By David Purdum / For the AJC
Lassiter coach Jep Irwin received an interview request Monday morning.
It was the first day of Thanksgiving break and just two days after his top-ranked Trojans had their season end suddenly and in heart-breaking fashion.
Irwin didn’t have to respond to the request. Other coaches wouldn’t have. Southern Cal coach Lane Kiffin makes $2.4 million, but chose not to face the media after his team lost to rival UCLA on Saturday.
Irwin called roughly an hour after receiving the interview request. He was open and willing to talk about one of the toughest losses of his career.
“If you’re going to do the interviews when you win, you need to do them when you lose, too,” Irwin said.
Lassiter finished the regular season 10-0 and became the No. 1-ranked team in the state heading into a first-round home playoff game against Brookwood. It was the first time Lassister ever had been ranked No. 1, according to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association. Irwin warned his players that a team with the pedigree of Brookwood would not be intimidated by playing the No. 1 team in the state.
The Trojans owned the momentum from the beginning, converting on a pair of fake punts on their first two possessions. They led 21-3 at the half and by 15 with seven minutes left in the game.
But Brookwood rallied with two late touchdowns, tying the game with eight seconds to play. The Broncos finished off the dramatic comeback with an interception that produced the winning field goal in overtime.
“Those two late touchdowns in the fourth quarter were kind of shocking to our kids,” said Irwin. “We had been a second-half team and really dominated fourth quarters all year. You really have to hand it to Brookwood.”
After post-game handshakes, Irwin led his team into the locker room. It was several minutes before the coaches addressed the players.
“Everybody is raw emotionally, so as coaches, you want to give them a little bit of privacy and let them be with their teammates,” Irwin said. “There’s not anything you can say to make them feel better at that moment. Everybody feels bad. I feel bad. I wish there was something more I could have done to get those guys a win.”
In an emotional locker room full of hugs, Irwin reminded his team of the great season they had experienced together and how much they accomplished. The senior class was among the winningest in school history, said Irwin. Two of the 24 seniors stood up and addressed the team. Irwin hugged every senior.
After the emotions tempered slightly, Irwin made sure to talk about things other than winning and losing.
“If you have a program that’s just based on winning and losing, that’s going to be a lot harder sell,” Irwin said. “But, hopefully, kids buy into what you’re trying to teach them, about life lessons and about how to developing themselves through football. If they do, then you can say, ‘Look, this is part of it.’”