4 Questions with Calhoun head coach Clay Stephenson

Calhoun players run onto the field before their game against Peach County during the Class AAA Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Friday, December 8, 2017, in Atlanta. PHOTO / JASON GETZ
Calhoun players run onto the field before their game against Peach County during the Class AAA Championship at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Friday, December 8, 2017, in Atlanta. PHOTO / JASON GETZ

Today’s interviewee is Calhoun coach Clay Stephenson, whose team opened with a 41-14 victory over Dalton last week. Stephenson, a longtime assistant, succeeded Hal Lamb last season as the Yellow Jackets' head coach. Calhoun entered the Class 5A rankings this week at No. 7 heading into a game this week with Tennessee state champion McCallie in Chattanooga.

Clay Stephenson, Calhoun head coach

1. Tell us about the Dalton game. What was the difference? What allowed you to pull away? “The first game of the year is always tough because you are still trying to feel your team out, and you obviously don’t know what the other team brings to the table, either. Coach [Matt] Land at Dalton runs a great program, so I knew it would be a tough test for us this year. Our kids played hard and executed from the opening kickoff until the last whistle. We got off to an early start, and we were able to finish it off at the end with over a seven-minute TD drive in the fourth to seal the deal.”

2. Describe last season as a first-year coach. What was it like stepping in for a coach who had had so much success? “I feel like my head was spinning last year in our first season. There were so many day-to-day things that came up that were not even on my radar as an assistant coach. It was difficult finding the balance between building relationships with the kids, all of the administrative duties and actually breaking down film and coaching football. I relied a lot on my dad, who is a former head coach, and Coach [Hal] Lamb last year to bounce ideas off and get their input on different situations that came up. We are blessed with great assistant coaches at Calhoun, so that takes a huge load off of me when I trust those guys to get the job done.”

3. How is this year’s team different? What have you and your staff and the team done to improve from 2019? “I feel like the things our staff did during the quarantine allowed us to get back to football and not have as big of a gap to fill getting ready for the season. Our biggest goal during that time was to make sure our players remembered that they were still a part of our football program and we were still here for them if they needed us. Everyone’s lives were completely turned upside down during that time, so we has as many Zoom meetings as we could and never really brought up the X’s and O’s of football. We would have a guest speaker each week that would give them some life lessons that hopefully will have a lasting impact on them this season and beyond. This team is still coming together, and the leaders are emerging each week. With no spring or full team conditioning this summer, we lost the time when leaders step up, so these first few weeks will be crucial for the team-building aspect of the season.”

4. Talk about the McCallie game. How did the game come about, and why is it a game that has your team excited? “We are very excited to add McCallie. They had a game canceled on them late last week, and we happened to have Lindsey Young [reporter for the Chattanooga Times] doing an interview about our upcoming game. I had mentioned to him to be on the lookout for any Tennessee teams that might need a game for this week. So luckily it just kind of fell into our laps and we were able to get it scheduled. McCallie has a great program and is a team we really didn’t know anything about until this week. It has been fun preparing for a team at the last minute, and getting to play at Finley Stadium [home of UT-Chattanooga] is going to be a treat as well. It also gives our band a chance to travel and perform because of the size of the stadium. Our community is very excited to get to go up there and play, and hopefully we can give them something to cheer for on Friday night.” [McCallie won Tennessee’s Division II Class AAA championship in 2019.]

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