Class A: Coaches in semis talk keys to game, other factors

By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC

We’re one day away from Semi Final Friday.

PUBLIC
No. 5 Dooly County (10-2) at No. 1 Lincoln County (11-1)
No. 3 Emanuel County Institute (11-1) at No. 2 Wilcox County (10-2)

PRIVATE
No. 11 George Walton Academy (9-3) at No. 2 Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (11-1)
No. 10 Landmark Christian School (9-3) at No. 9 Prince Avenue Christian (10-2)

Todd Holcomb and the folks at Georgia High School Football Daily – a free, daily e-mail newsletter that is a must read for Georgia high school football fans of all classifications – have done a solid job previewing the four semi final games in Class A. Go here to check them out: http://blogs.ajc.com/georgia-high-school-sports/2012/12/06/semifinal-previews-class-a/?cxntfid=blogs_georgia_high_school_sports

So here at Class A Blog headquarters, we’ve got a little something extra. It no doubt takes great talent to compete for a state title, but it takes great coaching to sustain that level of success. As such, here are insights and takes from Lincoln County’s Larry Campbell, Wilcox County’s Mark Ledford, Prince Avenue Christian’s Mark Farriba and Eagle’s Landing Christian’s Jonathan Gess – four of the best coaches in the state.

* Their combined career record is 775-234-7, a winning percentage of over 75 percent.
* Campbell, who took over in Lincolnton in 1972, has the vast majority of those wins, 470, which is No. 1 all time in Georgia.
* Between them they have won 42 region titles in the Georgia High School Association, with Campbell winning 33 of those (Farriba won three coaching in the Georgia Independent Schools Association).
* Other than Campbell, who has won 11 GHSA state titles (but none since 2006), Ledford is the only other coach in the Class A semi finals – public or private – who has won a GHSA state title, which he did at Wilcox in 2009 (Farriba won  GISA titles in 1985 at First Presbyterian and in 2004 at Stratford Academy, Don Williams won a GISA championship in 2003 at George Walton Academy).

Lincoln County’s Larry Campbell
On Dooly County defensive tackle Montravious Adams, rated by many as the top defensive lineman in the nation: “I’ve coached against some great ones, but I don’t know if we’ve ever had one who was ranked by everybody as high as he is. He’s 6-foot-4, 295 pounds and is one of the best athletes that’s ever stepped on our field, but he has great talent around him.”

On his 165-pound sophomore center, Lincoln Leroy, who will line up nose-to-nose with Adams most of the night: “We’ll try to give him a little help, but because of what we do, we won’t be able to help him much. He’ll be a key because it’s important we get those shotgun snaps back there effectively. He’s young but he’s solid and he’s tough, and I don’t think he’ll be intimidated.”

On his young offensive line: “We had to cancel our JV season after four games because we had to play so many sophomores (on varsity). We’ve got four sophomores on the offensive line but they have come together well. Overall, in all of my years of coaching, this team has gotten better every week, from Week 1 to Week 14, better than any team I’ve coached.”

On his playmakers on offense: “Our quarterback (junior Ben Turner) is all of 5-foot-6, and we always have concern that he’s going to have his passes tipped, but he gets the job done. (Running back Mike) McIntire and (receiver) Zireycus Letman get a lot of the attention, but our other receiver, Jalen Franklin, saved the game for us last week.

“We can’t match up with any of the three other teams left in terms of size. But we’ll do our absolute best to compete.”

Wilcox County’s Mark Ledford
On 
ECI: “They are a talented, well-coached team that plays with a lot of hunger to win. They run that wing-T and they have running backs (seniors Greg Purcell, James Brown, Renaldo Williams and sophomore Michael Sutton all have over 400 yards rushing) that no one has done a great job of stopping. And they have a quarterback who is great at play action.”

On the different styles of offense featured in the game – ECI’s wing-T vs. Wilcox’s spread: “I think the goal of both teams will be to keep the ball away from the other team. I think we’re both pretty much where we want to be right now, executing, playing the kind of ball we want to play.

“For us to be successful we knew Mikail (Grace) and Jonathan (Howard) would have to have big years, and they have. But we’ve been able to have great balance with our running back, Maurice Edwards, a sophomore, having over 1,000 all-purpose yards, and we’ve had a couple of other receivers step up too, Quinn Tidsale and Kelly Whitfield. We started to really get better once those kids started to develop and get comfortable.”

Prince Aveune Christian’s Mark Farriba
On keeping his team together despite an off-season incident that resulted in four key players, including his son Rob, leaving school prior to the start of the season: “To be honest, you really don’t have a choice. You can move on and keep fighting, or you can stay where you are. These kids stayed together and kept working.

“We had some kids accept some new roles and they have thrived.  We took our quarterback from last year, Carl Mattox, and moved him to wingback.  He accepted the new position and has been great there.  And we moved Zach Graham from cornerback to quarterback.  He’s done well all year, but it probably wasn’t until this week in practice when I walked off the field and thought he really looks comfortable out there.  He’s got it.”

On Landmark, a team he has never faced: “I was really impressed with them last season, the way they were a four seed and won every playoff game on the road, and then went to the Dome and played Savannah Christian really tough in the finals. And they are impressive this season too, just a big, tough group of kids that play really hard. I’m very impressed by them.”

On the key to the game: “On any level, you have to control the line of scrimmage on both sides. Look at the SEC championship game last week. That’s where that game was won. That’s what we have to do. I thought we played well against Darlington (first round) and last week against Athens Academy. I think both of us are playing how you want to be playing at this point in the season, so the key again for us will be controlling the line of scrimmage.”

Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy’s Jonathan Gess
On George Walton:
“We’ve watched a ton of film on them, and it seems like early in the season they were trying to figure out who they were, trying to find their identity. These last four games it seems like they’ve really figured it out. They use that big, strong offensive line and get the ball to (running back) Stanley Williams, who is a difference maker. That kid is a game changer. He’s not going to try to run you over, but he’s fast and he’s strong and he’s a slasher and he kills you on the cutback. And they have a senior quarterback (Hunter Rice) who is healthy now and a couple of other running backs (Tyler Jarvis and Nick Waters) who can hurt you, and now they have a freshman receiver (Dimetrios Mason) who is starting to make plays for them, too. “

On the health of his team, particularly running back/linebacker Keyante Green: “Going into the playoffs we had everybody at 100 percent. But then in the first quarter against Our Lady of Mercy (first round), Keyonte was fighting to get more yards on an interception return and his ankle got rolled up. It’s a high ankle sprain and we didn’t use him much last week.”

On quarterback Dalton Etheridge: “Having Dalton healthy has been big for us. I think Dalton has about 800 yards total offense in the playoffs. He’s such a weapon throwing and running that he makes us that much harder to defend, even without Keyante in there. “

On the focus of his team: “They know they have to beat George Walton, that’s it. Period. There isn’t any thought about a state championship or playing in the Dome. We have to beat a very good George Walton team in order for any of that to take place and so that is all that is on their minds. They’ve been that way all year. They know this is going to be a war.”

18 comments Add your comment

Max Sizemore

December 6th, 2012
5:44 pm

VERY nice, job, Thomas.

Swamp Lizard

December 6th, 2012
5:47 pm

@ STC … Great stuff! Thank you for the insight and the take from the coaches. You Da Man !!

S. Thomas Coleman

December 6th, 2012
9:49 pm

@Max and @Swamp: Thanks guys! And thanks for reading and posting!

S. Thomas Coleman

moto

December 7th, 2012
1:10 am

@STC………Some of the best coaches comments I’ve read; real specifics and not just the usual boilerplate. I’m amazed at how well ELCA does even when one or more of their superstars is injured.

Swamp Lizard

December 7th, 2012
6:01 am

Enter your comments here

Swamp Lizard

December 7th, 2012
6:08 am

@moto … It has been amazing this year watching the younger ELCA Chargers on the team step in and fill voids when the starters have missed games. They are very well coached and the players are pushed at practice by one another. It’s not like this team is loaded with seniors ( 9 I think ), ELCA has 22 juniors on this team, so there should be no dropoff next year.

S. Thomas Coleman

December 7th, 2012
8:28 am

@moto: Thanks! All the credit goes to the coaches. Georgia has some of the best in the country, which is another reason, I believe, Georgia high school players are coveted by colleges on all levels across the nation. There are SO MANY really good coaches (too many to name) and staffs in our state that do an excellent job preparing kids not only for Friday nights, but for playing on the next level as well.

Thanks for reading and posting.

S. Thomas Coleman

Class A Wizard

December 7th, 2012
8:32 am

Lincoln County is starting 16 sophomores, 3 juniors, and 3 seniors. Their current freshmen and incoming freshmen classes are monsters. So there should be no drop off next year.

bucket

December 7th, 2012
9:33 am

Thanks STC for all of your hard work this year on the Class A blog. Here’s hoping Prince gets to stay engaged for the final week, but Prince will have their work cut out for them with an experienced and talented Landmark team coming to Bogart tonight. Alot of credit should be given to the Prince administration and coaching staff for doing the right thing at the beginning of the season and the team leaders should be commended for keeping everyone together even though the path back to the Final 4 was a lot harder than it had to be. Brad Aikens Field will be rocking tonight with the new drumline and the Wolverines should be ready for a great battle with Landmark!

bucket

December 7th, 2012
9:59 am

An all region 5 and region 8 match-up on the private side! Will one region be dominate or do we get a split decision?

bucket

December 7th, 2012
10:02 am

oops! A little confusion there! Will one region dominate or be dominant?

S. Thomas Coleman

December 7th, 2012
11:52 am

@bucket: Thanks for the love! It’s fitting that it would be an all region 5 and 8 semi final, as those were the two strongest leagues by far on the private side (Region 8 had Commerce, but the rest are private schools). Let us know your thoughts on Saturday morning.

Thanks for reading and posting.

S. Thomas Coleman

moto

December 7th, 2012
1:36 pm

@STC — You make a good point about the importance of the great high school coaches in Georgia. I noticed in reading Georgia HS Football Daily that the majority of semifinal coaches played their college ball at schools like West Georgia or similar smaller schools in the region, then either stayed or returned home to carry on the tradition of great Georgia high school football. It’s great to see it passed from one generation to the next.

moto

December 7th, 2012
1:43 pm

@Swamp Lizard — I have heard an awful lot about ELCA’s junior class and how they have been together for many years. I don’t necessarily look forward to playing them next year. But you never know how high school football will turn out. I think most of the Class A private schools have gotten much better in the last couple of years. Of course most of us started out pretty poorly as small startups!! LOL Those early games against Buford under the 50% enrollment penalty rule were brutal.

nourstuff

December 7th, 2012
1:54 pm

Given the circumstances mentioned and the performance of the team to this point, no coach is more deserving of accolades this year than Coach Mark Farriba. No one has done more with less than has PACS this year in single A football.

S. Thomas Coleman

December 7th, 2012
4:46 pm

@moto: I’d put the overall quality of coaching in Georgia right up there with any other state in the nation, and love the passion that people have for high school football in this state!

Thanks for reading and posting.

S. Thomas Coleman

S. Thomas Coleman

December 7th, 2012
5:04 pm

@nourstuff: You might be correct. I’m not sure how Region 8 decides Coach of the Year, but it might go to Coach Gunn for going undefeated in the regular season. And the AP usually goes with the coach who wins state, which Coach Farriba still has a shot at doing.

Thanks for reading and posting!

S. Thomas Coleman

Prince Proud

December 8th, 2012
3:21 am

Mark Farriba is true class act. It has been an honor for my son to be a part of his team for the past four years. Coach Farriba has been a tremendous role model for not only our boys but anyone who knows what he has overcome this year. The example he has set in the hearts and minds of the players he ministers to each day will definitely make a difference to each of them for the rest of their lives. Coach Farriba has a passion for winning but his passion for “doing what is right” is the memory my family and I will cheerish the most. Proud to be a Wolverine.