David Mitchell commentary: Downs trending up

dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.comJanuary 8, 2014 

Were you watching the high school football state championships? Did you see Creekside bulldoze Tucker, a team that had just held one of the state’s top offenses to 14 points in the Class AAAAA semifinals, 52-28?

If you weren’t, you missed out on the rise of a former local star to one of the hottest young coaches in the entire state.

At just 29 years old, Olten Downs, who won state championships as a player (Shaw High, 2000) and an assistant (Carver High, 2007), added his first as a head coach to the list of accolades. In three years, he has gone from a lesser-known defensive coordinator at Carver to a bona fide star among the head coaching rankings.

Consider his accomplishments during that time:

In 2011, he took over Riverdale, a team that hadn’t seen the playoffs in five seasons and was coming off back-to-back two-win campaigns. In his first year at the helm, he led the team to four wins. In his second, it won seven and earned a berth in the Class AAAA playoffs.

That success earned him the job at Creekside, alma mater of NFL star Eric Berry, but a school that hadn’t earned double-digit wins since 2006 and had never played in a state championship game. Creekside’s win totals over the six seasons preceding Downs’ hire: 7, 7, 6, 8, 5, 7.

All Downs did was coach them to a 15-0 record and their first state title in school history.

All this before his 30th birthday.

I spoke with downs on Tuesday about his accomplishments at Riverdale and Creekside over the past three seasons. He gave all the right answers about the schools and the players that he was called upon to coach:

“The talent was there, and I knew a state championship program could be cultivated with the right coaches and the right mindset,” he said of Creekside. “We just needed the right coaches to come instill some discipline and structure. Those guys knew we were going to hold them to the highest standard.”

He’s right, of course. Berry’s brothers, Evan and Elliott, were seniors on this year’s team. The family obviously possesses supreme athletic ability. But to be able to earn the trust of an entire team and get it to buy into your philosophy, your structure and respond to your discipline takes a special individual, especially if that individual is hardly a decade older than his players.

A lot of that ability comes from the coaches he has played and coached under. Dell McGee and Charles Flowers are understandably regarded as two of the finest in recent memory, not just in the area but across the state. Downs attributed most of the knowledge he’s gained as a coach to his time at Carver with McGee.

“When I started at Carver, I was just a young guy,” he said. “I was 22, and I was full of ideas. Dell really instilled in me how to become a great coach. He taught me how to be a head coach. Everything he did, I was there for and he was showing me how and why he was doing it. He really mentored me to be where I am today.”

Where he is is a place few coaches get to be. Where he’s headed, the company could be even more elite.

David Mitchell, dmitchell@ledger-enquirer.com; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ledgerenquirersports.

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