There are no quick fixes or shortcuts in Brian Barnhill’s plan to rebuild the Columbus Blue Devils into a championship level football program.
The first-year coach plans to build the program on a foundation of toughness, strength and conditioning. In perhaps the toughest Class AAA region in Georgia, it will take nothing less.
“We’ve focused on the intangibles — blocking, tackling, fundamentals — trying to get better, just taking baby steps,” Barnhill said. “We hope to be better at the end of the year than we are right now. We’re going to take it game-by-game and week-by-week.”
Barnhill took over as coach earlier this year after Paul Cates left to become head coach at Northside. He has 75 players on the 2008 Blue Devil football team, dominated by underclassmen with no more than eight seniors on the entire squad.
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“We’re a very, very young foot ball team — very young,” Barnhill said, “but I don’t mind that. This is my first year as football coach and these young boys are going to grow up. These freshmen and sophomores are going to be juniors and seniors in a couple of years. I’ve got them in the system now and I want them to grow up under my system running the split-back veer triple option, playing hardnosed aggressive defense and being good on special teams.”
Junior Greg Bingham, the quarterback on last year’s Blue Devil team that finished 3-7 overall and in 2-AAA, said the team plans to turn the hard work into positive results this season. “Coach Barnhill has been working us hard and that’s been rewarding,” he said. “We just have to hit people in the mouth, play hard, full speed and be aggressive and hopefully good things will happen.”
Bingham said the splitback veer offense is not really new for the Blue Devils, since Cates used it at Columbus the last two seasons. “ There are little variances in any offense,” he said. “But it’s still the veer.”
Seniors Cody Boyd, Carter Barrow and Ryan Thompson said the hard work in the weight room and conditioning has made the team better. “We’re stronger, faster than we were last year,” Thompson, a defensive back, said.
“He’s (Barnhill) actually pushing us farther than we thought we could go,” said Boyd, an offensive lineman. “He’s been a true motivator to us.”
Barrow, who is also an offensive lineman, said the hard work has had an additional effect other than physical. “It’s brought the team together. We’re a lot closer,” he said.
Playing in Region 2-AAA, the Blue Devils will need the toughness and conditioning to be competitive with defending AAA champion Carver, perennial powers Shaw and LaGrange, plus Kendrick and Troup.
“Columbus hasn’t made the state playoffs since 1994. That’s one of my main goals — I want them to experience the state playoffs,” Barnhill said. “If I’d said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times — if you fall into the right bracket, who knows what can happen. But first we have to win.”