By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
One of the most talked about moves this off season on high school sports blogs and message boards wasn’t about a player.
Jeff Herron decided to call it quits at Class AAAAAA power Camden County, and moved north to take over at Class A Prince Avenue Christian in Bogart, just outside of Athens. Herron is one of the most successful coaches in Georgia, with a career winning percentage of .843 and four state championships to his credit – one in Class AAA at Oconee County (1999) and three in Class AAAAA at Camden (2003, 2008, 2009), where he also won a region title in 12 out of the 13 years he was there.
But probably the most impressive statistic is the fact that in 23 years as a head coach, Herron has never won less than six games in a season. The only time a Herron-coached team missed the state playoffs was Cedar Shoals in 1992 (6-4) and Wheeler in 1996 (7-3).
When it was announced in February that Herron would be leaving Camden to take over at Prince Avenue for Mark Farriba, who left to return to his hometown of Macon to coach Stratford Academy, the scuttlebutt among high school football fans was that Herron was being paid a king’s ransom by the private school.
“I wish that was true, I really do,” Herron said, chuckling, earlier this week on just his fourth day on the job at Prince Avenue. “Truthfully, the move had nothing to do with money or with anything that went on at Camden. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there and I’m proud of what we accomplished.”
Herron said the fact that he was eligible to retire as a state employee, coupled with the fact that his daughter Brittany – who lives in the Athens area – recently gave birth to the first grandchild for him and his wife Inka, was what prompted the move. In fact, once the job came open at Prince Avenue, it was Herron who reached out first.
“Being able to retire presented some different options for me and my family,” Herron said. “And I was looking for another challenge, something different. The 13 years at Camden were great. [Prince Avenue] is in a great location, it’s a small school in a Christian atmosphere, it’s just a great fit for me. I’m excited and the kids are, too.”
The returning players at Prince Avenue have shown their enthusiasm by showing up for 5:45 a.m. workouts during the week before school. The team and the community still have high expectations for the Wolverines, who are 24-4 over the past two seasons with a trip to the Class A semi-finals in 2011 and an appearance in the 2012 Class A Private School finals, where they were defeated by Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (33-0).
“They’ve done a great job here, and it’s like anyplace else. People want you to treat their kids right and they want to win,” Herron said of the Prince Avenue community. “So there are expectations here to continue the success they’ve had, but I like that pressure. High expectations make me work harder. They always have.”
Herron knows he will have to do it with exponentially fewer numbers than he had at Camden.
“Here we have about 60 or so kids in the program, maybe more than 70 when you add the eighth graders,” Herron said. “At Camden we could have 60 seniors in the program.”
Herron said he is bringing his signature wing-T offense with him, which is not too different from what Prince Avenue had been running anyway. Also, legendary defensive coordinator Richard Bell returns to the staff.
“One of the first things I asked when I inquired about the job was does Coach Bell want the [head coaching] job,” Herron said. “If he did, then I thought he should have it. But when he said he didn’t, I told him that I wanted him to stay [as defensive coordinator]. I can tell you that I’m not sure I would have taken the job if he didn’t stay.”
Herron and Bell will be leading a team that will return just three starters on each side of the ball. But two starters who were injured early in the season, RB/DB Max Morgan and OL/DL Robert Kraeling, are fully recovered and ready to contribute.
All-region linebacker Christian Payne returns to anchor the defense, while quarterback Zach Graham will try to fend off a challenge from Herron’s son, Tyson, a sophomore.
“It will be an open competition,” Herron said. “Zach is a heck of a player and he’s the guy right now. Tyson will have to come in and work hard, and see if he can earn some playing time.”
PRINCE AVENUE CHRISTIAN WOLVERINES
2012 record: 11-3, 4-2; lost to Eagles Landing Christian Academy (33-0) in Class A Private School Championship
Starters returning: 3 offense; 3 defense
Key players lost: OL/DL Tyler Parrish, OL/DL Sam Kinnon, DB/RB Carl Mattox, RB/DB Bryce Huff.
Key players returning: LB/TE Christian Payne, OLB/OL James Wagner, RB/S Max Morgan, OL/DL Alex Stier; OL/DL Robert Kraeling, QB/DB Zach Graham
Spring practice dates: May 1-16; Spring game on May 16
Schedule: August 17 at King’s Ridge (Scrimmage), August 23 vs. St. Francis, Aug. 30 vs. Hapeville Charter, Sept. 6 at Savannah Christian, Sept. 20 at Glascock County, Sept. 27 vs. Athens Christian, Oct. 4 at Athens Academy, Oct. 11 at Commerce, Oct. 18 at Hebron Christian, Nov. 1 vs. Pinecrest Academy, Nov. 8 vs. George Walton
Outlook: Prince Avenue graduated a lot of talent with most of those players going both ways. But a solid core group returns. With Herron and Bell coaching them up, Prince Avenue should continue its winning ways and be among the Top 16 in the Private School Power rankings at season’s end.