Cedar Grove won its second state title in three seasons in 2018 under coach Jimmy Smith, who was hired in the offseason to become Georgia State's running backs coach. Today's interviewee is his replacement, Miguel Patrick, the defensive coordinator on those championship teams. Patrick, also the school's boys basketball coach last season, is entering his 13th season at Cedar Grove.
Miguel Patrick, Cedar Grove head coach
1. What has been the hardest thing about being a head coach, the thing that you didn't anticipate? "All the administrative duties that come along with being a head coach. Coming from being a head basketball coach, there were some administrative duties/paperwork that had to be done, but a lot of it was completed before preseason practices even started. That is definitely not the case with football. Fortunately, we were able to keep our staff mostly intact. Longtime defensive line coach James McNeill retired, but everybody else is still here. So that has made the transition to head coach a little bit easier."
2. What's the legacy of the 2018 team? What made it different than the 2016 team? "I can't say enough about the senior class that we just graduated. First two state championships in school history, first team in DeKalb Schools history to make the semifinals four consecutive years. The 2016 team probably had better individual performers. The 2018 team was a group of guys who bought in to our culture and our process. We never had to have a conversation about focus or what we were playing for with the 2018 team. They were locked in throughout the year. The 2016 team came together in the middle of the season. We were 3-2 after the first five games. But the 2018 team was locked in and focused from the very beginning. What ultimately made the difference in 2018 was the preparation and work ethic that our players showed throughout the season. The play of Jadon Haselwood [the all-classification player of the year, now at Oklahoma] and our other seniors, especially in big moments, carried us through."
3. What's the scouting report on this year's team? "Our identity will be very similar to what it has been for the last several years. Our philosophy hasn't changed much on offense or defense. Our offensive line coach/run game coordinator [Lawrence Smith] became our new offensive coordinator, and I will continue to run the defense. You tweak things and change things every year, but we're still going to play our brand of football. We're going to attempt to establish the run on offense and be fast, physical and gap-sound on defense.
"We are returning a lot of guys who played a lot last year on offense [seven starters, including three on the offensive line]. I think our offense will be a strength if those veteran guys continue to work and improve. Defensively, we are replacing a lot of talent. I'm waiting to see the attitude that I normally see from Cedar Grove defenses, and I think it will come as the guys who were backups last year get comfortable and confident as starters."
4. You've been at Cedar Grove for 12 seasons. You've seen just about every top Class AAA program in that time. What was the toughest opposing team, and toughest opposing player, that Cedar Grove has faced in that time? "Even though we were blessed to come out on top, I think the 2018 Peach County team has to be one of the best teams that I've ever had to coach against - super fast and physical, well-coached, mentally tough, great on offense and amazing on defense.
"Two names immediately spring to mind when I think of the toughest players we've run into - Zay Malcome from Westminster and Reuben Foster from Troup. They were both guys that did everything for their teams and were incredibly difficult to prepare for. Foster was so physically imposing, strong and fast. We just didn't have a lot of answers for how to play him. Malcome combined incredible football smarts and athleticism in a way that we haven't really seen at Cedar Grove. In the 2016 game, he ran for a touchdown, returned a punt inside our 20 and returned a kickoff for a touchdown. That game really showed the 2016 team the level that we needed to be at to be a contender, and our guys responded after that loss."
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