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North Clayton still confident despite slow start

Photo by Derrick Mahone
North Clayton coach Max Wiltz says his team still has a lot of confidence going into Friday’s game at Stockbridge despite the Eagles’ 0-3 start.

Photo by Derrick Mahone North Clayton coach Max Wiltz says his team still has a lot of confidence going into Friday’s game at Stockbridge despite the Eagles’ 0-3 start.

Over the last four seasons, North Clayton has built a solid football resume.

The Eagles have been to the playoffs each season since 2008, and advanced to the quarterfinals in 2009.

So this season’s 0-3 start is not sitting well with the players and coaching staff.

“It is very disappointing,” North Clayton coach Max Wiltz said Tuesday afternoon before practice. “It is highly disappointing.”

Senior running back La’Darrius Mathis agreed as he emerged from the Eagles’ locker room before practice.

“Yep, this season has started out disappointing,” he said.

But Mathis is not ready to call it a complete wash. The team is far from going into panic mode.

“We still got a lot of football to play,” Mathis said. “We have seven more games left on the season. We are not used to this at North Clayton, but we know we still have a lot of football to play.”

This senior class entered the school in 2009, the year the Eagles went to the Class AAAA quarterfinals for the first time since 1997.

Wiltz said this senior group has been around for a winning program.

“I definitely didn’t feel we would be 0-3 at this point,” Wiltz said. “Take nothing away from the teams we played, but I’m definitely disturbed about the record. I think we had a little ego coming into the season. We were a little full of ourselves.”

But the 0-3 start has been a humbling experience for a team that had high expectations with the return of 16 starters, and 19 seniors. Last season, North Clayton finished 7-4 in Wiltz’s first season, taking over for Rodney Hackney, who left for the Washington High job in Atlanta.

Prior to taking over the program, Wiltz served as the team’s defensive coordinator under Hackney.

“I’m sure there are some people talking,” Wiltz said. “Hey, but that is the nature of the beast.”

But Wiltz said he doesn’t have time to listen to the critics or naysayers as he attempts to turn the Eagles’ fortunes around. North Clayton plays at Stockbridge on Friday.

The Tigers entered the season ranked for the first time since 1968, but dropped out after a season-opening loss to M.L. King.

Stockbridge has won its last two games.

Despite the disappointing start, Wiltz said the team remains confident in its ability.

“Morale is still high,” he said. “I think this group is up to the challenge of turning it around. We are not quitting and we are not giving up, because that is not the way I coach.”

Wiltz and his staff have modified the team’s practice schedule. One day they work entirely on defense, and then spend the next day on offense. On Wednesdays they bring both elements together in hopes of correcting the problems.

“We are starting over,” Wiltz said. “For us, we are looking at it as one game at a time. There is still a lot of football to play.”

Mathis said they are trying not to be the first class not to reach the playoffs in the last four seasons.

“There is a lot of tradition over here,” he said. “We have to leave something for the younger guys. We have great confidence. We have started too slow, but we want to pick it up. Our intention is not to lose another game.”