I hope you had a chance to see our broadcast Friday night as Norcross took down Mill Creek. If you did, then I know you were as impressed as I was with the Blue Devils. Coach Keith Maloof is doing a great job with that program; not only because it won the state championship in the highest classification in Georgia a year ago, but also because of what he has done with his team this year.
You may remember that Norcross started the season with an interstate game with Booker T. Washington from Miami, and they lost. Of course, no team has to apologize for losing to Washington. They are in all likelihood the No. 1 team in the country. However, it was not just that they lost the game, the Blue Devils got pounded. The final score was 55-0. When you have as much swagger as the Norcross program has accumulated, a loss of that magnitude has the potential to change the course of a program. Critics start gaining voice, and all the sudden doubt can start to creep into a program that is used to strutting with confidence. That certainly could happen but with the Blue Devils, it didn’t. And Coach Maloof should get the credit for keeping that from occurring.
Even when Norcross lost a second game, this time to Georgia’s No. 1 team, the Bulldogs of North Gwinnett, the Devils were still able to hold onto their confidence. They stayed true to themselves. The faith they continued to show in each other, even in the face of adversity was on display in their stadium on Friday night as they took care of a tough region opponent in Mill Creek. And now, after last week’s win, they are back in the position to which they have become accustomed: competing for a state championship.
How did Maloof do it? How did he keep his team together when some would have fallen apart? He did it by calling out a villain in the locker room. He made a scapegoat out of a culprit that has become an all-too-familiar enemy for the modern coach. In short, he blamed social media. He told his players to ignore Twitter and to disregard Facebook. He predicted that the same voices that had told his guys they were the greatest of all-time a few months ago would now be telling them they were overrated. He got his players to realize that the only opinions that mattered were the ones of those in the locker room. Even though it is an overused cliché, he got his team to circle the wagons. So that is how they played, as a unit truly unified. Now, all of Georgia is on notice.
Speaking of Georgia, I was thinking about the local football scene while we were in Gwinnett County this past Friday night. It is amazing how much the landscape of high school football has changed in that state in just a few years. As recently as two decades ago, the quality of play in the Atlanta area simply was not good. As a matter of fact when Dunwoody won the state championship in 1993, it was major news. For the most part, it just did not seem possible that a metro-area team could beat the better teams in South Georgia. Now, that is commonplace. Atlanta teams dominate the top 10 rankings in almost every classification. How did that change so quickly?
I don’t know if there is one simple answer to that question. Several factors come to mind. First of all, the populations of all the major counties around Atlanta have continued to skyrocket over the last 20 years. Every coach will tell you, it is just easier to field a good team at a big school. Conversely, because of an unfortunate economic downturn, the populations of the South Georgia schools continue to shrink as families look elsewhere for work. Also, the transfer rules have been somewhat relaxed in recent years, and this makes it easier for players to congregate together on a few “super teams” as opposed to floundering in programs spread across the map.
That said the simplest reason to explain the rise of the Atlanta-area programs might be the coaches. There is no city in America that can boast a better collection of high-caliber coaches. The reason for this is that Georgia pays teachers a much higher salary than almost any other southern state. And lest we forget, these coaches are technically teachers. Their base compensation is centered on a regular teacher’s salary. So at the very least, an Atlanta-area high school coach makes about $20,000 more than his counterparts in other states even before you add in bonus structure. That is enough of a difference to make all of the region’s big names line up to apply anytime a job at an Atlanta-area school becomes available. It is those coaches coming into the area that continue to make the area so competitive.
In two weeks, we will be back in Atlanta again for our CSS broadcast of Stephenson and Tucker. This Friday, we have a great game from the state of Alabama as Carver-Montgomery hosts Auburn High School. We’ll see you then! And don’t forget to check out our digital platform and participate in the social media conversation using #HSFBTALK.