Downs, Love among coaches making big impact in first seasons

There were 91 offseason head football coaching hires among GHSA schools.

Here are 10 that have paid quick dividends:

Olten Downs, Creekside: Creekside hasn’t had a losing season since 1995, but the Seminoles also haven’t won a playoff game or gone 10-0 in a regular season since 2006. Enter Olten Downs, formerly head coach at Riverdale, where he took the Raiders to their first playoff appearance in seven years last year. Now, Creekside is 9-0. Downs also has held a team and community together after the death of a popular player, De’Antre Turman, before the opener. Downs was a defensive coordinator at Carver of Columbus from 2006 through 2010.

Mike Forester, Mount Pisgah Christian: Mount Pisgah was 6-5 last season under Doug Dixon, who took a coaching job in Savannah. The Raiders promoted Forester, the defensive coordinator who had worked 19 seasons at Briarwood Christian, a Birmingham school that won three state titles. Under Forester, Mount Pisgah is 8-0, a school record for victories in a season, and is ranked in the Top 10 for the first time since the Alpharetta school joined the GHSA in 2006.

James Holloway, Towers: Holloway had been the head coach of Bethune Middle School, which was undefeated the last three of his seven seasons. It took a month before he lost a game at the varsity level. Yes, the Titans since have lost five consecutive games in merciless Region 6-AAA, all by blowouts, but that doesn’t erase the 4-0 start that avenged four 2012 defeats. Towers was 0-10 in 2012. According to the Maxwell Ratings, Towers is more than 40 points per game better than in 2012 and easily the most improved team in the state.

Tommy Jones, Dacula: The new coach had been a head coach in Lumpkin County, but he really was coming home to Dacula. Jones is a Brookwood graduate who is back at Dacula after working under retired coach Kevin Maloof during the 2000 and 2001 seasons. After a 1-9 finish in 2012, Dacula is 4-4 with victories over rivals Brookwood and Grayson in 8-AAAAAA. The Falcons are favored to win their final two games (Central Gwinnett, Berkmar). By winning those, Dacula would finish second in the region and have a home state playoff game.

Ed Koester, South Paulding:Opened in 2006, South Paulding finished 6-4 each of the past three seasons under program-builder Tim Glanton. Koester, hired from South Cobb, is taking the next step. His Spartans are 7-1 and likely would win their first region title in 5-AAAA if Allatoona beats North Paulding this week. South needs to defeat Paulding County (2-7) and Lithina Springs (0-8) to finish 9-1. Under Koester, South Cobb won its first state playoff game in history in 2011. Koester is leading South Paulding to the playoffs for the first time.

Von Lassiter, Houston County: The Bears, 3-7 last season, are 5-3 and favored to win their final two games (Jones County and Greenbrier). A 7-3 finish would be Houston County’s best in the regular season in 10 years. The Bears beat Warner Robins this season for only the third time in 16 meetings. Lassiter has been an assistant at several stops around middle Georgia, including Northside of Warner Robins in 2007 when he was part of a state championship team.

James Leonard, Aquinas: The Fighting Irish were 9-4 and 8-3 the past two seasons, the best consecutive seasons in school history, but a star player (Brendan Douglas) and rising-star coach (Matt Lezotte) departed. Leonard, believed to be the youngest in the state at age 26, has the team 8-0 for the first time in history. Aquinas also ended a 32-game losing streak to Lincoln County and is ranked No. 2 in Class A. Leonard had coached 11 years as an assistant at his alma mater and is the grandson of Denny Leonard, Aquinas’ coach from 1946 to 1966.

Bryan Love, Westlake: The Lions suffered their first winless season in their 25-year history in 2012. Now, they’re 5-3 under Love, the former Shiloh defensive coordinator who had been a top assistant at Camden County and McEachern. Love was the original choice to replace Franklin Stephens at Tucker, but Love backed out over a contract issue. Westlake is almost assured of its first playoff appearance since 2009.

Leroy Ryals, Thomasville: Ryals was 60-22-1 in eight seasons at Clarke Central, which had endured a slump since the mid-1990s. Now, he’s rousing up another sleeping power at Thomasville, which finished 3-7 last season. Thomasville is 5-3 against the third-toughest schedule in Class AA. A win over Fitzgerald this week would secure the first home state playoff game for Thomasville since 2009.

Rico Zackery, Central: Central (7-2) of Carroll County has clinched its first winning season since 2005 and is one victory from its best season since 1997. A victory over Chapel Hill this week would give the Lions their first home playoff game since 2001. Zackery had been Central’s defensive coordinator after working on Rush Propst’s staff at Colquitt County.

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3 comments Add your comment


October 29th, 2013
7:13 am

What about Jermaine Smith from Cedar Grove?? He is doing an excellent job, 6-2 so far in his first year!!


October 29th, 2013
8:58 am

So proud to be a Patriot! Mike Forester is a great man doing great things at Mount Pisgah. I am honored to have my son in his presence.


October 29th, 2013
4:20 pm

Mount Pisgah Patriots, not Raiders