The coaches spoke about their teams to the assembly of fans, business people and county civic leaders.
Hillgrove’s Phil Ironside noted how his program has continued to improve since its launch in 2006. The Hawks have recorded five consecutive winning seasons, and they totaled a team-record 11 victories last year.
With a region championship already in its possession, Hillgrove has gained respect and notoriety across the state in a short period of time.
“I’ve worked in three different states, and this is the fourth high school I’ve coached,” Ironside said. “This is such a great group of kids, and it’s fun to come to work every day. This is a group of young men that buys into what they’re taught — not only athletically, but also academically.
“We’ve been to the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, and we’re at a time in our program now where we’re getting several kids signed to college scholarships every year. It’s been neat to see the growth over the past six to seven years.”
Appropriate to the environment of a Chamber of Commerce gathering, Ironside equated his team to a small business starting and getting itself off the ground.
“We started with some really young kids who have gotten better each year, and each season we add a few more young kids,” he said. “By the time the first group of kids become young men, they’re able to pass along what they’ve learned to help those young guys get better.
“It’s like a business. We’ve started with a strong foundation, and we’ve slowly watched it prosper over the years.”
McEachern defensive coordinator Bryan Minish stood in for head coach Kyle Hockman, who was attending a lunch at the Georgia Dome in advance of Saturday’s season-opening Corky Kell Classic.
Minish commented on McEachern will rely on young, but talented, players this season, and how tough the schedule will be. Six of the Indians’ 10 opponents made the playoffs last year.
“We’re really excited about the season,” Minish said. “We have a great schedule that starts out really tough for us, with defending champion Grayson at the Dome and state finalist Walton the following week. Including our region schedule, this may be the toughest schedule we may ever put together at McEachern.
“This is a young team, and we don’t have as many starters back as in previous years, but we’ve had some success in the past. And we have good leadership kids coming back, so we’re looking forward to how things progress.”
Macon, in his first season as Pebblebrook’s head coach after previously serving on Randall Smith’s staff, lauded his predecessor for the job he did preparing the Falcons and getting them to play at a playoff-caliber level.
Macon, who has 20 years of head-coaching experience in Georgia, noted how playing football corresponds to dealing with life. He emphasized that his program teaches players as much about football as it does about preparing them for life after high school.
“We have about 60 kids in the program, and 35 to 40 of them are freshmen,” Macon said. “We hope to be successful on the field and make these young men proud to be a part of this school, this community and this team.
“We want to get Pebblebrook back to its glory days in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when they made the playoffs almost every year. We hope the fans see the effort from the kids, and we hope that, win or lose, these guys play with pride.”
Xarvia Smith, who is in his 21st year as a high school coach and second as Osborne’s head coach, praised how his players embraced community outreach programs over the summer, including assisting a teammate’s mother with the installation of a wheelchair ramp at her home, and helping out at King Springs Elementary School.
Community service was a big focus for Osborne this summer, and the players — those on an expanding roster — embraced the opportunities to help out.
“We have about 70 kids in the program, which is up from 40 last year,” Smith said. “We’re excited about the season and, more importantly, about how we’ve helped the growth in our community.”
South Cobb’s Ed Koester agreed with his fellow coaches on how football is the best sport to help students be successful in life. His program includes 145 players from the ninth grade up, and he stressed how the focus is playing for one another.
“We have a motto: ‘For my brother,’” Koester said. “Our goal is for everyone to be less centered on what they’re up to and play more for their teammates.”
Whitefield Academy’s Jimmy Fields acknowledged that, while his team doesn’t get to play the other south Cobb teams, he’s thankful to be in Cobb County and affiliated the coaches at the luncheon.
“As coaches, we will know what kind of job we did with our teams 10 to 15 years from now when these young men are out in the world contributing to our society,” he said. “There’s no greater gain than teaching life skills to young people and helping them to face and overcome adversity.”