Four Questions with Stephenson coach Ron Gartrell

FEBRUARY 5, 2014 STONE MOUNTAIN Stephenson football head coach Ron Gartrell gives remarks during the program. High school football signing day activities at Stephenson High School in Stone Mountain, Wednesday, February 5, 2014. (AJC file photo)

GHSF Daily asked Georgia head coaches to answer these four questions. We’ll report from a different head coach each day.

Ron Gartrell, Stephenson

1. What is the real difference-maker in winning and losing in Georgia high school football? “The biggest thing that has helped us and most programs is your preparation, the offseason preparation, the preseason preparation, the development of your players through park ball and middle school ball. It takes tremendous sacrifice from coaches and players. Some players don’t understand why you have to work in January and February when you don’t have to play until fall. It’s getting them to buy into that. Stephenson has a tradition of offseason workouts, and that’s probably been the key to maintaining the success we’ve had. … [Additionally] You win with talent. If you don’t have the talent to compete and win at the highest level, you’re going to struggle. Talent is very important, and the support of your parents and school and administration and community.”

2. Which player that you’ve coached is memorable mostly for his character or inspiration? “I’d have to say Kregg Lumpkin. There’s many, many more, but Kregg was a workaholic. He never complained. His leadership was not verbal. He led by example. He had a lot of respect from everybody. He was a quiet kid who just went about his way in the classroom and on the football field. He had a great career. He played at Georgia, of course, and four of five years in the NFL. Now he’s a fireman [in Clayton County] and doing a great job. If he doesn’t get hurt in the 10th game of season [in 2002], we feel like we had great team that year. We were rolling pretty good. [Lumpkin was an AJC Super 11 pick in 2002 but was lost for the season in the second quarter of the final regular-season game against Douglass. Stephenson entered the playoffs 10-0 and ranked No. 3 but, without Lumpkin, lost to Camden County 27-20 in the quarterfinals.]

3. What is the best atmosphere for a high school game that you’ve experienced away from home? “‘The toughest place we’ve ever played away from home was Camden County [in 2003, the year of Camden’s first state title]. I remember that stadium like it was yesterday. It was a crazy atmosphere. Another place that was pretty wild was Lowndes [in 2004, when Lowndes won a state title]. The most recent atmosphere like that was Valdosta last year [in the quarterfinals. Valdosta went on to win a state title.] For a high school game, the fans really knew how to get their team going. It seemed like there was a good coordination between what was going on in the game and the fans. They knew when to make noise and get their team pumped up and when to be quiet. It was quite an experience. My next answer would’ve been Lincoln County as a player [at Washington-Wilkes] in the 1970s. It was tough playing in Lincolnton, and it was tough for them to play in Washington-Wilkes too.”

4. As a player or coach at any level, which game do you wish you could play again? “The game that I’d like to have back would be when I played in high school. It was my junior year, and we had a great team. We were 8-0 and playing at home against Oglethorpe County and we ended up losing in overtime. Back then, they only took one team to the playoffs. That’s one I wish we could play again.”

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