DCSS Coaches Preview Upcoming Season

Friday Night Lights: DCSS Football Season Previews
Posted on 08/25/2023
Alexander Embracing New Culture Under Neal

After narrowly missing the state playoffs last season, Alexander High School (AHS) enters the 2023 season under new leadership looking to claim one of the four coveted spots in Region 5-6A. Cody Neal enters his first season as the Cougars’ head coach after a successful stint at Grayson High School as the offensive coordinator. 

Through his first spring and summer with the Cougars, Neal said that he has been pleased with the team’s progress thus far, adding that the team has competed very well at summertime camps and in early-season practices. 

AHS Football Media Day Photo“We’re really excited about the direction of our football program, and we believe we have a very bright future ahead,” said Neal. “For our program, it’s about working hard each day, showing up, and doing the right things on and off the field. Even with the small things, we believe they carry over to the football field.”

In Region 5-6A, the Cougars will face a steep climb back into the state playoffs, as they’ll face defending state champion Langston Hughes, along with in-county foe Douglas County, who advanced to the state playoffs last season also. 

“We know there aren’t going to be any easy games in our region, and our kids know that,” said Neal. “We believe that our non-region schedule is going to prepare us for that region schedule once we get past week 3.”

To prepare, AHS will face three non-region opponents, Riverwood, Lithia Springs, and Sandy Creek, each of which was a state playoff team in 2022. The Cougars will also lean on strong leadership from seniors Ty Griffin and Randall Strickland.

Neal added that the Cougars have also placed an emphasis on relationship building among the coaching staff and players, as no coaches from last year’s team remain on staff. 

“We’re still working hard to build those relationships with the kids and have them build relationships with each other,” Neal said. “Everybody enjoys being there every day and wants to be there. Sometimes I have to kick those guys out and tell them to go home because they enjoy being there and spending time with one another.”

The Cougars open the 2023 season at home tonight versus Riverwood. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

CHHS Trending in Right Direction in Stephens' Third Season

Entering their third year under head coach Brad Stephens, Chapel Hill High School is looking to make some noise in Region 5-5A and earn a state playoff spot after missing the tournament in the past two seasons. 

“We’ve had a lot of commitment from our kids this summer, and it’s been great. Everyone who has been here has been incredibly committed,” said Stephens. “We really feel like we’re trending in the right direction, and we expect big things from our football team this year.”

To reach their goals, CHHS will have several veteran players to leanCHHS Football Media Day Photo on, as senior linebackers Alex Teal and Gregory Wardlaw will anchor the defense. Offensively, junior receiver Chryshawn Sellers and quarterback Delancy Alexander will lead a unit that Stephens says will look to throw the ball much more than in past seasons. 

With this new outlook on offense, the head coach underscored the importance of the team’s summer work in 7-on-7 and padded camps, adding that these have given the team’s quarterback and receivers more opportunities to develop timing and chemistry while also allowing the coaching staff to develop relationships with players as well. 

“With us transitioning to being more spread and throwing more, the 7-on-7 has helped us a lot. It’s really helped our quarterback with making reads, developing timing with receivers, and allowing the team to just connect with each other,” said Stephens. “The 7-on-7s we went to helped a lot, but we still went to two contact camps because we want to be physical.”

With a new look offensively, the Panthers will first tackle a difficult non-region schedule that features games against Stone Mountain, South Cobb, and a neutral site matchup with South Atlanta before stepping into region play. In the region, CHHS will face stiff competition, including cross-town rival Lithia Springs. 

“One thing that we feel has really prepared us has been competing over the summer. We went down to Georgia Tech and finished in second place out of 32 teams at their camp. That was a good stepping stone for us. At camps I always told our guys that when something bad happens, go make something great happen on the next play. That mentality helped us compete a lot and we had a lot of good things happen at camps.”

The Panthers open their season tonight at home against Stone Mountain. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Tigers Eyeing Deep Playoff Run in 2023

The Douglas County High School Tigers are no strangers to success on the field. Entering head coach Johnny White’s eighth season, the Tigers have secured several state playoff appearances, including a trip to the state playoffs last season. 

This year, the Tigers enter with an experienced group looking to accomplish two goals that haven’t been done in White’s tenure – winning the school’s first region championship since 2002 and advancing past the second round of the playoffs. 

“We think that the sky's the limit for us. We fully expect to make the playoffs this year. This team doesn’t know anything but the playoffs,” said White, “but we’ve got to work and get over that second-round hump.”DCHS Team Photo

Entering the season, White said that he and the coaching staff have tried to get rid of things that prevented them from reaching their goals in the past. For him, this included embracing a new pattern of thinking to get the most out of each day with the team this season. 

“I think it started from the top down, and I had to check myself and make sure I and the coaches were leading the right way. I just finished the book “One Truth” by John Gordon, and I’m a big proponent of every day including PTO, or positive thoughts only for me. I want no negativity in my program. We’re not going to be negative about our players, and we’re not going to allow them to be negative toward each other. I can fuss about a bad play, but I’m not fussing about a bad person.”

Along with this change in thought, White added that he believes that this team boasts the strongest senior leaders that he’s had in his time at Douglas County. Among those seniors are Sire Hardaway, a three-year starter at quarterback and Richard Freeman and Israel Boyce, both three-year starters at defensive back. Jaylin Watts, Jayden Cheeks, and Korey Jordan will also be key contributors for the Tigers this season. 

While leaning on their senior leadership, the Tigers believe that the team’s depth will be a strength this season. White said that he expects to have several players he can count on in the defense’s front seven, and he added that the team won’t shy away from using young players if they are ready for varsity action. 

To prepare for a run at a region title and a deep trip into the state playoffs, DCHS opens its season with an imposing non-region schedule that features contests against Stockbridge, Mays, and McEachern. The Tigers knocked off Stockbridge, who opened the season ranked No. 8 in Class 4A, 35-28 to open their season last Friday night. 

The Tigers continue their non-region schedule Saturday night against Mays High School at Georgia State Stadium.

Lions Looking to Extend State Streak in 2023

The Lithia Springs Lions enter the 2023 season riding a four-year streak of making the state playoffs. This year, the Lions’ goals are no different, as they aspire to secure another state playoff berth and make a deep run in the tournament. 

“The expectation for us is the same that it is every year. We expect to compete in every game, win the region, and have an opportunity to play in the state playoffs and play for a state title,” said LSHS head coach Corey Jarvis. “Our kids have been working extremely hard this year and have put themselves in a position to be able to reach our goals this year.”

To reach their goals, the Lions will need to replace a great deal of talent from last year’s team. To do this, the team will lean on its senior-laden defense, which returns seven starters from last season. Offensively, the Lions will be breaking in a new crop of skill players, but Jarvis is confident that the team will catch on to his scheme quickly and flourish. 

“We’ve got a ninth grade and JV program, so our kids have had the opportunity to run this offense for four or five years now,” Jarvis said. “This year, we thought of scaling it down a bit, but we saw that the kids picked it up well over the summer, so we think that’s going to continue on into the season.”

LSHS Team PhotoAs the Lions open the season, Jarvis added that the team will need to be sharp each night out, as they have assembled a challenging non-region schedule that features games against Stephenson, Lee County, and cross-town rival Alexander. 

“We set our goals high because we want our kids to work hard to be successful for themselves and put themselves in a position to compete in the region and outside of our region,” Jarvis said. “That’s why we have such a top-heavy schedule at the beginning of the season, so that we can be ready to compete in the region and state playoffs.”

Despite dropping their season opener last weekend, LSHS continues its season tonight against Alexander at home. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

NMHS Embracing Hard Work Under New Head Coach

After a 2022 season that saw them fall short of the playoffs, New Manchester High School enters the 2023 season with a renewed outlook and focus as Olten Downs steps in as head coach. Downs comes across town to NMHS from Alexander High School where he spent two seasons. 

In his first year with the Jaguars, Downs says that he hopes to implement a culture of hard work  that encourages players to focus on the process rather than results. Already, he says that he’s impressed with the team’s work ethic and he’s excited to see the program find success. 

“I’ve wanted to teach our young men how to work hard and how to do things the right way. If we win daily off the field, the winning on the field is going to come,” said Downs. “inning is a byproduct of what you do every day, and if you cut corners you’re going to cut your success. I’ve been really pleased with these young men and how they’ve grown. I’m excited to see where we’ll get to working hard.”

This season, the Jaguars will rely on several players to help them find success, including quarterback Jashier Ratliff, running back Ethan Pickett, linebacker Trevio Chambers, wide receiver KJ Ford, and defensive back John Estime. NMHS Football Team Photo

Along with teaching the team how to work each day, Downs underscored the importance of teaching his team how to work each day. He believes that the best teams are the ones that take pride in the little things, and he hopes to see NMHS become a group who does this. 

“We’re coming off a season where we didn’t get the results we wanted, so we want the guys to know that results will come. If we take care of the root of how we do things every day, then that root will produce the fruit that we’re looking for,” Downs said.

So far, the Jaguars work has paid off. They opened their season on the right foot last weekend by defeating Woodland High School 19-15. NMHS will go for its second win tonight, as they battle Banneker High School at home. 

“Winning is contagious, and I think that getting off to a great start is important because of the past. That gives everyone in the school and our community a sense of pride,” said Downs. “Right now, the biggest thing is to let our kids know that every day you’ve got to show up and be consistent in doing things the right way on and off the field, and great things will happen. They may not happen exactly when you want them to happen, but they’re coming if you just keep at it.”

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