Bainbridge's Bowen Dodson lifts the trophy as from left, Roman Harrison, Jacob McLaughlin, and Randy Fillingame look on after their class 5A high school championship football game against Warner Robins, Tuesday, Dec., 11, 2018, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, in Atlanta. Bainbridge won 47-41. (john Amis/Special)

Four Questions with Bainbridge head coach Jeff Littleton

Bainbridge won Class AAAAA in historic fashion in 2018, becoming the first team to defeat five top-10 opponents in the playoffs and the third to finish .500 or below in the regular season and still claim the title. Bainbridge head coach Jeff Littleton is today's interviewee. 

Jeff Littleton, Bainbridge head coach 

1. When did you begin to realize that your team could win a state title? "We beat Veterans in the middle of the season for our first region win and saw things come together that night. [Bainbridge entered 2-4 after non-region play and won 27-14.] Right after that, we lost to Warner Robins [38-0], but at the end of the season we played really well against Harris County and Thomas County Central [winning 49-0 and 44-11, respectively.] It was really after that that first home game vs. Jones County in the playoffs where we could see we're getting better. I remember thinking, 'You know, we can make a run out of this thing. We've got a tough schedule, but if our kids believe, we're going to be all right." [Jones County was ranked No.8, but the Bearcats won 40-13 with a dominant defensive performance that included four interceptions and two sacks. Bainbridge then defeated No. 5 Wayne County 26-19, No. 2 Buford 23-20, No. 6 Stockbridge 20-19 and No. 3 Warner Robins 47-41.] 

2. With eight months now to process a remarkable 2018 season, how do you explain the run that the Bearcats made in the postseason? How did a .500 team come to life and win a championship? "We weren't lacking in talent. We were just young. A lot of those kids didn't have any experience playing varsity football on Friday night. The thing that got them better was they believed in what we were doing. When your best players are doing those things, it bleeds off on everyone else." 

3. How is the 2019 team looking? "Most of our skill guys are back. We're just losing depth and experience on the offensive and defensive line as well as linebacker. Each year, every team has a different makeup. We'll have to find new leaders and get back to that [improve] 1 percent each day philosophy. We feel we've got the talent to make a run again."

4. Which coach had the biggest influence on you? [Littleton played in two state finals as a high school player at Worth County, winning one in 1987.] "I pattern my coaching behind Milt Miller as head coach and Randy Hill, my position coach in high school. I try to be old-school like they were. They always held kids accountable and made them do the little things the right way. I try to live up to that the best I can. Coach Miller was a really intense person. He wanted maximum effort. He believed the difference between excellence and mediocrity was commitment. Coach Hill, he was a fundamentals coach. He put you in the right situation. I wouldn't be coaching today if not for them. My dad was a businessman. I started out in business and realized that wasn't for me. I based what I wanted to do off Coach Miller and Coach Hill." [Miller later became head coach at Lowndes and took Hill as defensive coordinator. Littleton is married to Hill's daughter, Kristi.] 

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