Four Questions with Athens Academy head coach Josh Alexander

GHSF Daily's Four Questions feature historically poses the same questions to a different Georgia head coach each issue. This season, head coaches are being asked Four Questions tailored to current events. Today's interviewee is Athens Academy head coach Josh Alexander, whose team defeated Prince Avenue Christian 31-27 on Friday in a back-and-forth game between top-five Class A private-school teams.

Josh Alexander, Athens Academy head coach 

1. What was the atmosphere for Friday night's game at your home field and the significance of the victory? "It was really a crowded, electric atmosphere. The hills were packed. The sidelines were packed. The kids and the communities were excited on both sides. Sometimes it gets to be a nasty rivalry, and I wish both of our schools could do better with that, but the environment was a lot of fun. The game was back and forth. We were up, and they came back. They had a trick play and a couple of returns. Just a really good football game. It was a big win because the region got subdivided this year, and we felt we had to win to have a chance to even play for the region championship. We still have George Walton, but this is the one that if we'd lost, it would've been difficult." [Athens Academy plays at No. 7 George Walton Academy on Friday.]

2. Athens Academy went through a tough patch before your first year in 2015 and was just 4-5 the season before you arrived. What have you and your staff done to get the program back on top so quickly [36-6 record overall and school's first state finals appearance last year]? "I'm in a community where it doesn't really matter who the head coach is. They've always been winners. When I'm gone, they'll still be winners. These are great kids and great families who are successful in many ways in their lives. I've tapped into that and added my own personality to it. We started developing kids in the weight room. That helped us tremendously. And schematically, we learned not to be locked into a scheme. I learned that at a small school, some years you have linemen, and some years you don't, and some years you have skill kids, and some years you don't. We've had to find the pieces of the puzzle and make sure they fit. Some years, we've thrown for 4,000 yards. Some years, we've had two or three run for 1,000 yards. We've tried to find out what we can and can't do, and we've had success because kids are buying into that and working hard."

3. What's it like coaching at Athens Academy compared to large public schools like Archer and Parkview? [Alexander was the offensive coordinator on Archer's 2014 Class AAAAAA runner-up team.] "You cannot practice like you could at a larger school because of the sheer numbers. I had to learn how to do that. At Archer and Parkview, we had 150 players, so we could have two different practices with two different scout teams if we wanted to. We didn't touch the ninth-graders until they were 10th-graders. In Class A, you might have 14 to 18 kids who play both ways and also special teams. We try to monitor how much they practice and when and how much they're lifting and eating. You don't want to take the tempo out of practice, but you can't run their legs out from under them. They have to be feeling good on Friday night, and we've been adjusting that the past two or three years to be our best."

4. You took Athens Academy to its first state final last year. Like everybody else in Class A private, you found you weren't quite on the level of Eagle's Landing Christian, whose 41-3 victory was actually the closest of ELCA's four playoff games. How close is this year's team to competing on that level? "I don't know if you can close the gap. You can only present your kids with a chance to play against good teams and coaches, and we're trying to do the best we can with that. We wanted to play some competition early in the season such as Savannah Christian, which to this day might be the best team we've played all year. Those kids played hard and are super physical. [Athens Academy won 20-7.] Then we played Stephens County, which is a higher classification and has a really good football team, and we lucked up and happened to beat them [28-7]. It was really physical. We're just trying to close the gap on ELCA and how physical they were so if we do have the chance to play them again, maybe we can play them a little better."

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