Class AAAAA blog: Decatur back in the playoffs, but has bigger goals

There was plenty of reasons for Decatur to celebrate after last week’s win over Lithia Springs. The main reason was the victory guaranteed the Bulldogs would be in the football playoffs for the first time since 2005. That’s worth jumping up and down.

But coach Cody Cory and his team were somewhat restrained, because their goals go beyond simply qualifying for the postseason. Decatur (6-2, 4-1 Region 6) is aiming to win its final two games and enter the state playoffs as the No. 2 seed, giving them home field advantage for the first round. It would also help the Bulldogs avoid a likely first-round matchup with No. 1 Buford.

“We have some work to do,” Cory said “We’re not finished yet. Our goal is to host a playoff game. Everybody is excited and we’d love to bring a playoff game back to Decatur.”

This is Cory’s third year as head coach. He was defensive coordinator in the two previous seasons. He’s seen the program improve. The Bulldogs were close the last two seasons, falling one win short of qualifying for the playoffs. The success has been embraced by the student body.

“There’s a buzz,” he said. “When the football team is good, there’s a lot of excitement in the building. It’s a good buzz. It feels better than it has since I’ve been here.”

Cory saw the way the staff worked all summer to prepare this team – which began the season with only three experienced seniors on the roster – and the manner in which the players turned out for preparatory work.

“We’ve got a really good coaching staff and the people I’ve got around me have done a really good job,” Cory said. “The kids have bought into the process. We worked hard through the summer and it’s been about coming to work every day and letting practice take care of where we need to be on Friday night. If you take care of business in the weight room and the classroom, it translates to the field.”

The three seniors with experience have all been instrumental in the success: quarterback James Swank, linebacker Mohamed Dayib and two-way tackle Hunter Ellspermann.

“Nothing really surprised me,” Cory said. “We knew this group of kids, with their work ethic, could do it. Knew from off-season workouts they would be able to hold it together to get to this point. We’ve done a better job of being efficient, we’ve been able to run the ball and we’ve minimized mistakes.”

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The offense is different this year. Although the Bulldogs lost 1,400-yard rusher Martize Smith to graduation, they have effectively run the ball. It isn’t unusual for Decatur to use as many as eight different ball carriers.

Justin Weaver is one of the juniors who has been a big contributor. Last week he ran for 100 yards and a touchdown and had a pick-six. That was one of three interceptions returned for a score.

Other top juniors include wide receivers Jered Lester and Isaac Dimmock and linebacker Kristopher Williams and sophomore linebacker Tyrik Cherry.

“The defense has really showed signs of improvement,” Cory said. “We have linebackers who understand how to get is lined up and we’ve been opportunistic in the secondary. It’s a testament to our coaching staff to make sure we’re in the right places and understand the scheme.”