East Cobb’s seven high school football head coaches shared the floor at the East Cobb Pigskin Preview, during Wednesday’s meeting of the East Cobb Chamber of Commerce at Indian Hills Country Club.
The coaches discussed their teams and previewed the upcoming season. The common refrain among each of the seven was that the Raiders’ success was a bellwether for the entire area’s rise to football prominence in recent years.
“Cobb County football has never been better than what it is right now,” said Walton head coach Rocky Hidalgo. “I’ve been coaching a long time, and I’m telling you this is the best coached county in the entire state of Georgia. Nobody top to bottom has better coaching than we do.”
Hidalgo, who came to Walton in 1996 as an assistant, reflected on how far he and his colleagues had come from the time when West Cobb held a monopoly on the high-quality football programs.
“Pretty much all these schools up here, none of us were very good,” he said. “Basically, in 1996 McEachern and Marietta were the only two teams in the county that were any good. Last year, probably four of the top 10 teams in Georgia were located in Cobb County. The state makes a big deal of how long it’s been since schools from Cobb County played and won a state championship game and all that stuff. Our county gets closer and closer every year.”
Lassiter also came close to playing for that elusive title, falling to Walton in the state semifinals last year. While UCLA-bound quarterback Eddie Printz returns for his third year as a starter to lead a host of top-flight skill players on the Trojans’ pass-happy offense, coach Jep Irwin made an effort to downplay the optimism surrounding his 2012 team, which opens the season with a cross-county test against Hillgrove.
“Rocky’s Walton guys do a good job of keeping us humble, they beat us twice last year,” Irwin said.
Pope coach Matt Kemper talked about how Walton’s big season overshadowed a charmed year for his team. The Greyhounds have worked their way back to relevance in his four years at the helm, capping 2011 with a 10-2 record and the third region championship in school history, but they must replace a handful of key playmakers from last year’s dynamic offensive attack.
“Hidalgo, you know, he’s a glory hound,” Kemper joked. “With what was going on in Cobb County, with what Walton did, nobody noticed (us), and that’s fine. We like to kind of keep it under the radar.”
Between Kell’s 12-1 record in 2010 and last year’s 9-3 mark, Longhorns coach Derek Cook said his upperclassmen have been a part of the best two years in the school’s football history,
“This group has hopefully seen the best we have to offer, and they’ve developed some work habits and some attitudes that made those teams successful,” Cook said. “Hopefully they’ve seen the things that broke those teams down and cost them in a playoff game they could’ve won.”
Sprayberry head coach Billy Shackelford discussed the adversity his program faced this summer, from the departure of school principal Ed Wagner, who was reassigned to the same position at Kell, to the passing of the school’s athletic director, Tim Crunk.
“It was just a heartbreaking situation,” Shackelford said of Crunk, who died of a heart attack in late June. “We really have a void there, not only with his leadership but just his personality and what he brought to Sprayberry and Cobb County.”
Shackelford also rolled out a new plan to address what he perceived as a pattern of academic decline among his football players over the past few years.
“As soon as school is over with, we’re going to do a mandatory 45-minute study hall right after school,” he said. “That’s going to delay practice, obviously, but I feel like we’ll try to get our guys in the right direction academically, so we’re going to install part of our winter program, tutoring and academics, to make that a priority.”
Sprayberry opens its season on August 24th against Wheeler, where coach Mike Collins continues to adjust his program’s expectations in the right direction after leading the Wildcats to a four-win season in 2011.
“I got up here after the first year to tell you we won one game, and you guys clapped for us, so you know where we came from,” Collins said. “This third year around, we feel good about it.”
The area’s newest coach, Walker’s John East, closed the session by expressing his excitement at taking a head coaching position after over 30 years as an athletic director and assistant football coach at Savannah Country Day, Lovett and Whitefield Academy. East was optimistic about the potential of his team’s 19 seniors in raising the standards
“My background is I’m a builder,” East said. “It’s what I do.”
The Sprayberry-Wheeler game and Walker’s home opener against Temple open up the area’s schedule on the first Friday night of the season, with Kell and Walton participating in the Corky Kell Kickoff Classic the next day at the Georgia Dome. Lassiter and Pope begin play on August 31st.