Cobb County football has now spent more time searching for “the Promised Land” than Moses and his brethren. It took Moses 40 years of wandering through the desert; it has now taken Cobb 43 years to win a second state championship.
Since Marietta in 1967, no team from Cobb has won on the final day of the season in any classification. What makes this so bad is that these are good teams not winning. Kell head coach Derek Cook knows it isn’t always about the best team.
“You know, the best team doesn’t always win; it’s the team that plays the best,” said Cook. “The folks in Cobb County have had their fill of the best team not always winning, and the last decade or so has been exceptionally tough.
Since 1998, Cobb has sent 58 teams to the playoffs. Only seven teams in that time were able to make it past the second round. Of the seven teams that were able to win, three fell in the quarterfinals, two fell in the semifinals and the two that made it to the finals lost. The most recent trip to the quarterfinals was last year by Lassiter. The other two quarterfinal losses were by Harrison in 2002 and McEachern in 1999. Those are also the last two schools to play for a state championship. Harrison went in 2000 and McEachern made it to the final game in 1998. Walton was able to make the semifinals in 2004 and 2007, each time losing to a team from Gwinnett County.
GWINNETT AND SOUTH GA …
Class 5A started in 2000 and, since then, every state champion in the classification has come from Gwinnett or South Georgia. In fact, the last team to win a state title in the highest classification and was not from one of those two places was Southwest DeKalb in 1995.
This season, Cobb has two schools that have a real shot of ending this unfortunate run without winning a state championship. Kell, which is 7-0 and now ranked No. 4 in the AJC/GHSFD poll, knows where the road to a state championship leads.
“The cry from the south end of the state is that North Georgia football can’t compete with them and who’s to say they’re wrong, who’s to say they’re right,” said Cook. “It’s just their thing, but we’re just hoping to have the opportunity to find out.”
“If we were able to go that far and play a South Georgia team in a game that was deep in the playoffs,” continued Cook, “we would be able to find out if we were qualified and on the same level as those teams.”
Cook doesn’t want his players even thinking about that yet; he knows where the focus needs to be to get to that point. “We’re just worried about the teams in front of us right now, the immediate future, not necessarily that far down the line.”
INDIANS CONTENDING …
McEachern is another team that has a chance to win a state championship, and also a chance to end the run of dominance at the 5A level for Gwinnett and South Georgia. McEachern is ranked No. 4 in Class 5A and has a record of 6-1. When asked what Cobb County needed to compete with these Gwinnett County schools, McEachern head coach Kyle Hockman thought of a few things.
“Well I think there’s probably a thousand factors that go into it, with all the expansion and new schools and things like that it takes a little bit of time to recoup from that,” Hockman said. “I can’t put one thing on it, all I know is that we’re going to work our tails off and see what we can get done.”
Last year, McEachern made it back to the playoffs after a three-year absence. Prior to that, the Indians had made the playoffs in seven of eight years. However, Hockman felt like his team wasn’t completely prepared for what they faced in the playoffs. “Even though last year we went 10-0, we hadn’t really beaten a state-caliber team at that point.”
COMMON THREADS …
Across the county at Kell, Cook is seeing some of the same things Hockman is at McEachern. “I think a lot of it’s just the growth that the county has experienced,” said Cook. “Since that time , every time a high school would get to be where it would be competing for [a state championship] they’ll split the high school in half and dilute the talent pool. So I think that’s the big issue.”
“They try to keep the high schools in Cobb at 2,500 [students] or lower,” he continued. “And at the big, mega schools in Gwinnett, there are 3,000 and 4,000 at times and even bigger than that. So I think it is talent to some degree and just the dilution of that talent by the numerous high schools that are in Cobb.”
Hockman noted a theme in county policies. “I think part of it goes back to some priorities. For awhile there when I first got here they were switching principals every couple years and when your leadership changes a different agenda comes in, you have to readjust what you’re doing as a coach and those things make a difference.”
Cook also saw the priorities of the county on things other than athletics. “It’s not right or wrong because it’s about academics first and foremost, student-teacher ratio and that kind of thing, and that’s the model that Cobb County school district has gone with and that’s been very successful from an academic standpoint which is priority.”
Where the two coaches differ in opinion is what causes success in other areas. For Cook it is a numbers game. “If you’re in a room full 100 people you’re gonna have ‘x’ number of athletes, if you’re in a room full of 200 people you’re probably gonna have double your number of athletes.”
But for Hockman it’s more about attitude. “It’s not a lot of difference in the players, its confidence. It’s the ability to make the plays when they have the opportunities and just knowing that they can go get it done.”
Either way you look at it, this year represents one of the best chances for a Cobb County team to end the year on top. With Kell and McEachern each being ranked highly and beating other top-notch programs in the state, at least two programs in the county seem to be doing something right.