Forest Park coach John Diehl said his team’s confidence is a direct impact from the work they have done in the weight room during the offseason. (Staff Photo: Derrick Mahone)
FOREST PARK — The confidence that the Forest Park football players now speak with began long before Friday’s homecoming win over Morrow.
You will have to go further back than the scrimmage win over a struggling Therrell program to see it.
Panthers first-year coach John Diehl can pinpiont the rise of his team’s confidence level to when they started their offseason conditioning program late last year.
“Our confidence increased with our work in the weight room,” Diehl said. “When I first got here, we didn’t have anyone in the 1,000-pound club. We now have 18 players in that group. Our work in the weight room has had a big impact on our team.”
After the Therrell win, the real season started for the Panthers with a trip to Chattahoochee. Although it didn’t end too well for the team against the Class AAAAAA school in north Fulton county, Diehl was pleased with the beginning.
He said his team played tough for the first quarter and a half, but Chattahoochee’s size and experience became a factor.
But the second game was a different story.
The Panthers left Tara Stadium last Friday with a 36-28 win on their early homecoming night.
“It was a special win for us,” senior DeJuan Simms said. “To win your homecoming as a senior is a special night. It is a credit to coach Diehl at how well we are playing.”
A major test will occur this Friday when the Panthers travel to McDonough to take on Union Grove in the first Region 4-AAAAA, Div. A game this season. Union Grove was the region runner-up and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs last season.
This will be a good measuring stick for the Panthers, coming off their first win since the last game of the 2011 season.
“We have a lot of confidence in ourselves,” senior Brandon Williams said. “We believe in ourselves and our coaching staff.”
Williams said the new look Panthers are hoping to catch Union Grove off guard on Friday.
“We have a new coach, and a new way of doing things,” Williams said. “We play a lot harder now. We all believe in what the coaches are telling us.”
Union Grove is without running back Derrick Craine, who rushed for more than 2,000 yards last season. He is now a freshman at Tennessee-Chattanooga.
But the Wolverines return 6-foot-5 junior quarterback Jonathan Slade, who has completed 65 percent of his passes in the first two games. Freshman Trevor Gear is proving to be a solid replacement for Craine, as he has rushed for over 100 yards in each of the first two games, and has scored a total of four touchdowns.
“I’ve seen them on film, and they do a lot of things similar to Morrow,” Diehl said. “I think our guys are looking forward to the challenge. In 34 years as a head coach, this is the most determined group I’ve ever coached. They give 110 percent each day, and they want to get better.”
And they saw last week the fruits of their labor with a win.
“That win has definitely given us a lot of morale,” said Simms, who had 209 yards rushing against Morrow. “Coach has had a good impact on us. We give a lot of the credit for the win to coach.”