Eagle's Landing Christian won its fourth straight Class A private-school championship in 2018 and fifth state championship overall. Today's interviewee is ELCA coach Jonathan Gess, whose record at the McDonough private school is 131-27.
Jonathan Gess, Eagle's Landing Christian head coach
1. The 2018 team is one of five ELCA state champions. What was unique about that particular team? What will be its legacy? "I think with the 2012 and 2017 teams, they were the most talented, without any doubt. We knew we had talent in 2018, but we didn't know if we would have the supporting pieces to win another state championship. We were starting three new offensive linemen, replacing our entire defense almost and skill positions on offense. So it was rewarding to see the team come together and win a state championship."
2. What's the scouting report on the 2019 team? Where do you feel you're pretty good, and where are the potential trouble spots? "We feel good about our team but have some giant holes to fill - quarterback Brayden Rush and linebacker Johnathan Youngblood. These two guys were tremendous leaders and three-year starters. We lose Justin Menard to Central Florida and a few other great players. We feel good about our team, but our linebacking core and quarterback have a lot to prove. If they can produce, we have a chance to be really good."
3. You've seen almost every top Class A private-school program over the years. What was the best opposing team, and the best opposing player, that you've faced in that time? "From a single-A perspective, the best team we have seen, and this probably includes any classification, is the 2014 Mount Paran team. That team is one of single A's all-time best teams and could have competed in any classification that year. Man, there have been so many special players we have gone up against. But if I have to say one guy that totally was different was Stanley Williams for George Walton in 2012 and 2013. That George Walton team in 2012 was one of the best ever in single A as well. We played them in the semifinals. He went on to play at Kentucky." [ELCA is 16-0 in the state playoffs since a 49-7 loss to Mount Paran Christian in the 2014 finals. Williams was a 1,000-yard rusher at Kentucky and signed with the Broncos and Bengals, though never made a regular-season NFL roster.]
4. You wrote a book called Demand Excellence that was published in the offseason. What's it about, and what inspired you to write it? "I am a Christian and I want to coach in a way that brings God honor and glory. I am an extreme competitor. I want to win at everything I do. As I became a head coach, there has been this big struggle in my life between doing things for my glory and doing things for his glory. I don't mind the intense competitor inside of me. I don't mind the fact that I want to win. Who wants to lose? But what I mind is I want the glory that belongs to God. So from 2013-2015 and on I wrote a book that addresses this struggle. I wasn't going to publish it because it probably will prevent me from ever working at anything other than a Christian school in today's times, but I felt convicted by the Holy Spirit to publish it. I'm 40 now, and there are a lot of younger coaches that hopefully I can encourage to coach for the glory of God rather than their own glory. I started a podcast too, called Demand Excellence where I, and coach Ed Dudley [of Winder-Barrow] sometimes, interview coaches across the state who are doing it the right way. It has been very encouraging talking with these coaches."
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