For the first weekly "Football Fridays in Georgia" podcast for the 2020 GHSA football season, Jon Nelson and Hannah Goodin welcome Robin Hines, the executive director of the Georgia High School Association. He looks at the wildest off-season in Georgia high school football history, how the sport has grown to where the state is a top-3 for football talent for the next level, and what he's looking forward to in the 2020 season.


Jon Nelson: Welcome to a new season of the Football Friday's in Georgia podcast here at Georgia Public Broadcasting. Thanks for accessing us however you are doing so. Thanks for hanging out with us as we traverse the landscape in this new normal when it comes to the 2020 Georgia High School Football season. We're going to have a lot of good guests, and we will always miss our friend Tommy Palmer, who is an integral part of the show and an integral part of the GPB family. It is me and Hannah Goodin and we will always have a third with us every single week this season. And since it's our first show on a weekly basis, we figured we would go straight to the top. The Executive Director of the Georgia High School Association, Dr. Robin Hines. Hannah and I asked him a lot of questions in about a 10 or 12 minute span. The first question: What's it like to talk about football games more than talking about COVID-19.

Robin Hines: It feels good to talk about football games on a football field. And that's what we've been working for a long time to get it going. And then we have and it's going well, then a bump in the road here and there. But, you know, overall, it's been very successful.

Jon Nelson: Hannah, your first question for Dr. Hines.

Hannah Goodin: Oh, my turn. Hey, how are you, first of all?

Robin Hines: I'm great. I hope you are.

Hannah Goodin: We are doing well. I am calling in from home. So I've got my dogs outside. Well, this is a very different season in many aspects. So I wanted to ask you, I've been able to talk to athletic directors all around the state here in metro Atlanta. I talked to Fulton County AD, member of the GHSA Board of Trustees, Steven Kraft. He was so awesome at laying out this year's safety protocols. How's all that going, in your opinion?

Robin Hines: Well, I think it's going great and it's evidenced by the fact that we are where we are. You know, I think, you know, back — you go way back into March, where it was just a shock of what was going on. And then as we evolved and understood the reality of things and was — were we going to be able to make it happen? And through the hard work and especially of those athletic directors and those coaches, you know, the coaches are the ones that have done the lion's share of work — in making sure that their environments are as safe as possible — are the reason that we're here, you know, and because they want to play and ultimately it's because they understand the the good that comes out of high school athletics and activities. You know, I mean, the life lessons that are learned, I believe are — this is fertile ground. There is anything else that we can do. And for just students, you know, physical, mental and emotional well-being, we need to be back.

Jon Nelson: When it comes to monitoring the situation on a weekly basis right now, in addition to the games being played: what's the current setup for that? Is it just keeping an ear to the individual schools and school systems and how everything is with the GHSA? How is the situation monitored now from the office?

Robin Hines: Well, we continue to do what we've been doing since the very beginning. You know, we look at Georgia particularly, you know, in the positive cases, the percentage of positivity, and those sorts of things. And then I will say that we've been weeks and weeks and weeks where we've seen those numbers drop. You know, there may have been a week or so here, there where one or the other may have spiked a little bit. But overall, we're seeing a downward trend, which we're really grateful for. You know, we certainly — you want to understand, but what's more important is that local districts understand what's going on in their community and talent. And that goes for, you know, how they're treating their teams, how they treat their practice. You know, what they're doing as far as, you know, percentages of — of people that they're allowing as spectators and those sorts of things. It's — it's it's difficult and probably inappropriate to try to have a broad brush and paint everybody the same way. Because, you know, like you were told by Steven Kraft in Fulton County, his situation may be vastly different than it is in Grady County or, you know, Randolph County, you know. So it's important that those local districts and those local school boards, and those local superintendents are involved and they're the ones that make those decisions, because they make them for the kids, you know, during the school day. And the activities and sports are just extensions of the school day and they need to be making them there as well.

Hannah Goodin: Absolutely. One more question on this and then we will move on. I was a nonbeliever. I was preparing for no football season. Did you think we would get this far where we are playing games? And fans are in the stands?

Robin Hines: I was from the very beginning cautiously optimistic. You know, there were a couple of times when we were in the conditioning phase to where, you know, I had — I had some doubts here and there, but — but it was — it was time to push on and be safe.  We were still being very restrictive at that particular time. And course, we still are in many areas. But, yeah, I mean, you know, the thought certainly crosses your mind. But through the help of, you know, the governor's office in the Department of Public Health and and especially our Sports Medicine Advisory Council, which has been just awesome for this. And, you know, just think of those physicians that are giving so liberally of their time, you know, to make sure that we're able to do this as safely as possible, you know, gives you confidence moving forward. And then as we began to see the numbers get better and move in our direction, then we were having much more confidence at that time.

Jon Nelson: You're in a state that is Top Three in the country when it comes to high school football athletes heading to the next level. What's it — what's it like to see the state of Georgia grow and evolve to where it is, not just the Top 10 national player or a Top Five national player, but in a lot of eyes, a Top Three national player for the talent pool that goes to the next level?

Robin Hines:  Well, it makes you feel good. And, you know, I've already bragged on the coaches for the way that they've handled the coronavirus thing. And I'm just going to tell you, we have the best coaches in the country. You know, they do a good job. You know, when I watched the state championships last year, for instance, you know, it was easy to say that the only difference between this and Saturday and Sunday football is maybe the size and the talent level. You know, because I mean, just the coaching is absolutely incredible. And, you know, I was talking with my counterpart from Texas and he pointed out to me that per capita, we were by far in first place as far as putting those kids into D1 athletics, you know, the next level. And of course, you know, we feel good about what we're doing. And we have great players here because we have great coaches and great programs and awesome communities that believe that it's important.

Hannah Goodin: One of those players is quarterback Gunner Stockton for this season. I heard you were at Rabun County watching a game a few weeks ago. Did you like what you saw?

Robin Hines: It was great. Tell me what — what an atmosphere. You know, they’ve done such a great job up there in Rabun County and, you know, Jaybo Shaw has done a great job. And I'll tell you, Gunner is a — he's a special young man, but he's not the only one. They have some great players in Prince Avenue before they came to play too, you know, they got behind. But when you look at Brock Vandagriff, what he brings to the table, just incredible. They came back and some would say they should have won the game. Maybe they should have, you know. But I'll tell you, Rabun County did it at the end when they needed to do it. It was a lot of fun. And, you know, we're going to see a lot of those two guys over the next few years.

Jon Nelson: You mention two great towns in Bogart and Tiger. And I know that with all of your travels here in the state of Georgia, you get to sample a lot of different venues and different programs, you know, on a — on a yearly basis. For someone who hasn't ventured out of their own city and since this is going out here around the state, what are some of the places that you've stumbled upon when you've been able to go out on a Football Friday night that you might not have known about? What did some of those hidden gems that you’ve stumbled upon that you'd recommend to somebody who's just finding lights in a distance somewhere on a Friday night? Where — where would you send those folks?

Robin Hines:  Well, there's so many places, and I don't want to get in trouble.

Jon Nelson: Choice “D”: all the above, right?

Robin Hines: Well, you want to say everybody everybody has their own particular thing. But, you know, if you hadn’t ever ever seen a game in Elbert County in the Granite Bowl, that’s special to me. You know— I — you know, absolutely. You know, when you get down to Brooks County and see what Maurice Freeman has done with that program down there and the pride that just goes through that community is just incredible. You know, just, you know, anywhere in Houston County, I'm a little prejudiced there, you know. That's my home. That's where I was the superintendent. You know, they — they all do such a good job. I try to get up to Habersham Central and White County from time to time and just — it's awesome. And my wife and I, she goes with me every weekend and we try to catch a couple games and, you know, we found ourselves and we were hitting the big marquee games with the large schools and that sort of thing. The last couple of years, we've intentionally hit some of those smaller communities and all that, and we have just absolutely enjoyed it. Now, you — you talk about Bogart and Tiger. You know that — that kinda, you know, there's just so much national attention placed on that. But it's still a small place. And you can just see the pride that those communities have in their facilities and the way they do things. It just — it's just — it's a great feeling. And, you know, just the fact that we're able to do this just makes you feel good, you know, all over because you have the thought of not doing it is really depressing.

Hannah Goodin: One venue that I loved last year was having the championships at Georgia State Stadium. I thought that was a phenomenal location, the staff was awesome. As we progress through the season, God willing, I know the championships look much different this year in late December. What are your expectations for that and what's the timeline?

Robin Hines: Well, it's actually going to be great. And obviously, if you just look at a calendar, we took our season and we picked it up and moved it back two weeks, but that would put us playing on Christmas Day if we did that. So we moved it back a little bit. And the championships are going to be the 28th, 29th, and 30th. And that will include the Girls’ Flag Football championships as well. And it'll be, you know, obviously a three-day event. But going back to, you know, working with the folks at Georgia State, I agree with you 100 percent. I mean, those people have been absolutely awesome. Charlie Cobb is great to work with. And Patrick Hatcher, who is the guy, is the nuts and bolts facilities guy has — has just done — just bent over backwards to make it work for us. And, you know, we feel really, really good about that partnership and hope that we're going to be there for years to come. Just — just really happy with that. And plus, the football footprint of that stadium really meets our needs very well, you know. And so, you know, we've got — we've got plenty of seating, but it's not like you're lost in a cavern in there, you know, so — so it was just — it was a great venue. It was a great atmosphere. And we look forward to do it again this year.

Jon Nelson: And Robin, one of the — the parts that is part of the fabric of Georgia high school football is our dear friend Tommy Palmer. And I will always talk about Tommy in a present tense as a tremendous friend. He was lost to us too entirely soon to lung cancer just before the season started. Do you remember the first time that you met Tommy — and I guess this is a compound question — first time you met him? And what do you think Tommy means to Georgia high school athletics?

Robin Hines: Well, I can't remember the first time I met him because Tommy has always been there, you know. I mean, he had been listening to him. And I will tell you what now: you know, it was different, you know, the last couple weeks of leaving stadiums not being able to pick him up. And, you know, that's just a comforting thing. And the network that he had built, you know, throughout this whole state and then all the characters that he knew that would call in. There's just a great deal of fun. And I consider Tommy to be a great friend as well. And — and our partnership with Georgia High School Association and him and his broadcast and all that is certainly one of the highlights that — that I've experienced in the last three years and certainly glad to do so. And one thing that a lot of people don't know, Tommy would always talk to me. I play music, for instance, and people may not know, but I guess Tommy did, too. And he was a bass player and he knows I play bass in a couple bands. And he would — he would talk about that with me and he'd talk about gear and, you know, what was my rig and what kind of guitar was I playing now. And just just a true friend and a true gentleman. And — and I'll tell you what, we're gonna miss him. And we already do. But he'll always be part of us. Will always be part of the Georgia High School Association, without a doubt.

Jon Nelson: Executive Director of the Georgia High School Association, Dr. Robin Hines. Robin, thanks for hanging out with us here on the Football Friday's in Georgia podcast. We figured with this being our first one of the week of this season, a season like no other in a new normal, we figured it absolutely made sense to have you as our first guest this year. Thanks for hanging out with us here on GPB in the Football Friday's in Georgia podcast.

Robin Hines: Well, thank you. It was good hanging out with you, but better to hang out with Hannah.

[Jon laughs]

Robin Hines: You'll have a great afternoon.

Hannah Goodin: Thank you, Dr. Hines

Robin Hines: Alright.

Jon Nelson: He’s absolutely correct. Thanks, Robin.

Robin Hines: See you, bye-bye.

Hannah Goodin: Sorry, Jon. You know, I was talking to Crisp County Head Coach Brad Harbaugh, and you know, what? He said the same thing a few days ago, that he liked talking to me better than you. So, how does that feel?

Jon Nelson: What a shock. What an absolute shock that folks like talking to you more than they do talking to me. And you know — and I know why. I know. I know why. Brad said what he said is because I did not give him a Mountain Dew before you got to talk to Sirad Bryant. I know it. That's exactly why this was. I didn't — I did not give him a proper tariff for allowing you to talk to one of his players. That's exactly why that happened.

Hannah Goodin: Yep, that'll do it. And speaking of Sirad Bryant, we are putting out a new feature this year. I'm doing some Zoom interviews. He was my first interview for the feature, Georgia Tech commit. Awesome kid. This feature went out yesterday. So you go to slash sports, it's on our social media as well, to catch up with Sirad. What an awesome kid. He works at Chick-fil-A now and he has got just a bright future in him, Jon.

Jon Nelson: Then that's not the only thing that's going on these days here at GPB. What else is going on? And where can folks like, friend us, be a part of the conversation? I know that there's a big, shiny graphic that has like five different pictures on it for social media that I can never remember all of them.

Hannah Goodin: Yeah, we are everywhere. We're on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, check all those channels out. We are putting out lots of content this year leading up to our very first game, October 2nd. So we're getting a lot of questions from people about when our first game is. It will be Friday, October 2nd. We do not know the game yet. A lot of logistics that go into it. A lot of high school campuses don't necessarily want us there because of social distancing. So there's a lot that goes into this. And if you're a part of us on any of those social media platforms, you will be the first to know where we'll be broadcasting from. We're also doing something really cool this year before the broadcast. John, we're going to be doing a 30-minute show with you, Matt, and myself.

Jon Nelson: Yep.

Hannah Goodin: And it's going to be called Recruiting 2020. And we're gonna be breaking down the top recruits from all over the state. I'm really excited about that.

Jon Nelson: Yeah, it's gonna be fun because, you know, as we're talking with Dr. Hines about being a Top Three state for high school talent, here in the United States, you've got a lot of kids going to a lot of different schools. It's not just the Power Fives. It's the group of five. It's Division II. It's the FCS. It's Division III. It's NAIA. A lot of places are coming to the state of Georgia to get their college football players. And so this will give us a chance to let everybody know who's going where, who's still in play, who's having second thoughts. I know that a lot of folks here in the state of Georgia were looking at Elijah Jeudy, as coming to Athens to be a part of Kirby Smart's Georgia Bulldog roster, but he has since decommitted from the University of Georgia. So a lot of folks are going to Pennsylvania to try to get  Elijah Jeudy to be a part of their roster in the 2021 seasons. So a lot of information. We're going to fly through it every single week to give you the greatest hits. And a lot of other cool stories that are attached to recruiting and high school football here in the state of Georgia. So remember, that's going to be on before the Football Friday's in Georgia broadcasts. And then we're going to carry that all the way through the early signing day in December. So remember how it was last year for signing day? It was an absolute madhouse when it came to everybody declaring early and so it'll be you, Matt, and myself giving the lay of the land when it comes to one of the biggest topics here in the state: High school football recruiting in Georgia. That's gonna be fun for GPB Sports Recruiting 2020.

Hannah Goodin: Yeah. And if you can't wait until Friday to see and hear from Jon and I, you can —

Jon Nelson: See and hear Hannah and put Jon off to the side.

Hannah Goodin: No….you can watch us on Facebook Live every Wednesday, GPB Sports Facebook Live, or Countdown to Kickoff. It's a really fun, interactive 30 minute show. We take comments in the comments section. We have a blast. So catch us on your lunch break on Wednesdays. And one thing we do on that show is we do Games to Watch. So, Jon, I want to ask you before we wrap this up and, for everyone listening, what are your games to watch?

Jon Nelson: Well, I got teams to watch. I mean, you're looking —

Hannah Goodin: Teams to watch.

Jon Nelson: I mean you're looking at a whole lot of different — a whole lot of different teams. Can Grayson in 7A continue to put up the points that they have, Jamey DuBose at Lowndes. What can he do with the first year — being a first year Head Coach at a seven day school on his crosstown — crosstown rival for the Winnersville Classic is a guy that we know, Rush Propst, and he's at Valdosta. That's gonna be one of the big storylines this year. You've got all the teams in Gwinnett County. Colquitt County did not do their first two games that were on their original schedule because of COVID-19 concerns. How will they hop into non-region play and region play?  And, you know, then you're looking at 6A you've got Lee County. Buford loses their first game of the year to North Cobb, which was a big — a big surprise a week and a half ago when that one came online. You've got Carrollton, Richmond Hill. We talked to Matt LeZotte a little while ago to kind of get the feel of things down there at Richmond Hill. You got Northside Warner Robins, they got their — their first win for their new Head Coach a while back. So it's good to see that in 5A. You know, Warner Robins, they came back after their original early season loss to Valdosta. They come back to beat Archer. So the region of doom for me, there are several regions of doom. And really, that's probably where I'm going to focus a lot of my attention. Region 15A. You're looking at Warner Robins, Coffee, Veterans, Wayne, and you're going to have somebody there that could be a fifth team in this five-team region that will not make the playoffs and they will make a mad dash had they been in. So you've got region 15A, 16A, 17A, Two Single A, One Double A. All these regions are going to be worth watching. It's gonna be a fun year across the board, Hannah.

Hannah Goodin: Yeah, I can't wait. I'm just so happy that we're back. We're talking football. We're back in the studio. Social distance, of course. But like I said in the interview, I really did not think we would get this far just with all the precautions. And, you know, I don't think anyone's life is — is worth a sport or having in-person contact that's not necessary. But football and sports are so important to these young men and women across the GHSA platform. And sports can change your life. And these kids get another year to show off their talents, to get that scholarship, to make their dreams come true. So I know how important this is. And it's also important for my career and your career. We love doing this. We love telling these stories. So I'm so happy to be back with you, Jon. And we'll be doing this podcast every Monday, and I'm looking forward to it.

Jon Nelson: Yeah. And it's good to hear Dr. Hines say, because you and I both know what it means to all of these communities, to these schools, and what it means to be a part of their Football Fridays. And, you know, just if everybody takes care of themselves and take care of everybody else along the way, then we'll get to — we'll get to the end of December and the end of the calendar year. And we'll all meet at Georgia State. And it'll be fun to determine all the championships in a three-day event this year. And so that's going to be fun for those of us here at Georgia Public Broadcasting and for all the member schools of the Georgia High School Football — of Georgia High School Association when it comes to football. That's our first round of the Football Fridays in Georgia podcast for the 2020 football season. She's Hannah Goodin. I'm Jon Nelson. It is produced by the irreplaceable Sean Powers. Each and every single week, we will be right here. Wherever your favorite pod catchers are found, you can subscribe to the Football Friday's and Georgia podcast. And it is a product of and GPB Media. For Hannah and for Dr. Robin Hines. I'm just Jon. Play it safe, everybody. We'll see you next week.


Transcript by Eva Rothenberg