In four seasons leading Prince Avenue Christian, Greg Vandagriff is 43-8 with a region title and appearance in the state semifinals in three of those four years. But it was last season’s loss in the second round to eventual champion Eagle’s Landing Christian that Vandagriff believes may catapult his team to the next level
Recently he spoke about that, and about coaching a son considered by many to be the best quarterback prospect in the nation.
What was your initial reaction to the shutting down of the state’s schools?
“When they said we would be out for two weeks, the way the calendar was set up I knew we would be out longer, if not indefinitely. I didn’t think we would be out for two weeks, come back for one week then be out for spring break.
I thought we would be out for at least four weeks, so I created a schedule with the four coaches we have in the building where each one of us took a class – freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. Each week we have a day where we meet with our players in each class, just to check on them, make sure they and their families are OK. Then we have a day where we do offensive install, another day for defense and another day where we meet by positions. We may look at some film or a Power Point. On Wednesday nights we have a (virtual) staff meeting where we update each other and share information. I remind the staff that we need to keep the kids calm and that academics and the needs of the kids come first. We make sure to take care of that. Football will be there.”
What do you think the best-case scenario is for returning?
“At this point I think it’s the week after the dead week in July (June 30 – July 6). But no one really knows yet. I tell the kids all we can worry about is the things we can control. The thing is, every program is in the same situation, so whenever we do get back, everyone will be starting from the same place.”
How had your offseason program been going?
“We were probably having the best offseason we’ve had since I’ve been here. We used to have about 30-35 kids participating every day. Now that’s up to about 60. I think the success we’ve had has a lot to do with that. Success breeds success. You’ve got to make being part of our program fun and enjoyable, and worthwhile for the kids and I think we’ve done that. When you consider that we have 225 kids total, about 112 boys and 60 of them are in our program, which says something. We had a ton of momentum coming off of last season.”
After going to the semifinals the three previous seasons, your team lost to Eagle’s Landing Christian in the second round in one of the highest scoring games of the season in Georgia (62-57). How has that loss impacted your program? (Note: ELCA went on to win its fifth consecutive private school title.)
“I told our kid, trust me. I think I’ve got a bead on them. I knew we would have to score pretty much every time we got the ball. We scored early and were down 35-21 at halftime, but I told them, look, we’re going to stop them and score, then stop them and score again. And that’s exactly what we did. Our fans and our kids got excited and saw that we could really do this.
We were up 57-56 with three minutes left, and on our last drive of the game we get an offensive pass interference call with 1:40 left that I thought was pretty tough. We went from second-and-10 to second-and-22 and that just killed us. We lost, but they knew they had been in a ballgame. They celebrated like they had won the state championship that night. To tell the truth, everybody has confidence in their teams but for a long time whenever the playoff brackets come out, the 600-pound gorilla in the corner is everybody looking to see where ELCA is in the bracket. For the first time since I’ve been here, after that last game, we are no longer worried about that.”
How was last season as Brock’s coach and as his father? (Note: Greg Vandagriff’s son, Brock, a junior, is considered by some to be the nation’s top quarterback in the class of 2021. He has committed to Georgia after de-committing form Oklahoma.)
“You know, he really battled last season. He played the second half of the Wesleyan game with a broken leg. He missed four games and when he came back he was only about 70 or 80 percent against Lakeview Academy. Then the next week against George Walton he takes a late shot on his knee on the same leg he broke. No one knew that he had a second-degree MCL sprain that he played on for the next two weeks. He was finally back to 100 percent against ELCA, and had a great game (Vandagriff ran for three touchdowns and threw for four).
“For [Brock] this offseason hasn’t been as big a deal. He would have been preparing for Elite 11 and Rivals 100 camps and showcases, and preparing a little for Georgia. But when I asked him about maybe playing in some elite seven-on-seven tournaments, he said he doesn’t care about any of that. He wants to focus on getting better so he can lead us to a state championship. As his coach and as his father, I want to help prepare him for his goals and his dreams.
“People ask me about why he de-committed from Oklahoma, and I can assure you it was all him. It was his decision. At the end of the day, I think he just wanted to be closer to home, closer to his family so they can all see him play. Over the holidays we got to spend a lot of time with family, and he’s a family kid. He always felt at home at Georgia and felt good about his relationship with [Georgia head coach] Kirby [Smart]. It was nothing Oklahoma did or didn’t do. Those guys were great. At the end of the day, [Brock] wanted to be closer to home.”
To go along with Brock, who are some of your top returning players?
“We have eight players returning on offense, but we lost some key players on defense. We completed 71 percent of our passes and all those kids are back: Brock, (WR) Logan Johnson, (WR) Zac Dyer, (RB) Landon Owens, (G) Tanner Wells, (G) Will Frost, (T) Matthew Chapman and (T) Mason Goodyear.
“On defense we have some good players coming back like Davis Ridings is an all-state linebacker, (DB) Andrew Ridings, and (S) Chas Coggins. We have to find a couple of linebackers and defensive linemen, but I think we will.”
You have been in the top 15 in the state and the top five in Class A in scoring the past two seasons with your wide open, spread offense. What makes it so attractive to you?
“At the end of the day, coaches do what you know and what you have answers for. In other words, when teams do certain things to try to stop you, you have the answers for how to adjust. Coaches that stick with the wing-T or triple option stick with those offenses because it gives them a chance even if you have lesser talent. Typically in A and AA, you don’t have the linemen you need to pound the ball. To me, it’s easier to get the ball out to your skill guys. It’s exciting and the kids get excited. And if I can score two or three times quickly, I can get the other team in trouble and having to do something they might not be comfortable doing.”
You will have a challenging schedule once the season gets going.
“Yes, we wanted to set up a schedule that would prepare us to make a run for the title. We’re playing Rabun County (Defending Region 8-AA champions that went 12-1 last season and advanced to the quarterfinals) on ESPN. In Week 4, we’re going out to Dallas to play Episcopal Parrish (Defending Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools champions) on September 11. And that’s all before we face Wesleyan and Calvary Day, and Athens Academy.”
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