach his troops to victory, he will be the first Warhawks coach to win his coaching debut since Bill Schofill’s 1965 Henry County team beat Fayette County 33-0.
Even though it wouldn’t raise many eyebrows if Southern Crescent coaches go 0-5 in their debuts, Williams is quick to remind you that a coach’s success is measured by more than just his opening game.
“We’re playing a juggernaut in Chattahoochee, and we know we’re not supposed to beat those guys,” Williams said. “We’re not supposed to be in the same league as those guys. They are very quality and solid all the way through. They are what we want to be, and regardless of the outcome, I think we’re on the path to get there.”