Photos by Brian Paglia / Dutchtown first-year head coach Kevin Jones said the toughest part of his transition was the timing. “To leave the time I left was tough,” Jones said. “But it feels good.”
HAMPTON — Devin Randolph had watched Lovejoy football on television before, but when the Wildcats hosted North Cobb in the Class AAAAAA semifinals last season he had to see them for himself.
He didn’t see Lovejoy’s best performance, though it was good enough. Yes, the Wildcats fell behind by 14 points for the first time all season. Sure, Lovejoy allowed 43 points total, or as many as it had in the previous nine games combined.
But Randolph saw Lovejoy return two interceptions for touchdowns. He saw the Wildcats erase that two-touchdown deficit. He saw Lovejoy clinch its second straight state championship appearance.
“After they got down, they just took over,” Randolph said.
Little did the Dutchtown linebacker know he was also watching his future head coach that day. Kevin Jones was Lovejoy’s defensive coordinator that night. Now, he’s two days into spring practice as Dutchtown’s new head coach.
Jones replaced Jason Galt, who left after six seasons to become head coach at North Forsyth. Jones steps in after Galt helped turn Dutchtown into one of the county’s most competitive programs.
He brought with him a resume that got players’ attention.
“Coach Jones had one of the best defenses in the state last season,” Randolph said. “That excited us.”
“It’s definitely different,” Bulldogs rising senior offensive lineman Jordan Anderson said, “but in a good way.”
Jones has already started putting his own stamp on Dutchtown. He’s overhauled the coaching staff. He’s brought in new offensive and defensive schemes and shuffled players around to find the right fit. He’s scheduled a whirlwind summer of passing leagues in Alabama and Virginia, at Lassiter High School and Lovejoy, at Clark Atlanta and even right at Dutchtown where the Bulldogs will host a combine June 6-8 for the NFL High School Player Development program.
“Just trying to get things bigger and better,” Jones said.
Indeed, Jones’ ultimate goal is to create Dutchtown into a program much like the one he was a part of at Lovejoy under long-time head coach Al Hughes. The one that went 37-4 the past three years, won three straight region championships, made back-to-back state finals and produced the last two defensive players of the year in the state’s highest classification.
With those credentials, Jones has found Dutchtown receptive to his changes.
“It makes it easier,” Jones said. “It really does. There’s not much convincing needed. They got a chance to watch me on television. They see what the finish product will look like if they do things a certain way. They get it.”
But with all the changes comes plenty of question marks to settle. Like who will replace quarterback Donovahn Jones, who signed with Minnesota. Rising sophomore Keylon Epps has the most experience in a group of underclassmen, but not by much.
Dutchtown has to replace its top three rushers, and Christian Palmer and Matthew Daniels look like they’ll step in and platoon at running back.
And then there’s the defense. Jones hopes that unit will become the signature of the program. He’s using these next two weeks to juggle players around and find where they fit best.
Randolph is a perfect example. Last season, he played inside linebacker and was Dutchtown’s leading tackler. But at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, he’s not big enough to play inside linebacker in Jones’ defense.
Jones said he recognizes Randolph’s strengths of moving in space and tackling in the open field, so he’s trying the rising senior at safety this spring.
“It’s a different scheme,” Randolph said, “but it’s based on the same things or tackling, three-and-outs and forcing turnovers.
“You can tell they’re pushing us to get better.”