Football Fridays in Georgia: Salute to the Champs
On the final Football Fridays in Georgia podcast for the 2020 GHSA high school football season, hosts Hannah Goodin and Jon Nelson look back at Championship Week at Center Parc Stadium. Then, GPB Sports' Matt Stewart joins for his breakdown of all eight title games.
Jon Nelson: Welcome to another round of the Football Fridays in Georgia Podcast here at Georgia Public Broadcasting. Thanks for accessing us, however you are doing so: large device or small. And since it is now 2021 — the year, not the time of day, but the year — that means one thing. It's time to discuss the Championships for our last Football Fridays in Georgia podcast of this football season. Hannah, we made it.
Hannah Goodin: We did make it, Jon. Well, I made it. You didn't quite make it into the studio today. I was looking forward to seeing you here and you’re not here.
Jon Nelson: Well, all right. So let me pull up — let me pull back the curtain here. I'm doing the show remotely this week. Hannah's in-studio. And the reason is when you have a 24-year-old car that has north of 357,000 miles on it.
Hannah Goodin: The Beast.
Jon Nelson: Yeah, the Beast. When the Beast gets an oil add — not an oil change, but an oil add. And that's where we are these days. When you get an oil add and it's a half mile from the place where you get your oil add to the casa or to office HD. And the only thing that you can really see is smoke coming out from under the hood and out the side door of the hood. It's time to perhaps invest in a new automobile.
Hannah Goodin: Yes it is.
Jon Nelson: So the Beast has gone through its last football season and we will be looking into investing into a newer automobile. So there will be a newer automobile for football season 2021.
Hannah Goodin: Which is huge for Jon. For those of you who don't know, the Beast was Jon's father's car.
Jon Nelson: Yep.
Hannah Goodin: And I feel so bad that the Beast has driven her last few miles. But I'm excited for you, Jon, to have a secure mode of transportation.
Jon Nelson: I'm not happy about dropping significant dollars into a new automobile. But no, as you said, it's my dad's car and I still have his California license plate on the front. And it's a 1997 Toyota Camry. And I know that a lot of mechanics will sit there and say, yeah, you're only halfway through. I was lucky to get it to 350. And when I was talking to my sister about it and I was explaining this is probably the Beast’s last football season, she's like, is there any way you can get it to 400,000 miles? And I'm like, no. That is not possible.
Hannah Goodin: Not possible. That is not safe. Today is Exhibit A,
Jon Nelson: Yes, today is Exhibit A.
Hannah Goodin: And so this is our last Football Friday in Georgia podcast for the year of the football season 2020.
Jon Nelson: And Hannah, as we look back at the championships, while different, it was still fun and it was great to see all the different schools and to see flag football off the team. Now, that was really cool.
Hannah Goodin: Yeah, Jon, we hosted 17 shows, over 10 games, 36 hours total, three days. My brain was so mush by the time we got to the 7A game, I don't really remember a whole lot of help in that game besides Jake Garcia. But it was a whirlwind. It was so much fun. And the fact that we got to showcase women's flag football on Monday before the boys’ game started was so much fun. The first game was a little shaky. The first game started out a little slow. So that was Portal versus Calvary Day. And the Cavaliers made history, winning the first-ever official GHSA Girls’ Flag Football Championship, 6 to nothing.
But then the next game, it was the Division 2 matchup between West Forsyth and Hillgrove. The Wolverines pulled it out 26-25 in double overtime. There were one-handed catches, there were dukes. It was so much fun and I have heard more about that game than I have about any of the other championship games from anyone, Jon.
Jon Nelson: Well, and you know, you look at an athlete like Lauren Rinder, who's going to Virginia Tech on a lacrosse scholarship, and the grabs that she was making for Hillgrove. And it's just, you know, we talk about athleticism and then Hillgrove just it's like, all right, let's try to create matchup problems. And you get as talented a receiver and an athlete as you've got to see in her. I think it was part and parcel of the whole thing.
And I'll give you a quick story: I was catching up with Chad Griffin, the athletic director for Calvary Day and the head coach for their flag football team. He told me that one of his girls, Neveah Hamilton — the coach for a school in Florida, for a university in Florida, called Chad after the game and wanted to give Neveah Hamilton a scholarship.
Hannah Goodin: Wow. Yes. See, that’s why we air these games.
Jon Nelson: Because he was — because he was watching the games on GPB. There had been interest in her.
Hannah Goodin: Love it.
Jon Nelson: And so he calls Chad and there's an offer for a scholarship on the table for a flag football squad because of what they were watching on GPB.
Hannah Goodin: Love it. Full chills. Congratulations to her.
Jon Nelson: And one of the other cool things on social media about flag football was that folks were talking about it on Twitter. They were saying, “Thanks for giving me the addiction that I didn't know that I had until I started watching.”
To see that kind of stuff with flag football I thought was very, very cool. It's Ernie Yarbrough's baby at the Georgia High School Association to be able to broadcast those games and to see the athleticism I thought was just really, really cool to start the weekend off.
Hannah Goodin: Yeah. And how the division works, Division 1 is Single A through 5A. Division 2 is 6A to 7A. So with it being the first year, we're hoping that more teams join in the coming seasons so that we can follow along and maybe even broadcast some more games. So that was a lot of fun.
We have Matt Stewart on: the voice of GPB, when it comes to play by play. We'll have him on to recap every single championship game.
Jon Nelson: And there were just under 100 schools in flag football that were engaged this year. And obviously there would be larger numbers if there were no COVID-19 concerns and things like that for schools. But a great way to start the weekend with flag football. And so now it's time to catch up on the other championships. So here's our talk with Matt.
All right, Matt, I guess, first and foremost, has your voice recovered?
Matt Stewart: Oh, my voice was fine the whole time, I've kind of learned along the way with assists from you, with the throat coat that I keep drinking that throughout the course of the finals, and I'm pretty good. Yeah. So assist to you, Jon Nelson, I learned from you, the veteran, to drink the throat coat tea with honey. And it's a charm.
Jon Nelson: it is all about the pacing. I know that we're going to blow through all the championships here. Hannah, what's first on your mind?
Hannah Goodin: Yeah, let's just recap each game. Let's get Matt's thoughts since he called five of eight of the boys’ games. Great job, Matt. So we'll get started with the Single A Private game between Trinity Christian and PAC and quarterback Brock Vandagriff and the Wolverines were too much for the Lions. They won this one 41-21 for their first-ever state title. Matt, what are your biggest takeaways from that game?
Matt Stewart: Well, Brock Vandagriff and his dad, Greg, the head coach, kind of the revenge tour, they were able to get revenge on pretty much all the teams that had been their nemeses the last few years, Athens Academy and ELCA in particular, on the way. And then they faced an upstart Cinderella team in Trinity Christian and coach Kenny Dallas and his sons, David and Joshua, who are going to be big-time stars for that team. They bring pretty much everybody back. I expect Trinity Christian to be on the stage again, you know, and Trinity Christian, a new school to the GHSA. They were in the GISA state finals in2017 and here in 2020 they were in the GHSA state finals. I expect them to be a strong contender to get back. Prince Avenue probably has a little rebuilding to do since they graduated a five-star quarterback to the University of Georgia. In fact, he'll be enrolling in classes this week and begin his quest to become the starting quarterback for the Georgia Bulldogs, which is going to be a challenging job given the way JT Daniels finished up the year for the University of Georgia. But congratulations to Prince. A dominating season, I think, outside of their one loss to Rabun County at the beginning of the year. They won their 13 games by an average score of 47-14. So they were pretty dominant.
Jon Nelson: Single A Public, Matt and its region rivals going at it, where you had three of the four teams in the semis coming out of the region of Doom — Region 2. And it was Brooks and Irwin going at it in the final once again; two great cities, two great programs and those juniors from Irwin County that won it last year were seniors this year. They went out going back-to-back.
Matt Stewart: No doubt, and they had to replace some guys. Remember, it wasn't just an automatic repeat. They had to replace some great talent like DJ Lundie and Coach Soliday did a tremendous job. This was a team that battled COVID early on. I mean, they lost their first two games of the season in large part because of COVID. Their first loss to Fitzgerald, who got to the state championship game in Double A, their entire offensive line was in quarantine until the day of that game.
And then the next game they lost to Cook; their top five players got quarantined the day of the game. So those were their two losses outside of their one region loss to their old nemesis, Clinch County, who they didn't have to play in the playoffs this year. They got Brooks County, a new region rival instead. And it was a great game, I thought, and Gabriel — Gabe and Garland Benyard were worth the price of admission. Both of those guys were named to our All-GPB Finals team. And Garland is our defensive player of the finals. And Gabe as the top athlete, first team athlete — tremendous ball players. And those guys will be starting their careers at Kennesaw State here in 2021 and look forward to following them in college. But it was a fun game and of course, obviously, with that, what happened eleven months ago, the passing of coach Buddy Nobles and how that had a huge impact on their season. And Casey Soliday, who had been the interim last year, stepping in and becoming the head coach on a permanent basis, and his son, Cody, the starting quarterback, just a sophomore, will be a big part of what they do going forward the next two years.
Hannah Goodin: Yeah, Matt, I talked to some of the players last year and they basically were like, we are doing this for Buddy. So it was so awesome to see them back in the finals. The Benyard brothers were amazing to watch.
Well, those were our two games on Monday. We're going to go by our broadcast schedule here. So on Tuesday, we had three games with the even number classifications. Wednesday were the odd number classification. So the first game on Tuesday, they got us started. Callaway won its first-ever state title against Fitzgerald. The final score, 22 to 17. Another first. So congratulations to the Cavaliers there, Matt.
Matt Stewart: And Coach Wiggins. They had been knocking on the door the last couple of years, even with Bigsby, one of the top running backs in the entire nation, they couldn't win it. Last year they got stopped in the semifinals.
But this year, with Charlie Dixon, who was our top running back on — first team running back, we had three first team running backs, and Charlie Dixon was the top of that; 229 yards rushing, a big kid, 6’3”, 220, has not yet signed. So I'm interested to see where he ends up signing that first Wednesday of February on the second National Signing Day. Expect huge things from him going forward and just a tremendous win for those guys, you know, and Fitzgerald coming up short again, it's been since 1948 and will have to wait at least another year to try to get that elusive state championship. But congratulations to Callaway finally breaking through after knocking on the door for essentially the last decade.
Jon Nelson: Quad A, Matt: Jefferson and Marist. And we figured that this game might take about an hour and 12 minutes considering the offenses that they run. But two of the great coaches that are part of the fabric of high school football here in the state: Gene Cathcart, who has never met a microphone that he didn't like talking into and giving you fantastic sound each and every time. And Alan Chadwick, who now has 399 career wins and his third straight title. Dominant, and it was the defense for Marist here in 2020.
Matt Stewart: Indeed, this was a Marist team that — Jefferson became the first team all season long to score a touchdown on their first team defense. So that tells you how good Jefferson was. No other team the entire season through the regular season and the four rounds of the playoffs have been able to score a touchdown against Marist’s first team defense. And led by Derek McDonnell and Henry Clark, both those guys GPB All Finals honors — McDonnell, who signed with Syracuse as a tight end, actually first team defense, and Henry Clark, a defensive tackle, second team defense. Also, Josh Moore, in that secondary — four-star, signed with UCLA — was named to our first team, all-finals team. So just a really strong defense all season long.
You know, and, you know, kind of a typical kind of Marist game. They took advantage of field position. And Charlie Fleming, of course, who was our special teams player of the finals with his huge punts in particular, his one game-changing punt. But the kid averaged close to 46 yards per punt in the finals, but he had the 57-yard punt in that third quarter that pinned Jefferson at the 8-yard line. And then Charlie, from his cornerback position breaks through and makes the tackle in the end zone for the safety that broke a 14-14 tie, gave a 16-14 lead en route to their eventual 30-14 victory as they scored two touchdowns in that fourth quarter. But what a gentleman, coach Alan Chadwick. In fact, I just spoke to him this morning, again, he was very gracious and very, very appreciative and very complimentary of our coverage on GPB.
Just a super guy and look forward to him getting win number 400 at the start of the 2021 season and becoming just the second coach in state history to do that. And Jefferson is going to be back. They got Malaki Starks. He's the No. 3-rated athlete in the entire country — Alabama, Georgia, Clemson, his top three. So that tells you right there the caliber of athlete he is and he'll be back next year as a second-year quarterback. This was his first year as a quarterback. And so Malaki Starks will be back next year, as well as Jordan Perry, who, you know, tough decisions. And after we put together the team, I looked at that thing and I said, you know what, my gosh, there's no Jordan Perry on this team. Oversight, oversight, oversight. Jordan Perry is going to be a huge star. Kadin Bailey, the linebacker — going to be huge stars for Jefferson. I certainly expect those guys to be back, and I certainly hope so because I look forward to talking to Gene Cathcart again. His self-deprecating humor was one of the highlights of the season.
Hannah Goodin: I know, Matt, I talked to him during media days and he was like, I know I don't look like a coach. I look like a professor, but I'm out here to do this.
Matt Stewart: He can coach. Don't let him fool you. He can coach.
Hannah Goodin: I want to talk about Coach Chadwick just a hair more. He was our GPB coach of the year. And I love the graphic that you guys ran during the game that said the “Internet Began when Coach Chadwick started at Marist.” So I know that he had some great things to say about the broadcast and everything like that. But maybe what's your what's one of your favorite Coach Chadwick memories?
Matt Stewart: I just love his discipline. I mean, he's the opposite of Cathcart. He's you know, you're not going to get a whole lot of one-liners out of Coach Alan Chadwick. The thing that stands out with me about Coach Chadwick was when we televised their game at Flowery Branch in 2019 back when we were able to actually go to games, stand on the field and talk to coaches face to face, you know, before the pandemic — and hopefully we're able to get back to that sooner than later — But, you know, just talking to him about the longevity of his career, you know, and, you know, when might he retire? He said, “Look, you know what? I don't play golf. I don't go fishing. I don't have any hobbies. I like to work out.” You can tell he stays in shape. “I like to work out and I like to coach. If I retire, what am I going to do?”
So, you know, just based on that comment right there, as long as he stays in good health and he certainly seems to be that, and certainly we pray that he does because he's approaching 70 years old. You know, I'd love to see Coach Chadwick coach as long as he wants to.
Hannah Goodin: Yeah. And I love that we have his bobblehead in our studio. All right. Well, one of the best games of the week came from 6A. Buford earned its second state championship in a row and 13th overall against Lee County in a wild overtime game. The Wolves won by a field goal in this one, 34 to 31. Matt, that one had to be fun to call.
Matt Stewart: Oh, yeah, this is the third straight year we've had an overtime final, you know. In 2018 it was Bainbridge beating Warner Robins in triple overtime, which was probably the greatest, you know, GHSA final ever, just simply by the fact it went three overtimes.
And then last year, of course, Buford beat Warner Robins in overtime coming from behind to force overtime. And this year Buford does the same thing again. And it was Ashton Daniels. I mean, it's the same exact story. Ashton Daniels, backup quarterback — this year, a little bit more accomplished backup quarterback than in 2019 when he had only thrown thirteen passes the whole year and then came off the bench and led him to the state finals victory over Warner Robins. And then this year, of course, it was more of a 50/50 thing splitting time with Dylan Wittke.
But you know him to come in off the bench in the third quarter, just like he had done the year before, lead his team from behind, throw a touchdown pass in the last minute of the game again to tie the score and send it to overtime. It was, as Yogi Berra would say, deja vu all over again.
And yeah, and for that reason, Ashton Daniels’ named to our GPB all-finals team, one of the four quarterbacks that we had on the team. And you know, when I tweeted that out, he said, “Man, what an honor,” because you look at the other guys that are on that list with them, Jalen Addie, Jake Garcia and Brock Vandagriff, you got some pretty talented, high-powered college football players, you know, on that list.
And my expectation is that Ashton Daniels will end up one himself. He's got one more year to go. And certainly I expect Buford to be back in this position contending for a state title next year as well. And tough luck for Lee County, too, because Caleb McDowell had had an outstanding year. And you could tell in overtime he was really hurtin’ bad. He was cramping and may have contributed to his fumble.
And, you know, him laying on the ground, you could tell he was sobbing because his body was just heaving as he was crying — you know, just a disappointing finish for him. But I expect him to go over there. He's going to play for Shane Beamer, the head coach, and Mike Bobo's going to stay there as the O.C. and I expect to see Caleb McDowell do great things for the South Carolina Gamecocks in the years to come in. And Chauncy Magwood too — and Chauncey, too — I would be remiss, if I didn't mention Chauncey and he was named to our team as an athlete simply because our quarterback list was all loaded up, I said I got to find a place to put Chauncey. And he signed with Kentucky as a wide receiver, so — a tremendous athlete. And he was fun to watch, too.
Jon Nelson: Drop him in there as an ATH anytime. Two days down, one to go. And we'll start off in Triple A. And this was a game that Larry Smith and Sam Crenshaw got to call and had one of the loudest celebration horns that I've ever been with on site. I mean, we've been to places where they've had cannons go off, you know, for scores and games and things like that. But the train whistle that Pierce County brought up from Blackshear, that was like one of those hockey goal horns. And when they won it, they laid on it for about 50 seconds. But once again, Travis Nolan, Oconee County, great year for them in Watkinsville, getting to the last game of the year. But history for Coach Herring and for Pierce. All of his buddies in Oxford, Alabama, were lighting up social media saying, yeah, we're watching our guy. But Pierce County gets a state championship.
Matt Stewart: They do indeed. D.J. Bell, the running back, of course, had a big part in that thing. They were like that — for a long time, we were thinking, “Man, we might go to overtime tied 0-0,” and they go to overtime 7-7, and they end up winning it on the touchdown. But D.J. Bell with the big game there, and they had two great — Allen Boatwright in the secondary and Daytin Baker had two big interceptions for Pierce County to help seal that win for them.
And Ryan Herring got our vote as the GPB all-finals coach. And that's a tough thing to choose. So, kind of my thought process there was let's take the guy from the team that was the lowest ranked. And so in our preseason rankings, Pierce was ranked ninth in the state. So certainly not expected to be in the state finals. And so congratulations to him. Did a tremendous job with that Pierce County team all season long. And Oconee County, of course, a fabulous season as well. And Jake Johnson will be back with that team next year, one of the top-rated tight ends in the country. So I certainly expect Oconee County will be in the mix in Triple A again next year.
Hannah Goodin: I think one of the most surprising games was Cartersville versus Warner Robins in 5A; the Demons had been here for years in a row. They finally pulled the trigger for the first time since 2004 with a 62-28 win over Cartersville. It was a running clock in the fourth. And I can't say enough about senior quarterback Jalen Addie’s performance in that one, but the running clock really threw me off in the 5A game.
Matt Stewart: Jalen Addie accounted for six touchdowns and he bet on himself. He bet on himself in the state finals. He did not sign the early signing period when he had it. You know, he had some offers. He did not sign the early signing period. So he was banking on himself that he was going to go out there in his final game and have a big game on television and not just on television, but, you know, all over the place. Because, as you mentioned, Jon, you know, with Coach Herring, his buddies over there in Oxford, Alabama, they're watching. People, coaches all over the country, all over the place. We're watching our finals because they’re the last high school football going on in the nation and a lot of attention outside of the borders of the state of Georgia on these finals.
So Addie was banking on himself to go out there and have a huge game. And I don't think he could have done any better than he did. As a result, he was named the most valuable player on the GPB All Finals team. That means just across the board, the top player. And so, yeah, and just a lot of pent-up emotion there. I mean, Warner Robins — you could tell, and Coach Brian Lamar pointed that out: It wasn't just emotion that carried them to a 62-28 victory over Cartersville. That team was totally prepared. They hit on all cylinders: offensively, defensively. Outside of the kickoff return they gave up to Sam Phillips, another young man from Cartersville who was named to our All GPB Finals team — you know, outside of that one kickoff they gave up, they were hitting on all cylinders the whole day. And it was certainly good to see because they had been — they had run the gauntlet. Two straight overtime losses in the finals. That would’ve made, you know, a lesser team might have given up and said, you know what, it's not worth it to go through this again and risk getting beat like that again and had that heartbreak again. But they didn't approach it that way. And they end up winning the state championship. So congratulations to them.
Jon Nelson: Now, 7A is the last championship of the week and a lot of national attention was on Grayson in the entire season, with all the expectations. Jake Garcia comes in and you could tell that he was college ready in the Brookwood game that we had on Football Fridays in Georgia. But it was, I mean, I want to use the word “coronation” at one point. But it was just Grayson did what they had to do all season long. They turned off the noise, got it done, knocked off Collins Hill by 24 in the final. And they're in the running, I think, for a national championship after their performance in the 7A final.
Matt Stewart: I could not agree more. I think so. I think they'll have a shot at getting that, you know, that elusive vote for the national championship. There's no playoff for it, but certainly I can't think of a team that would be any more deserving. I certainly haven't seen one any more deserving than Grayson. And you're right. I mean, after the first couple of series, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Grayson is going to win this game. It's just a matter of what the final score is going to be. And case in point, to show you how deep they are: They lose Phil Mafah, four-star No. 9 running back in the entire country, signed with Clemson. They lose him, and you would not have ever known unless we told you that this team had lost their top running back.
Joe Taylor, who was our Georgia Cotton Commission player of the game and named to our All GPB Finals team, we did not even mention his name when we called the Brookwood game in November and they demolished, you know, the Broncos. We didn't even mention his name. And he was the Georgia Cotton Commission player of the finals. Rushed for over 120 yards.
Jake Garcia had, you know, by his numbers, a pedestrian game. It wasn't any spectacular stats game, but he's on the All Finals team because if you could watch him play and not put him on the All Finals team, I'd have to question your football intellect and evaluation because he just looks good. Even when he doesn't do a whole lot, he looks good at what he does. He's going to be a spectacular college football quarterback. I look forward to following his career, that's for certain. But Grayson, certainly a coronation and weep not for Collins Hill, because I tell you what, if I was putting together my preseason rankings right now, Collins Hill would be No. 1 in my rankings to come back and win it next year.
Another team, I'd tell you in 7A, to watch for — And, you know, by the time we saw them in November, they were shot physically — they endured so many injuries. But Brookwood. I'm — I'm bullish on Brookwood next year, too. So those two teams just throwing that out there in 7A, Collins Hill and Brookwood, you know, two Gwinnett schools. Again, what a big shock. This was the third time we've had an all-Gwinnett finals in the highest classification. And Grayson certainly won it and won it convincingly. And nobody walks away from these playoffs questioning Grayson's power and the season that they had. But I think the all-Gwinnett thing may continue next year, too.
Hannah Goodin: Matt, I was waiting for you to say Garcia on the All GPB Finals team. You've mentioned that quite a few times here. Where can everybody see the full list of what we voted on?
Matt Stewart: We got it on the website. And it's also — we've all — we also tweeted it out. The GPB Sports tweeted it out on New Year's Day. I tweeted it out on New Year's Day. And it is on the website. I believe it's under the blogs. So if you go, if you click on, you go to the website, click on Blogs, you can see the team.
Jon Nelson: So, Matt, one of the obviously one of the overarching themes of this entire season has been how the GHSA and all of its member schools and all of the administrators, students, student athletes, coaches, and how everybody dealt with COVID-19 and COVID-19 concerns and absences and games that were either made up on the fly or not made up at all.
What are your takeaways on this season where an entire state from an athletics perspective was prudent, they took their time. The GHSA and executive director, Dr. Robin Hines, they just were very, very cautious in their approach. What are some of your takeaways about this season that really was like no other?
Matt Stewart: Incredible leadership from Dr. Robin Hines and the Georgia High School Association. Just absolutely from the get-go when everybody was saying, you can't do it, you can't do it, you can't do it. He didn't try to force it, you know?
And I was — you know, you and I, we watched, we listened to those meetings that they were holding in Thomaston back in the spring. And he didn't try to ramrod anything through when there were objections. He listened to them and they paused and they evaluated everything. They had a medical board that was following it. He didn't try to force any mandates statewide.
He didn't try to tell people in Rabun County what to do and people in Charlton County what to do. And I'm trying to think of the two counties that could not be more further apart. You're talking about, what, five- or six-hour drive?
Jon Nelson: Dade and Decatur, how about that?
Matt Stewart: There you go. Exactly. Yeah. Bainbridge, you know, and Dade County, I mean, the state’s a long state. And if you've ever tried to drive it, you realize just how it doesn't look big on the map, but you try to drive it, it's a long way. So I know, Nellie, you've done it, and Hannah. And so we've all been there and done that. So he didn't try to impose a set of rules, one size fits all. Instead, he said, look, I can't do that. And wisely so. He said, look, I'm going to leave it up to the local administrations and regions and counties. You know what's going on in your county and in your district, in your region, better than I do. So I'm going to let you guys — these are our guidelines, but you apply them and fit them to what works best for you. And I thought that was a great stroke of wisdom. And I think it worked very well and so from the administration's standpoint it was an A.
And from the coach's standpoint — look, being a high school football coach is not glamorous. It's a hard job as it is, and it got even harder this year because coaches had to become experts on all kinds of different things — social media, on Zooms, in Twitter, to try to stay connected and communicating with their teams win, you know, because they couldn't get together as a whole team. They had to break it up and do it in groups and stuff like that. And then all the stuff they had to do as far as disinfecting uniforms, washing uniforms, installing new protocols that are really contrary to the way you play the game of football with, you know, practicing in groups of four. Who's ever heard of that? That's just, that's contrary to anything you do in football. But they did all that to try to make this season happen and they were successful in doing that.
So from the coaches and the administrations at the school level, congratulations to them for going the extra, extra, extra miles to make this happen. Because had they not done that, we would have never pulled this off. And then a shout out to GPB because we adapted as well. We did our entire season — outside of you, Nellie — we did our entire season in-studio. And I tell you what, just talking to somebody today, they didn't even know. They were like, “Well, did you do it virtually?” And I said, “Yeah!” I mean, unless you were tuned in to us and saw us actually on camera, you wouldn't have known that we weren't there because it was seamless and flawless. And I can tell you it was different. And hopefully we don't have to do it that way in 2021. I'd like to get back to being at the stadium for all kinds of reasons, you know, because it's not as easy doing it from the studio, but that's the way we had to do it. We had to adapt and, you know, shout out to Kevin Gerke, our executive director. Do you think that'll help me get a raise? Shout out to Kevin Gerke.
I’m just joking about that. They pay me well. You know, shout out to Kevin Gerke in the entire GPB team for coming up with a plan to make it work because we had to jump through hoops and do things differently, too. And they did a great job. All I had to do was, you know, put a headset on and talk.
Hannah Goodin: Yeah. Matt, you were in Studio J. I was in Studio A. Jon was the only lucky one to be down on the field. It was an interesting season for sure. And one thing that sticks out to me is that Jon did the trophy presentation and after every time he interviewed the coach, every single coach thanked the GHSA. And I know the spring was scary. And I caught up with some of the baseball coaches in the spring, and watching what it did to those kids was just heartbreaking. So I am so thankful that we got through this and we got through it together. It was a team plus Wayne and of course, everyone behind the scenes, my producer on my shows, Laurie Kovar and all the people that are involved. It really was just a fun season that I will always remember for sure.
Matt Stewart: And I think what this also does is this paves the way for basketball to be played, for baseball to be played, for all the spring sports to be played. Because I think rightfully so, but I think there's kind of a mindset like if we can do it in football, we can do it in anything. If you can make it work in football, we can make it work in anything. And so it doesn't mean it's going to be easy. And hopefully, as the vaccine becomes more and more mainline and mainstream and more and more people can get it, you know, maybe at some point in 2021 we can return to some sense of doing it the normal way.
But I certainly hope that we are in position now for all the sports to go forward, because you're right: those who participated in the spring sports — not just baseball, but all the spring sports — what a disappointment it was for those seniors not to get to have a senior season. But it was the thing to do. I mean, there was so little known at the time about all of it. It was just unfortunate timing.
And, of course, you know, here in this country, when so many people are still suffering from the disease and people are dying from it and being very ill and hospitalized from it, we don't want to trivialize it by talking about, you know, the inconveniences it caused sports. But that was part of it, too. And this is GPB, a podcast about high school football. So that's the subject. I just want to make sure that people don't think we're trivializing the severity and the suffering and the heartbreak that this disease is caused by talking about what it meant also for sports. But that's been part of the picture as well.
Hannah Goodin: All right, thanks so much, Matt, we appreciate it.
Matt Stewart: Thank you.
Jon Nelson: You know, Hannah, Matt was on the right path, you know, to get the whole season done. You know, really, you have to give a lot of credit to the Georgia High School Association, all the schools, all the administrators, all the student athletes, all the discipline that they showed. And one of the things that we've talked to coaches about all season long here on the show is that they've had to do things differently and it comes to coaching differently and taking approaches differently, and game day being different. And we made it through one of the best weekends that you could have ever imagined for high school football here in the state of Georgia. It was a great showcase for all of the patience and the prudence and all of the care that went into making this season possible.
Hannah Goodin: Yeah, and this is kind of corny, but just the teamwork. I mean, working with you and Matt all season long and our communication, the way that everybody has been safe and making sure that we're not going out and doing things we shouldn't do to keep each other safe. So it has been one of the most memorable seasons at GPB. I think Matt confirmed after we were done talking to him that it will be his eighth season coming up. It'll be my fifth season coming up, your eleventy billionth season coming up.
Jon Nelson: Twenty-six seasons at Georgia Public doing various things. So, yeah, it'll be my 27th coming up in the fall.
Hannah Goodin: So I feel like if we can get through this, we can basically do anything. So I'm ready, I'm ready to put this season in the books, close the book, and look forward to next year. You know, I still want to congratulate all the teams that won and what they've been through. What an emotional championship year. And they're — definitely all the players and coaches are going to look back on this, too. And, you know, just a sigh of relief that we got through it and be able to win a championship during these times is pretty incredible.
Jon Nelson: Yep. Callaway in Pierce County getting their first-ever state championships, first time in a long time for places like Marist and Warner Robins. Grayson, you know, they've been a part of the championship discussion for a while. Back-to-back with Irwin County.
You know, you go through all of this and there's great storylines all the way through Buford, their 13th in 20 seasons, which is just insane when you think about it. So all of the 10 champs and the history that was made off the top. It was a fun week at Georgia State Stadium. Shout out to everybody there at Georgia State for making us feel as home as they always do.
And a shout out also to our front office at GPB as well: president and CEO Teya Ryan, everybody in the administration. You mentioned our REP, Kevin Gerke, and Matt did too, to make sure that we could do it. And I guess the best analogy that I gave folks this season was kind of like how NASCAR was broadcast on Fox, where you had crews on site, you had personnel on site, you had play by play and color in another location. You're rolling commercials out of a third location, but just a shout out to everybody. And that credit roll was at the end of the championships, that is a small portion of everyone that was engaged this season. So thanks to everyone who is a part of Football Fridays this season and thanks to everybody who was hanging out with us for every word that we said all season long,
Hannah Goodin: I second that, Jon, and we hope everyone had a safe and happy holidays, and a happy frickin’ New Year, everybody.
Jon Nelson: Happy frickin’ New Year, everybody. That's another — So what else do you want to say before I signed us out for another season?
Hannah Goodin: I think I'll end it right there. I think that's it.
Jon Nelson: So she's going to end it right there.
Hannah Goodin: Thanks for listening, everyone. And this time of year, our show's become monthly. So just check out social media for our next show. But seriously, thank you to the listeners as well. And everyone engaged. I personally received so many messages during the championships with kind words. And I tweeted back and I was just like, this is why we do high school football, because of the community and the love. And I've never really felt any hate on doing high school football. So, I mean, it's really a special community. And we want to thank all of our listeners as well.
Jon Nelson: No doubt about it. So that is it for another season of the Football Fridays in Georgia podcast here at GPB Media. Thanks for accessing us, however you are doing so: large device or small, GPB, GPB.org, the GB sports app available on iOS and Android. Don't forget to like, friend and be a part of the conversation on all the social media platforms. Follow our YouTube channel. It is the Insta, it is the Twitter, and it is Facebook as well. So don't forget, if you're not a part of any of those social media platforms, go ahead and hop onto those as well. The show is, as always, produced by the incredibly patient and irreplaceable Sean Powers. For Hannah, I'm just Jon, play it safe, everybody. Enjoy the new year.