CUSSETA, Ga. -- A new coach has ushered in a new attitude at Chattahoochee County, marking a change athletes said they desperately needed after missing the playoffs for the first time in the school’s short history,
“The attitude has picked up tremendously over the last week,” senior quarterback and defensive back Marquis Thornton said at practice Monday. “We are trying to do better than we did last year, and I think we have the tools to do that.”
Chattahoochee County went 4-6 last year in Shaun Pope’s only season with the team, marking the lowest win total in the team’s six-season varsity history, and the Panthers averaged a team-low 20 points per game as it finished seventh out of 10 teams in Region 4-A.
Chattahoochee County had gone 28-16 in its first four seasons with a varsity team, all under Josh Kemp. He stepped down from the head coaching position at the end of the 2009 season to pursue his education, spent the fall of 2010 as Carver’s offensive coordinator and now holds the same position at Schley County.
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In hopes of climbing back into the playoffs quickly, Chattahoochee County hired a proven state-title contender in Russell Morgan.
Morgan spent 21 years at Washington-Wilkes in northeast Georgia, with six of those seasons as head coach. While there, he was a part of four teams to reach a Georgia High School Association championship game, including once as head coach in 2005, but holds the dubious distinction of going 0-4 in title games. He spent the previous two seasons as an assistant at Greene County in Greensboro, Ga.
Morgan said he was enticed to Chattahoochee County by its proximity to his parents and his hometown of Lafayette, Ala., but also because he believes the team has all the key components to be successful.
“It’s only the school’s seventh year playing football, so there isn’t a ton of tradition to build on,” Morgan said. “But we are building that as we go, and I think this school has a lot of talent here already. The main issue will just be building up character. If we can get that accomplished, the rest will fall in place for us.”
Morgan also came with an experienced staff that has installed changes on both sides of the ball. Defensive coordinator Ed Lovvorn has 24 years of coaching experience, and offensive line coach Isaiah Taulbee, who has coached at several high schools and small colleges. Morgan said he is relying on their experience as well as his own to develop trust with the athletes.
“The biggest thing is getting the kids to buy into what we are doing and building up those relationships between the coaches and players,” Morgan said. “But that takes time to build up that trust factor. I think we are making progress.”
The quick transition from Kemp to Pope to Morgan has been difficult to adjust to, several players said, but the team has been mostly impressed with Morgan since he first spent time with the team in the spring.
“It’s a good thing to have a coach, but it’s not a good thing to have new coaches and then new coaches again,” Thornton said. “But I think these coaches will be here for a while, so we are trying to get used to them and get to know them.”
The coaches’ positivity has trickled down to the athletes, whose numbers still are growing as new military transfers pour into the area, and the team already has markedly changed, senior fullback and defensive end Eric Zeigler said.
“Everyone is acting different because they want to do better than we did last year,” Zeigler said. “They want to succeed more, and everybody just wants to play football again.”
Chris White, 706-571-8571; follow Chris online at twitter.com/le_chriswhite and at facebook.com/lechriswhite.