The image of that fall day in 1992 is still very visible in my mind.
Then Forest Park coach Mike Parris greeted me with a handshake, and then introduced me to standout quarterback Hines Ward.
As the rest of the Forest Park Panthers headed to the practice field, Ward and I sat in the locker room as I conducted an interview for an upcoming story.
It was back then that Forest Park was a competitive program with some all-state caliber players. Ward went to Georgia on scholarship.
Fast-forward some 20 years, and Forest Park is now everyone’s favorite for homecoming opponent.
The Panthers have gone through countless administrators and football coaches.
It’s more like try to play the majority of the regular season games without having a second-half running clock. Forest Park is a shell of what used to be a competitive program, not only in the Southern Crescent, but a likely region contender.
As the Forest Park community changed, so did its football stature.
Now, Don Williams, a first-year head football coach, has been charged to change that image and the Panthers’ fate. School principal Derrick Manning, a former football coach himself, believes that he has the right person in Williams.
Although he has never led a football program, Williams is a highly-respected person and coach in the area. He has built winning wrestling programs throughout the area.
After taking over the Forest Park wrestling program last season, he led them to unprecendented success with a county and area championship.
Manning has said that he is willing to give Williams the time to improve the program. The resources are coming with Forest Park in the midst of an 18-month renovation.
Parris, who is now at Jackson High in Butts County, says time is the most valuable resource a coach will need at Forest Park.
“Get somebody in there and let them take their lumps and let them build a program,” he says. “For whatever reasons (coaches) aren’t staying and that’s got to be tough situation for the kids.”
Former players would agree.
For some they would learn a new system in the spring, only to be handed a different playbook by a different coach when fall practice begins.
Here in the spring, gone by the fall has been the coaching theme at Forest Park.
But Williams seems to be a keeper.
He is being endorsed by people in the community and former players.
“I like the latest hire, coach Williams,” says Jamarco Clark, a junior at Iowa Wesleyan. “I saw what he did with the wrestling program. Those guys bought into his system and great results showed, so hopefully he can get the program turned around. Coach WIlliams needs four years. It can’t be done in two.”
Hopefully time will be on his side.
Derrick Mahone is the sports editor of the Clayton News Daily/Henry Daily Herald newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerrickMahone_.