Rob Ridings, Thomson
1. What is the real difference-maker in winning and losing in Georgia high school football? “I totally believe the real difference-makers in high school football today are the willingness to prepare and being committed to becoming a ‘team’ player. Football as we know today is a year-round sport that players have to commit to out-of-season work, preseason work and in-season work. The commitment has to be stronger today than ever. I believe the star ratings given to players have clouded the players’ perspective on why it’s so important to work. I will take a four-star work ethic over a four-star player any day. The hardest job a coach has is blending his players into a team and leaving their personal stats and glory in the locker room. We ask our players to leave all the ‘me’ stuff inside and step on the grass as a ‘team’ player. Last but not least, you have to have talent to win football games. Your coaches can only do so much in teaching the schemes and techniques. I always remind our players that ‘hard work beats talent when talent does not work.'”
2. Which player that you’ve coached is memorable mostly for his character or inspiration? “That’s a hard question to answer. I have had many players I have coached that gave great inspiration and modeled high character. The player that sticks out in my mind is James Dean. James played linebacker and running back for me at Glynn Academy in Brunswick. James was the total team player who always played and practiced with great inspiration. He was a leader by example. He never asked his teammates to do anything he would not do. James had a lot of physical talent, but he always outworked his opponents and outhustled opposing teams. You never had to worry if James was doing the right thing; he was a model of character both in the classroom and on the field. James had the abilities and desire to take over a game or put his team on his back and carry them on to victory. One game that stands out to me was our 2010 first-round victory over No. 7-ranked Lovejoy High School 7-6. In this game, James played every snap on offense and defense for us. He also blocked a PAT and a field goal that enabled Glynn Academy to defeat Lovejoy, which at the time was undefeated at 10-0. James was the epitome of a ‘team’ player. He never worried about his personal stats but always pushed the team philosophy. James continued his education and athletic career at Georgia Southern University. He was a very successful player and student for the Eagles. James graduated from Georgia Southern with a degree in engineering and is starting a very successful career.”
3. What is the best atmosphere for a high school game that you’ve experienced away from home? “The toughest place to play for me was the Mack Tharpe Stadium at Colquitt County. In 1991, I was defensive coordinator for LaGrange. We played Colquitt County on a Saturday night in Moultrie for the AAAA state championship. The game and atmosphere were electric from pregame warmups until the final seconds of the game. The stadium was packed during pregame, and fans were 8-10 deep along the fence lines. LaGrange and Colquitt battled all night with great play on both teams. The game came down to the final 13 seconds with Colquitt leading 16-14. LaGrange drove to the Colquitt 15-yard line and kicked the winning field goal with 13 seconds on the clock. Needless to say, the final 13 seconds seemed like eternity for our defense. Finally, the final horn sounded. LaGrange was crowned AAAA state champions for 1991!” [LaGrange also was named USA Today’s national champion.]
4. As a player or coach at any level, which game do you wish you could play again? “Last year’s state championship game versus Cartersville. We learned a lot of valuable lessons in prepping our team throughout the week of the state championship game. As expected, the championship week comes with many distractions, some expected and some unexpected. The biggest lesson we learned when playing at a place like the Georgia Dome was getting your players to understand the environment and surroundings in a venue like the Dome. I really believe our players were star struck when we arrived at the Dome, and not to mention playing a team like Cartersville, which was seeking its 30th straight win, also had a lot to do with our anxieties. If we could be lucky enough to do it again, I would make several changes in preparations during the week and isolate my coaches and players the night before the championship. We would also visit the Dome games the night before our game. We would use this as a way to get out all or most of the emotions of playing in a stadium such as the Georgia Dome or the new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.”
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