Greg Vandagriff, Prince Avenue Christian
1. What is the real difference-maker in winning and losing in Georgia high school football? “I have coached at the highest classification and also Class A. Regardless of level, the No. 1 factor is talent. A D-I running back can make a base dive look like a legitimate play, but a mule will never win the Kentucky Derby. If you do not have talent, you cannot win. My secondbelief is that talent without good coaching results in consistently getting bounced in the second round of the playoffs or earlier. Third on my list is administration. They have the ability to make a good job great and an average job good. Facilities – you have to have a place that you want to show up and feel good about it every day!”
2. Which player that you’ve coached is memorable mostly for his character or inspiration? “There are many players that I have coached that were simply good high school players that inspired me to keep showing up and doing my part! The young man I want to speak about is 5-9, 135 pounds dripping wet Brennan McCool. It was my first year of coaching (at a small private school in Baton Rouge), and there was a sassy freshman in my P.E. class that ran extra laps for cursing because that’s what we do to young men that irritate us in class. He had just moved back to live with his dad and was having a tough time during the transition.
“At Thanksgiving, he told me he was going to try out for the baseball team. That’s awesome, but the only problem was that I was the head baseball coach and there was no way I was going to spend my coaching time with this juvenile delinquent! I told him that I would cut him on the first day unless he was able to agree to my stipulations. I told him that if he got into trouble once between Thanksgiving and Christmas break in my class that he could not try out. I realized I had just asked the cookie monster to stop eating cookies.
“Much to my amazement, he became a model citizen in P.E. for the next three weeks! All Brennan needed was purpose and a reason to belong. Trying out and eventually becoming a member of the team provided that for him. He had a wonderful freshmen year on the JV team. In the fall, he decided to play football (I was thrilled as I served as the DC). Over the next two years he showed up about every morning to help me sell donuts for the baseball team from 7:45-8:05 at the school.
“Brennan had basically become my little brother. He became the starting center fielder on the baseball team and corner for our football team. After Christmas break his junior year, he called me on Thursday night to let me know he would not be there Friday to help sell donuts. I said no problem.
“He never made it to school that day. He died in a car wreck on the way. I believe I cried for three days. I was teaching at a Christian school and asked God: Why would he allow this to happen?
“Today, I have an 8×10 of Brennan McCool in my office. When people ask me about the picture, I get to tell the story. I learned through Brennan to never give up on a kid. We all come from different backgrounds and have our own story, but everyone wants to be loved, appreciated and cared for.
“Brennan McCool taught me that lesson early in my coaching career. Through his tragedy, I was inspired to keep loving on the unlovable and reaching the unreachable.”
3. What is the best atmosphere for a high school game that you’ve experienced away from home? “There are many wonderful venues in Georgia, but for me personally it has been the love-hate relationship we had with St. Pius. The atmosphere at their place was electric and verbally toxic at times, but nonetheless high school football at its best.”
4. As a player or coach at any level, which game do you wish you could play again? “I have been fortunate to be on the staff of five teams that made the semifinals. I feel like a football version of the Cubs. We have lost all of them. However, in most all of those games, we had slim chances of winning. This was not the case when we played St. Pius in 2014 [as defensive coordinator at Woodward Academy]. Many sub-plots and stories, but at the end of the day, we had a better-than-even chance of winning but came up short!”
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