At Tucker, Franklin Stephens won two AAAA state championships with Tucker and had built an established power, going 64-6 in five seasons with the Tigers. But after the 2011 season and Tucker’s second title, he left for Lamar County — a small-town school in Barnesville, an hour south of Atlanta.
Lamar County has zero state championships in the program’s history, which began in 1970. Then again, Tucker had zero state championships before Stephens arrived. But why leave Tucker?
“In the DeKalb school system, we had to share from a financial perspective,” Stephens said. “Tucker was a great situation, but it was part of a larger system. There was revenue sharing – game receipts would go into the same fund and it didn’t matter how much you were bringing in. Everyone in the county got the same amount, so you never saw any financial rewards.
“Tucker won two state titles – we never got anything for that. We didn’t get new helmets or jerseys — all the extra money goes to the county and that’s been going on for a long time. Miller Grove has done a great job in basketball bringing money into the county, and no rewards are going to those schools.”
At Lamar County, that situation doesn’t exist. In fact, Lamar County is the only high school in the county. With the Trojans, Stephens and the program can reap the benefits of any success they have.
Oh, and there’s the “winning” thing too. Stephens inherited a program in the midst of turning a corner. After two 1-9 seasons, the Trojans improved with two 7-4 seasons, then a 12-1 season in 2011, when they made it to the quarterfinals. In 2012 — Stephens’ first season at Lamar County — the Trojans took another step, reaching the semifinals and finishing 12-1-1.
As for the 2013 season, the time to make a title run is now. The Trojans have three of the state’s most recognizable college defensive back prospects in brothers Lance and Lawrence Austin and Qua Searcy.
They’re gunning for a third straight Region 4-AA championship and the coveted No. 1 seed and are off to a 4-0 start.
“You realize you only have so many opportunities,” said Stephens, who has 10 seniors in starting rotation between offense and defense. “Year to year, you never know. The ball can bounce the wrong way, there could be injuries. Last year in the playoffs, we had to kick a 47-yard field goal with less than two seconds left to get out of the second round … We’d like to take advantage of this year.”
The Trojans are coming off a 40-14 win over Taylor County in their 4-AA opener, “a good win for the program,” Stephens said. Up next are region rival the Northeast (Macon Raiders), who, like the Trojans, are 4-0. Both teams were 4-0 last season when they met. Lamar County won, 36-0.
Though the Trojans are off to a strong start, a state title remains the goal. Stephens believes the best path to the Georgia Dome starts with a No. 1 seed. To get there, improvement is needed.
“Right now, we need to work on stopping the run,” Stephens said. “We’re not doing well enough against the run to be a football team that’s going to compete and make a run for the state championship.”
Adam Krohn covers all things Class AA football. Have a question or tip? Want to see more coverage of your team? Want to drop a line to compliment how awesome the Class AA beat coverage is? Send Adam a message on Twitter @AdamKrohnAJC and follow him for the latest in Class AA coverage.