50-in-50: Prince Avenue Christian

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.

21 comments Add your comment

Catdoc

April 26th, 2013
3:51 pm

Win it all Jeff.

rdawg

April 26th, 2013
4:15 pm

Christian Payne was also First Team ALL-STATE by the Georgia Sports Writers Association.

S. Thomas Coleman

April 26th, 2013
9:47 pm

@rdawg: Thanks for the info, and thanks for reading and posting.

STC

LoveFridayFootball

April 26th, 2013
11:22 pm

STC… Where is the list of who will be on the 50 n 50? Looking for ELCA…

S. Thomas Coleman

April 27th, 2013
8:24 am

@Love: Previous 50-in-50 features may be found on the front of the high school page, at the bottom of the 50-in-50 box.

But the list of FUTURE features is kept locked in a vault, buried below the statue of the late great AJC publisher Henry Grady! Seriously, we’re not posting the list to keep you guys coming back each day. Sorry!

But fear not, ELCA is coming! In fact, I spoke briefly with Coach Gess last week. Wife and baby are doing fine. Look for ELCA’s preview in the coming days. Thanks for reading and posting,

STC

Region8 Fan

April 27th, 2013
10:40 pm

Still do not understand why Athens Academy is not being covered…. good article regardless. Go region 8!

Well Dang

April 28th, 2013
12:29 am

Seriously? You took the time to write about Prince Ave Christian? Wow! I guess the name Jeff Herron is worth something. This little itsy bitsy private school team lost pretty much everybody that was anybody off a team that finished 3rd in their region last year. Thanks to a screwed up Class A playoff situation they were an artificial Dome team. BUT….they have ZERO back on this coming team and with or without Herron will be a non factor.

Well Dang

April 28th, 2013
12:35 am

Look, the more I think about what this story says…the more I laugh out loud. Herron thinks Prince has 60 plus kids in the program? Really? Do they have 60 boys in the high school? And…he is going to open up the QB position between HIS SON and the returning starter who QB’s the team to the Dome? LOL…seriously…wow.

S. Thomas Coleman

April 28th, 2013
12:59 am

@Well Dang: I think you’re being a bit hard on PAC and Coach Herron.

First, Christian Payne returns and he’s one of the best players in the state, regardless of classification. Second, I think if any coach has earned the right to not be second guessed on his personnel decisions it’s Coach Herron. Last time I checked, I think he’s won a game or two.

Thanks for reading and posting.

Well Dang

April 28th, 2013
12:54 pm

STC….I respect your opinion, but I also have my own. I live in the Athens area. I’ve read about everything written on Athens area teams over the past many years. PAC had a kid 2 years ago that was their undisputed MVP. He was the region 8A player of the year and 1st team all state. That said, your assessment of C Payne being one of the best players in the state regardless of class goes right out the window for me. He may be good on his team. May be good in that little region. But move him into some serious football league and …well, you know where I’m going with that. Point being, that all star PACs player I was speaking about ended up at North Oconee for his senior season….where he promptly struggled to even get on the field. In fact, 3 of PSC’s best players (maybe of all time) came to NOHS in that same deal and all were extremely decorated in 8A….all were non factors for the 8AAA NOHS. I’ve not seen a clearer measuring stick that that example. AN all star TOP PLAYER in that league is a minimal contributor in 8AAA. Herron may can judge personnel…but at PAC he has none to judge. And when he is judging between the prior starting QB and his son who wants to play QB….I’m calling BS if his son wins the job. That’s not a great coach making the right cal…everybody knows what that is.

FootballTopFan(c)

April 28th, 2013
3:49 pm

FootballTopFan(c) would like to congratulate the Prince Avenue Christian Wolverines on their great 2012 season as the runner-up in the Class A private school championship game !!!

Former coach Mark Farriba did a terrific job with a 24-4 record over the past two seasons going to the state semi-finals and finals.

Football Top Fan wish new Head Coach Jeff Herron and staff the best of luck and success.

S. Thomas Coleman

April 28th, 2013
7:07 pm

@Well Dang: I’ll respect your opinion because you live in the Athens community. But here’s the thing: Christian Payne won’t be playing in Region 8AAA, he’ll be competing in Region 8A for PAC. I’ll let the college recruiters debate how good a player he is when you match him up with players from larger classes.

But this I do know: He makes plays for PAC. Jeff Herron can coach his butt off at any level. And as far as his son is concerned, he made it clear that Zach Graham is the starter. He will also be needed on defense (he played defensive back last season, too) and so Tyson Herron needs to be ready to play, even if it is to give Zach a break or to let him clear his head after a big hit.

STC

Reg5aaaaaguy

April 28th, 2013
7:43 pm

When does east paulding get reviewed?
Perennial top ten program last seven years
Region champ last year undefeated til Stephenson whooped us good

Well Dang

April 28th, 2013
8:29 pm

STC, I am not knocking the Payne kid at all. I’m just saying that when you said “he is one of the top players in the state regardless of classification” that that was crazy talk. I followed the story last season of perhaps the top player in PAC history as he played his senior season at North Oconee. If you asked most NOHS folks today I’d bet most couldn’t tell you he played on the team. It would pretty much be the same way for this kid. He will be great for Prince Ave. Just don’t say anything that makes me lose faith in your judgment.

S. Thomas Coleman

April 28th, 2013
10:18 pm

@Reg5: Fear not, the Raiders will make an appearance in the 50-in-50 in the coming weeks. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading and posting.

STC

S. Thomas Coleman

April 28th, 2013
10:23 pm

@Well Dang: We’ll just agree to disagree, somewhat. Either way, this season should be fun … just like any other year in Georgia high school football.

STC

Coffeec100

April 29th, 2013
7:11 am

@STC – I enjoy your banter with the posters. Keep it up.

S. Thomas Coleman

April 29th, 2013
8:16 am

@Coffeec100: I enjoy it too! Thanks for reading and posting!

STC

Thats not what she said

April 29th, 2013
9:27 am

What about Alpharetta, up and coming team, great prospects.

S. Thomas Coleman

April 29th, 2013
12:59 pm

@That’s not: Sorry, but the A-Raiders didn’t make the 50-in-50 cut this year. Thanks for reading and posting.

STC

A Town Fan

April 29th, 2013
3:03 pm

People asking if their team is going to be featured in upcoming 50-in-50 stories crack me up. On a related note, it is hard for me to believe Prince Ave would make the list at all. If your were going to cover an Athens Area team it would be logical to expect North Oconee on the list. Talk about an up and coming program! Several big time college prospects lead this now yearly top 10 AAA team.