Coach Jarrett Laws' Drew Titans are the only Clayton County football team that hasn't lost to a non-county opponent this season.
By Gabriel Stovall
Clayton County has a proud football tradition.
But lately it’s been a bit one-sided. Lovejoy has arguably been the county’s best team the last three seasons. And for those who would dare argue it, check the Wildcats’ resume.
Since 2010, the Wildcats have compiled a 27-3 record, consecutive region titles (2010 and 2011) complete with two consecutive undefeated regular seasons (2010-11) and Class AAAA state runner up status last year.
“Blah, blah, blah,” says those who perhaps have grown tired of the Lovejoy dominance talk. But even fellow Clayton County coaches like Drew’s Jarrett Laws will agree that it holds some merit.
"The biggest thing is that Lovejoy can't be the only one carrying the banner,” Laws said. “We need others to have earmark games in front of the state against a well-established program to help the respect level rise up.”
Speaking of well-established programs, Hughes is by far the current elder statesman of Clayton County coaches. With a win at Druid Hills on Friday, he will be the first football coach in county history to reach 100 wins.
His 35 total coaching years in Clayton County means he’s been around as long as Riverdale High School. His 12 years at the helm of the Lovejoy program easily qualifies him as the longest tenured head coach in the county.
And according to Morrow’s first-year coach Leroy Foster, that kind of stability and Lovejoy’s recent success are no coincidence.
“I think the biggest difference with the success at other schools and with Clayton County is that you have these guys in rural areas and other places who have been with each other for a while,” said Foster, who has coached in the football talent-rich state of Florida before taking on the task of turning Morrow’s program around.
“When you’ve got guys who have spent three and four years in the same system with the same coach it really makes a difference.”
But is it a gap that’s impossible for Clayton County to close?
“I think we can gain ground,” Foster said. “If coaches stay around we can do it. In large cities, people bounce around whether its from coaching to administrative positions. People just do other things.”
So far this season, Clayton County schools are 5-15 against non-Clayton programs. Subtract Lovejoy, Jonesboro and Drew -- arguably the county’s best football teams -- and Clayton is a paltry 1-13 outside its borders.
Not good for a county that’s trying to win respect -- not to mention its first state title since 1987.
Even its southern neighbor, Henry County has enjoyed recent success against its once dominant northern rival, and even boasts the top-ranked team in Class A’s — Eagle’s Landing Christian.
Going into last Friday, Clayton County led the all-time series against Henry County football programs 122-42.
But Clayton went 1-3 against Henry last Friday alone, including Dutchtown’s 38-0 domination over formerly eighth-ranked Riverdale.
Foster believes that some of the changes in Clayton County’s success has come because of the addition of newer schools — like Drew, which is in just its fourth year of operation — in close proximity of older ones which tend to scatter talent about, leaving once dominant schools with less talent to choose from.
“In the rural areas, you have one school that would be the equivalent of three of our schools put together,” Foster said. “Like Mount Zion, Morrow and Forest Park all together. Those rural schools like that, first and second teams pretty much have no drop off.”
Still there are encouraging signs, like Jonesboro’s win at Westover and its near miss in a 34-33 loss at No. 2 Griffin.
Behind Lovejoy, the Cardinals have clearly been the county’s second best program over the last two years.
Second year Riverdale coach Olten Downs looks promising as he coached his Raiders to a 3-0 start, including a 28-14 win at Grady two weeks ago, before running into the Dutchtown buzzsaw.
And Laws has Clayton’s newest program Drew humming. The Titans are the only team in the county that has yet to lose to a non-county opponent.
Ever the optimist, Laws believes it’s just a matter of time before Clayton County returns to its lofty perch.
“I think we are moving in that direction with our close game against Cairo last year and the Lovejoy game against Colquitt County,” he said.