50-in-50: Camden County

It’s been a while in Georgia since a head football coach of the stature of Jeff Herron left a program after a long tenure and while still on top of his game.

New Camden County coach Welton Coffey is calling how he  and many others see it.

‘’I’m following a legend,’’ Coffey said of Herron, who is leaving Kingsland after winning three state titles and compiling a 154-18 record over 18 seasons. “There’s a legacy that’s been put forth. I’m not here to fill anyone’s shoes. I’m just here to help this program continue the success and hopefully we can catapult it to the next level.’’

About the only level that Camden hasn’t attained this century is an exemption from third-round exits from the playoffs. Camden has lost in the quarterfinals the past two seasons. Pretty good for most programs, a source of mild anxiety in Camden.

But it’s hard to complain. Long criticized for playing in the weakest region in Georgia’s highest class, Camden County moved to famous Region 1 last season and won it, a final hurrah for Herron, who is retiring from the public schools and will be head coach of Prince Avenue Christian in Athens.

Coffey, the offensive coordinator, was promoted last month and will get a look as his new team on the field for the first time Wednesday, when the Wildcats begin spring practice.

A native of nearby Jacksonville, Coffey has coached at Camden since 2006 and was part of state championship teams in 2008 and 2009. Coffey had been head coach of his alma mater, Raines of Jacksonville, and led that school to a Class 4A championship in Florida in his first season there, 1997. Coffey came to Georgia in 2003 to be the offensive coordinator at Valdosta under Rick Darlington.

Coffey almost didn’t get the Camden job simply because he didn’t initially apply for it.

‘’I’m very much based in my faith,’’ Coffey said. “The first time the job presented itself, I was waiting on confirmation [through prayer] that this was something that I needed to do. I’m very active outside of football in mentorship programs and with my church. I thought maybe my duties were being guided in a different direction. After some weeks, there was some dialogue I had with people [close to the football program], and they asked about me applying for the job. After some soul searching, I had a talk with my wife and decided to put my hat in.’’

Coffey wanted to make clear that he did not take the job with any reluctance.

‘’Fire is not ever a question with me,’’ Coffey said. “That’s not the deal. I want to do right by this community ad these kids and want to be obedient to the role of what Jesus Christ wants me to do. We forget that it’s high school football and these are children playing it. We have to understand why we’re doing this, what is our purpose. Football is a vehicle to teach character. We’ve modeling good behavior. That’s no different than what Coach Herron has done before.’’

His first order of business has been rebuilding the staff.  Jason Tone, the running backs coach, took the head coaching job at Worth County. Adam Carter, a co-defensive coordinator, was announced as Bradwell Institute’s coach last week. Chris Reese, an offensive line coach, is joining Carter at Bradwell.

Offensive line coach Zach Slattery and defensive backs coach Major Herron (Jeff’s son) are going with Herron to Prince Avenue Christian.

Coffey has given his old job of offensive coordinator to Greg Slattery, a long-time Camden assistant who left for a time to be head coach at South Forsyth. Byron Slack, who will be in his eighth season at Camden, will be the defensive coordinator.

Four other positions need to be filled. Coffey wouldn’t comment on those, as none has been approved officially by the school board.

As for the team he’s inheriting, when has Camden not been good? Never in the Herron era. So expect a pretty good product that takes the same state-title-or-bust approach.

Five starters return on both sides of the ball. The biggest names that have moved on are quarterback Brice Ramsey and halfback/cornerback J.J. Green, both enrolled at Georgia.

The new quarterback is to be decided. Ramsey (75-of-137 passing, 1,396 yards, 19 touchdowns) was the only Camden player to throw a pass in 2012.  Dalton Sikes, the backup last season, returns and perhaps leads a group of three or four battling for that spot.

Since Camden passes only about 10-12 times per game, Coffey sounded more concerned about replacing Ramsey’s special teams skills. He was the region’s top kicker and punter.

Green was a weapon on offense, but there’s no shortage of Green-type players (halfback/cornerback types) still on Camden’s campus. Kalvaraz Bessent and Chris Williams, both committed to Alabama, and Antonio Wimbush are the same kind of two-way players that can be outstanding as ball carriers and defenders.

Bessent rushed for 481 yards, scored nine touchdowns and intercepted six passes.  Williams rushed for 443 yards and scored seven touchdowns. Wimush, a rising junior, rushed for 488 yard and scored 11 touchdowns, three against Hillgove in the state playoffs.

The offensive line returns only two starters, so that will be a spring project.

On defense, the secondary is loaded, and the defensive line is experienced. Rising senior A.J. Johnson led the team in sacks with six. The major issue is at linebacker. The top four at that position graduated, including all-state player Jarrad Davis to Florida.

Coffey says that replacing several key starters is business as usual at Camden. Replacing several key coaches is something new.

‘’Outside of replacing coaches, the transition has been fairly smooth,’’ Coffey said. “The kids have responded well to this. The assistant coaches have done an outstanding job since Coach Herron announced he was going to leave. They kept going in the weight room, and the kids haven’t missed a beat. That’s testament to Coach Herron’s legacy.’’

Camden County Wildcats

2012 record: 11-2, lost to Norcross 34-20 in the Class AAAAAA quarterfinals.
Starters returning: 5 offense, 5 defense

Key players lost: HB/CB J.J. Green (Georgia), QB Brice Ramsey (Georgia), LB Jarrad Davis (Florida), OL J.P. Vonashek (South Carolina), LB Rafael Hardee (Georgia Southern), OL Tyler Davis , DL Conner Lockhart, FS Grant Gabriel (West Georgia), WR Christian Middelton, LB Kashaun Hutchinson.
Key players returning: HB/CB Kalvaraz Bessent (committed to Alabama), DB/HB Chris Williams (committed to Alabama); OLB/RB Antonio Wimbush, OL Trayvon Williams, DL A.J. Johnson, DL Chris Bahr

Spring practice dates: May 1-17

Schedule:

Aug. 16 – Milton (scrimmage)

Aug. 24 – vs. North Gwinnett (Georgia Dome)

Aug. 30 – Baker County, Fla.

Sept. 6 – Johnson-Savannah

Sept. 13 – Beach

Sept. 27 – Valdosta

Oct. 4 – at Coffee

Oct. 11 – at Tift County

Oct. 25 – at Brunswick

Nov. 1 – Lowndes

Nov. 8 – Colquitt County

Outlook: New coach Welton Coffey sounds confident that the transition to a new head coach will go well. One advantage in defending the Region 1-AAAAAA title is the schedule. Camden plays top rivals Valdosta, Lowndes and Colquitt County at home this season. Camden is hoping to get past the third round for the first time since the 2009 state title. ‘’The goals will continue to be the same as they’ve always been,’’ Coffey said. “We’re not afraid to talk about winning state championships here.’’

24 comments Add your comment

Dawg G

April 29th, 2013
8:40 am

Congrats to Coach Herron! To be able to go out on top is every coaches dream. To be able to retire from the state and take private job that pays well is a cherry on top! And then to be able to go to a place where he can coach his son at QB and make memories together, it’s almost to good to be true. What an incredible position to be in.

Trojan56

April 29th, 2013
10:46 am

If this series is about the 50 best football programs in the state, Carrollton better be coming soon.

sportsnut

April 29th, 2013
11:18 am

Sounds like Camden will be trying to make it work with a new cast of coach’s that don’t know the players, other than the HC. I hope this does not cause a problem with the continuity of the team. Being accustomed to doing things one way for so long and then having to change to what a new coach wants could spell problems. The talent level will not change but the instruction will. Hope it works..

Camden 79

April 29th, 2013
12:58 pm

Hey Sportnut read the article again, all the coaches on staff have been there for a while now, there will be only four new coaches, if they fill those positions, believe me CAMDEN WILL CONTINUE TO BE A DOMINANT FORCE IN REGION 1 AND IN THE STATE……

Camden74

April 29th, 2013
1:58 pm

Release the CATS! :-D

Dekalb Co Guy

April 29th, 2013
2:16 pm

@Trojan56

I dont think its necessarily about the best 50, so your beloved Trojans may or may not be covered. But if I had to bet, I would say they probably will be discussed at some point.

Sandy Creek

April 29th, 2013
2:29 pm

Hey Trojan,
If this series is about the best 50 programs in the state, get in line ’cause the Creek hadn’t been covered yet either.

sportsnut

April 29th, 2013
3:18 pm

Greetings 74 == I was merely stating the obvious. I hope all does go well. You never know what might transpire when change comes. I have no doubt they will continue to be competative. Just as always, time will tell. This is a large turn-over. They lose the O-line coach and his asst., running back coach, DB coach and four others need to be filled. That is eight by my count. That is what the article says.

sportsnut

April 29th, 2013
3:22 pm

Re-read and it is actually 9 spots according to the article.

Trojan94

April 29th, 2013
3:47 pm

Ditto for trojan56 and sandy creek!

Trojan56

April 29th, 2013
3:49 pm

@ Sandy Creek. I agree. I’m seeing teams on hear that have me scratching my head???

NE Cat

April 29th, 2013
4:34 pm

The Cats have about 20 Coaches on the sideline anyway… They could stand to loose a few, besides 3/4 of the coaches leaving did not coach on Friday Night. It will all be good, you are talking about Camden Football, always in the mix,always a top contender and for goodness sake don’t keep linking us with Prince whoever in Athens. Let Coach Herron be gone, he did what he was hired to do and was great at it. We have Coach Coffey and other staff that stayed. It really might get better !!!!

sportsnut

April 29th, 2013
5:01 pm

Sorry 79, so accustomed to 74. Sorry 74, you know I like to banter with you. Are you guy’s as ready as I am ?

Catdoc

April 29th, 2013
5:24 pm

Change is a good thing. The cats will be on top of the heap when it’s all said and done.

SportsTopFan(c)

April 29th, 2013
7:01 pm

FootballTopFan(c) congratulates the Camden County Wildcats on a very good season in 2012 under former head coach Jeff Herron !!!

The Class AAAAAA powerhouse welcomes new head coach Welton Coffee. He was the offensive coordinator last season under Herron.

The Wildcats will be a force in their tough region.

Football Top Fan wish Camden County and Coach Coffey the best of luck and success.

pioneer

April 29th, 2013
7:27 pm

Valdosta, Lowndes, Colquitt all in Kingsland. Let’s pack even the visitors’ sections!

Camden74

April 29th, 2013
9:25 pm

Sportsnut, I didn’t say anything, because sooner or later I figured you would self correct……..There will be an adjustment period, but once it’s done…..LOOK OUT! Release the CATS! :-D

GwinnettDad

April 29th, 2013
10:14 pm

August 24 at the Dome against NG. Can hardly wait. Camden has had their way with NG in the past, but that’s the past. Might be a very interesting measuring stick for the Cats with their new HC.

cat doc

April 30th, 2013
4:35 am

I got a good idea what c-high is going to with your measuring stick in the dome.

NoDistrictLinesInDekalb

April 30th, 2013
7:06 am

As a fan of high school football I have seen Camden as one of those teams that never seems to go through a rebuilding year they just reload.
The story here seems to indicate this might be the year with new coach and a lot of new starters they come close to rebuilding. Rebuilding to some would be losing 2 games, to others that would be a successful season. Expectations are high as always in Camden. It will help to have a guy take over that has been part of the program unless of course you are Commerce. (see head coach resigns). Guess we will see how they stand early in the Dome.
Wish they would bring back those spring football jamborees they were fun to watch and 8 months without high school football is just too long. Bears don’t even hibernate that long !
Good Luck and can’t wait till August !

sportsnut

April 30th, 2013
9:47 am

I hope it does work out. I would hate to see the kids suffer because of coaching methods. I also feel that this is Camden and not much will change. Talent is talent. That brings me back to what I said last season, “Sometimes kid’s win, despite their coaching, on talent alone”.

Camden 79

April 30th, 2013
2:16 pm

Not a whole alot of changes we just gonna reload and keep doing what we do as far as NORTH GWINNETT, they can’t handle our speed it ’s gonna be alot of fun this season when everyone is standing around eating crow sandwiches,believe me CAMDEN WILL BE FINE………..

sportsnut

May 1st, 2013
9:06 am

Looking foward to it.

Camden74

May 1st, 2013
10:50 am

I only have one thing to say, RELEASE THE CATS!!!! :-D