By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Corey Jarvis is used to stepping into tough coaching situations and being successful.
In 2005 he took over at M.L. King, filling the shoes of Ken Barrow, who captained one of the most successful starts to a football program in state history by leading the Lions to a record of 25-12 in their first three seasons. Jarvis went 49-11 in five seasons with playoff appearances in all five.
Then Jarvis moved on to Duluth, where the team had gone an abysmal 6-54 in the six seasons prior to his arrival. Though the Wildcats didn’t make the playoffs or finish with a .500 record, Jarvis led them to twice as many wins (12) in just three seasons as they had achieved in the previous six.
Now Jarvis will take on another challenge at Mays, a program known for never quite getting as much success out of its talent as it should. The Raiders have made the playoffs in seven of the last 10 years but have advanced past the first round just three times in that span.
“I have a lot of respect for what coach [Dominic] Callaway did,” Jarvis said of his predecessor, who went 35-18 in five seasons with three trips to the post season, competing in one of the state’s toughest regions – 6AAAAA. “But a lot of people feel like the program has underachieved over the years. I think that’s the biggest thing that’s out there as far as Mays is concerned.”
Jarvis plans to change that, but he knows it won’t be easy. He has plenty of upgrades in store for the program, on the field, in the weight room and in the school’s hallways.
“The first thing we’re working on is getting stronger. You would think we would be a lot stronger than we are with all the athletes we have,” Jarvis said. “And the next thing is the discipline piece. We’re not letting them get away with some of the things they’ve been used to getting away with, and that goes for in school, too.”
So far the buy-in has been there. Jarvis said the program’s numbers have dwindled a bit, coinciding with a slight decline in overall enrollment. But he’s seeing more players come in each day and has about 70 on the roster now, with an incoming ninth grade class of more than 25.
“We’ve had a couple of players, and parents, who’ve had some complaints, but for the most part everyone has been receptive,” Jarvis said of the heightened discipline and attention to detail he and his staff are instilling at the southwest Atlanta school. “Our numbers are getting back to where they need to be.”
On the field, Jarvis will go with what has been successful for him in the past – a 4-3 defense and a commitment to running the football, after having to go with more spread concepts on offense at Duluth.
“We just didn’t have the backs or the line to be able to consistently run the ball,” Jarvis said. “But here I think it’s something we will be able to get back to.”
That will start with a stout offensive line, led by sophomore Dallas Womack, the younger brother of Alabama All-American – and former Westlake High School star – Chance Womack, who many believe will be one of the first to have his name called in the upcoming NFL Draft. The younger Womack will team with juniors Cameron Brittain and Mason Sims up front, while the Tyler brothers – Roderick, a junior, and Kessley, a sophomore – who transferred from Washington High School, look to be the primary ball carriers.
Meanwhile, three sophomores are vying for the quarterback spot – Ayiende Russell, Cornelius Griffin, and Silas Bailey, who reportedly can throw the ball effectively with either hand.
Defensively, linebacker Shiheim Rutherford will lead the charge, with help from safety Henry Witherspoon and cornerback Jerome Smith.
The new Raiders will get tested early and often as they open with city rival Carver, which went 9-2 last season, before embarking on the gauntlet that is Region 6AAAAA, which includes Southwest Dekalb, Stephenson, Tucker, Miller Grove and Jarvis’ former employer, M.L. King.
“When I took the job, people told me I was leaving the SEC of AAAAAA and going to the SEC of AAAAA,” Jarvis said, referring to Region 7-AAAAAA, which includes state-champion Norcross, North Gwinnett, Mill Creek and Collins Hill. “But I think, eventually, our kids will be able to match up with anybody we play.”
2012 record: 5-5 (5-4 in Region 6AAAAA; failed to make the playoffs)
Starters returning: 4 on offense, 4 on defense
Key players lost: LB Michael Cheeks, RB Eric Farley, LB Gemini Jackson, QB Tre Jones, S Khalil Osborne, WR D’Angelo Yancy and C Kevin Reid
Key players returning: DT Brandon Bradley, OL Cameron Brittain, WR Tyshawn Brown, DE/OL Natrez Patrick, LB Shiheim Rutherford, OL Mason Sims, CB Jerome Smith, S Henry Witherspoon, OL Dallas Womack
Spring practice dates: May 6-17
Aug. 31 vs. Carver, Atlanta (Lakewood)
Sept. 6 at Miller Grove (Hallford)
Sept. 13 vs. M.L. King (Lakewood)
Sept. 20 at Southwest DeKalb (Hallford)
Sept. 27 at North Atlanta (Lakewood)
Oct. 11 vs. Arabia Mountain (Lakewood)
Oct. 18 at Dunwoody (Adams)
Oct. 25 vs. Lakewood, DeKalb (Lakewood)
Nov. 1 at Stephenson (Hallford)
Nov. 8 vs. Tucker (Hallford)
Outlook: Mays loses a significant amount of talent to graduation, including D’Angelo Yancy, arguably the state’s best receiver, who is heading to Purdue, and the quarterback position is a question mark. But if the returning players – and parents – buy into Jarvis’ program, which means dedication to discipline and the weight room, the Raiders have enough talent to surprise and steal one of the four playoff spots in Region 6AAAAA.