By Bob Pepalis
Lovett School Football Coach Mike Muschamp sees a challenge this fall. His team won the state AA football championship last year. Now it’s 2014. The Lovett Lions start over.
“The biggest challenge is to get the new team to realize that they have done nothing to this point. Everyone wants to celebrate and enjoy last year’s accomplishment, as they should, Muschamp said.
“But that is over.”
Some players remain from the 2013 team, but Muschamp says that team no longer exists. “They made their mark. What kind of chapter is this group going to add to the history of Lovett football?” he said.
It’s in the nature of the high school game. A team that is up one year can be down the next. Top players graduate and head to college. Teams move to new leagues, so schedules get tougher.
Once successful teams struggle to repeat as champions for many reasons – complacency, apathy, satisfaction, a feeling of entitlement. The year after the Buckhead-based Lovett Lions’ championship 2013 season, Muschamp finds all of these feelings are entwined as he deals with putting a new team on the field and trying to mold them to repeat as champions.
“That sense of urgency that existed before is hard to recreate,” he said in an email interview.
At Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Sandy Springs, Head Football Coach David Rosenzweig faces a different problem altogether. Last year, the Cougars won only a single game. This year, his team moves to a new league and the competition is expected to be tougher.
Holy Spirit played in the GFC (Glory for Christ) football league from 2011 to 2013, but has switched to this year to the Georgia Independent School Association, known as GISA. In 2011, the team was undefeated in the GFC and won the league title.
“The GFC league was a good place for us to be for a couple of years. But last year, the morale of the students was dropping,” Rosenzweig said.
The Holy Spirit team, with 21 players, will have the smallest roster in its league. The varsity team includes four freshmen, and at least some of them are expected to win starting jobs. “When you have 21 guys, it’s all hands on deck and everyone’s got to help out,” the coach said.
But the players want to face that challenge, Rosenzweig said.
“They remember what it was like to have intense practices, intense games and playing in the title game. And they know that that possibility of a title game this year is going to be a very improbable task, but they want it and they want to get the school ready for it,” Rosenzweig said.
A dozen players remain from the 2011 championship team. They were freshmen then; they are seniors now.
“It’s really important to us because freshman year was amazing, and we really struggled sophomore and junior year,” said Kyle Winkler, a senior running back and outside linebacker. “We didn’t really have this type of pride that we have. And I can see on the field and outside of football how the football players are really holding [themselves] really high.
“I think we are excited because we get to test ourselves against much bigger teams that we are going to have to face,” Winkler said.
Rosenzweig said his team has only one direction to go: up.
“The wins and losses are not goal No. 1 for our program. It’s to get it going in the right direction, give them a place to have a great time, and have that brotherhood on the field,” he said.
In Brookhaven, the Marist School has long fielded one of the state’s most successful programs. This year, the War Eagles will be tested early, their coach says. They start their season facing several tough challengers, including Lovett, a team that beat Marist in overtime last year.
But Marist Coach Alan Chadwick remains hopeful.
“We feel relatively good about our chances of having a pretty good football team,”Chadwick said.
Marist opens its season Aug. 30 in the “Battle of the Borders” showdown scheduled for Georgia Perimeter College’s Halliford Stadium in Clarkston. Marist will meet Godby High School of Tallahassee, Fla., which is ranked seventh in the nation. Kickoff is set for 11:45 a.m.
Marist coaches feel confident about their linesmen, but worry a bit about their young playmakers, Chadwick said. Still, 24 returning seniors help build confidence, he said.
“I hope [the team will] play hard and play with some enthusiasm,” Chadwick said. “We hope to be in the hunt for a region championship,” he said.
Last year, the War Eagles lost to the Carrollton High School Trojans 44-42 in the fourth overtime of their semifinal game in the state AAAA finals.
So as the 2014 season begins, they’re building on last year.
But, like every other team, they start over.