It’s been less than three weeks since Franklin Stephens was named McEachern’s football coach.
He calls the experience a whirlwind.
“One of the first things you’ve got to get done is get coaches in place,” Stephens said. He’s hired his two coordinators, but not his full staff. “You’ve got to get guys that can coach. And you’ve got to meet your team and get acclimated to who they are. In this case, there’s lots of new faces and bodies.”
Stephens has 118 players to meet and manage, and that doesn’t count the rising ninth-graders not there yet. He’s checking grades, making sure players are on track to be eligible. He’s finding out who is being recruited.
» More: High expectations for Marietta
“You worry that a kid might’ve slipped through cracks during the coaching change,” he said. “You want to get back on top of that to make sure their grades are where they’re supposed to be.”
A full-time faculty member, Stephens is already teaching weight training classes. He has set up a morning agility program for the players. He’s updated equipment and made a wish list of things to improve the weight room.
“Then you’re off trying to meet people in the community and in the school, the faculty and staff,” Stephens said. “Right now, I’m running in so many different ways I haven’t had a chance to meet all the faculty and staff. That’s something we’re working on.”
It’s early still. Stephens and McEachern have time.
The coaching change at McEachern was among the more interesting ones of the off-season.
Kyle Hockman, who led the program to five region titles in his 11 seasons and an 8-4 finish in 2018, surprised many when he stepped down to take the same position at New Manchester, a 8-year-old school in Chatham County that’s never won a playoff game. He and his wife wanted to be closer to their beach home on Tybee Island.
So McEachern turned Stephens, whose resume includes a state championship at Tucker in 2011, the title of fastest Georgia football head coach to 100 wins and an overall record of 133-26-1. He’s won region titles every place he’s been, including Lamar County and most recently Ware County in south Georgia.
Stephens, a Burke County native who played at Georgia Southern, came highly recommended by Jeff Herron, on whose staff Stephens worked while winning a state championship at Camden County in 2003. Herron got his start as a McEachern assistant under Jimmy Dorsey, now McEachern’s athletics director.
Stephens is just the third McEachern coach since 1985 behind Dorsey and Hockman. He’s eager to see exactly what he’s inherited on the field. He knows that McEachern had more alumni in college football last season, some 58 players, than any other Georgia school. Spring practice will begin May 1.
“You’ve heard about all these guys, but you haven’t seen them play,” Stephens said. “It’s like waiting on Christmas to play with those new toys.”
The biggest package under the tree is Jamil Burroughs, a 330-pound defensive tackle who is committed to Georgia. Burroughs had 10 tackles for losses and five sacks last season despite consistent double teams.
Another nice present is running back Jordon Simmons, who rushed for 982 yards and had another 380 yards receiving and scored 18 touchdowns. He’s a three-star recruit with several major Division I offers.
Wide receiver Javon Baker is committed to Alabama. He’s never put up big statistics because McEachern has been primarily a running team the past two seasons. That’s likely to change.
Defensive tackle Kyle Mann, another three-star recruit, and defensive back Jamari Bellamy are other returning starters that were outstanding in 2018.
Stephens’ defensive coordinator will be Jamie Abrams, who first worked with Stephens at 2012 at Lamar County and succeeded him as head coach and then rejoined him at Ware County.
The offensive coordinator will be Derek Cook, the former Kell head coach who stepped away from varsity football in 2017. He was 89-23 with four region titles at Kell.
Which begs a question many have asked: What kind of offense does Stephens have in store?
Stephens won a state title at Tucker running the wing-T, aka, running the ball. He took Lamar County to the state finals with the wing-T. He brought that same run-based offense to Ware County. But although the passing numbers don’t show it, Stephens switched Ware County over to more of a spread offense starting in 2017. He just didn’t have the personnel to amp up the passing game.
“We plan to be spread here,” Stephens said. “We want to be physical running the football, but we have some players where you want to be able to throw and get the ball on the perimeter.”
The reasons Stephens took the McEachern job aren’t complicated. “You’re in the big boy class, and you get to find out about yourself,” he said. “McEachern is its own brand. People know that name. It’s been built on the backs of a lot of people. We want to tweak and remodel it into an elite program.”
It’s a jewel of a job, to be sure, high-paying, a consistent winner, and with facilities and resources that lead Cobb County and most of the state. Yet, it has never won a state title. No other program has won more region titles (17) without one.
Stephens wants to do what he did at Tucker – take a consistent winner and reach the final frontier.
“It’s an opportunity to get into one of the top 7A programs that hasn’t won it yet,” Stephens said. “There are still things to be accomplished. They’ve been to semifinal, semifinal, semifinal. The next step is to win that elusive state championship.”
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.