Jeff Hurndon Photography / ELCA senior and Notre Dame recruit Isaac Rochell says he will leave the school as both a better football player and person.
ATLANTA — After Eagle’s Landing Christian clinched a Class A private school championship Friday with its 33-0 victory over Prince Avenue Christian, ELCA coach Jonathan Gess did something with his team that he’s done six other times during the last game of the season.
He took a knee.
And he invited the rest of his Chargers to take one with him. And with heads bowed, a brief prelude of silence was followed by a passionate prayer.
“I’ve taken a knee here in the last six years on our last game, Lord and we didn’t win,” Gess said in his prayer. “But we gave glory to you anyway. Now we’ve won and we definitely want to give you glory now, Lord.”
At once, the room filled with a chorus of “amens.”
Since Gess’ first year in 2007, the Chargers have been to the Class A playoffs. And each year they seemed to take one more step than the previous season.
Warren County bounced them in the first round in 2007. Then Lincoln County ousted ELCA from the second round in 2008 and 2009. They finally got over the second round hump in 2010, only to lose to eventual state champion Clinch County in the quarterfinals.
Then there was last season’s heartbreaker to Landmark Christian in the semifinals. So it stood to reason that this year’s title was the natural next step in the progression.
Now with a state title won, Gess is free now to celebrate the ultimate achievement, right?
“I don’t care about a championship,” Gess said. “I mean it’s great. Don’t get me wrong. We won it and we wanted it. But that’s not why we go to work.”
Yes, the six-year journey to a state title that Gess led ELCA on was a process. But it isn’t the process he’s most proud of.
It’s not even the process some of his best players are most proud of.
When Notre Dame commitment Isaac Rochell was asked if this state title was the great accomplishment in his four-year career at ELCA, he gave a little coachspeak. But maybe not the kind you’re used to hearing.
“We worked like four years to get to this point, and it just feels good to be here,” Rochell said. “But I’d say that obviously salvation has been the biggest thing for me here. I got saved here and that’s been huge. I’ve learned more about values and it’s not just about football. It’s about becoming the total man and being the total person.”
Sounds just like his coach.
Said Gess: “We get up and go to work to preach Jesus Christ to these boys. Football at ELCA is a tool preach Jesus Christ. Isaac saying that doesn’t surprise me. If you talk to most of our boys on this team you’ll hear them say that.
“If (the state championship) is the greatest accomplishment they ever have, then we’ve failed them.”
Rochell said his journey to know Christ mirrored ELCA’s journey to the championship in many ways. He called it “a yearly progression.”
And Gess will be the first to tell you that there are indeed things more important than football. But after six years of falling short, at least for Friday, football was high on the list for the Chargers’ coach.
“This is surreal for me,” Gess said. “I don’t know how long it’ll take for them to get here, but soon we’re going to be wearing rings.”