4 Questions with Rabun Gap head coach Joe Sturdivant

High school football
High school football

Credit: For the AJC

Credit: For the AJC

Today’s interviewee is Joe Sturdivant, head coach of Rabun Gap-Nacoochee. Rabun Gap, established in 1903 in Rabun County, defeated Providence Day 52-42 last week in Charlotte in the Division I semifinals of the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association. Rabun Gap will play Charlotte Christian on Friday in Charlotte for the championship. Sturdivant, in his first season at the school, played on Parkview’s 2000-02 state championship teams, then for SMU. He and former Heisman Trophy winner Chris Weinke started the football program at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.. Sturdivant recently finished up a stint as head coach of the Saarland Hurricanes of the German Football League.

Joe Sturdivant, Rabun Gap head coach

1. What is Rabun Gap-Nacoochee? “Rabun Gap is a private boarding school in the North Georgia mountains. We’re right at the border where North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia all meet. We are a pre-K-12th day school and offer boarding for eighth-12th grades. We play in the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association (NCISAA). It is a very strong league made up of some of the top teams in the state of North Carolina. We play in the NCISAA because of our large international student-athlete population. If we played in the GHSA, those students would have to sit out a year. Our students can also re-classify in our league. This gives these students a huge advantage to build their academic profile but also gives them another year of college recruiting to help better their chances of playing at the college of their choice. We would love to be able to schedule Georgia schools throughout the regular season as non-conference and continue to play in the North Carolina League.” [Rabun Gap played GHSA member Union County this season and won 21-6.]

2. What would you want people to know about your team, the level of play, what you’re playing for? What’s significant about the game you just won and the one coming up? “We are a team made up of athletes from 17 different countries. We all came together for the first time in August. What we have been able to accomplish has been amazing. We have beaten teams Rabun Gap has not even come close to beating. We made it to the Division I playoff for the first time in school history. In one year we have grown a program to new heights. These young men and coaches have achieved this. We believe we play at a very high level here at Rabun Gap. Currently we have wide receiver Marlin Klein, committed to Michigan. Our tight end Darren Agu has over 20 offers including several SEC and ACC. Defensive back Coleman Bryson has an offer to Louisville. Quarterback Aidan Semo has only lost one high school football game and is a back-to-back New York state champion in football [at Cornwall Central]. I believe our kicker Dom Sojat, wide receiver Tucker Holloway and both tackles Lukas Meyer and Ole Krebs are also Division I prospects. The game we just won was the state semifinals. It was a huge win for the program. Last Year, Providence Day beat Rabun Gap by 50 points. We beat head coach Chad Greir and Providence Day 52-42 in the biggest win in school history. We are now playing for the state championship this coming Friday at Charlotte Christian.”

3. With the broad range of experiences you’ve had, what attracted you to this job? “I used to pray about being the head coach of a high school in the North Georgia mountains when I was a teenager and would go fishing up in Dahlonega. So I always had my eye on this place. My wife’s family lives here in Clayton, 15 minutes south, and Franklin, 15 minutes north. One day I was visiting my wife’s family about eight years ago and I saw Rabun Gap as I was driving. I decided to pull in and introduce myself, ask if they had football. I did not get a job then, but I stayed in contact with the athletic director. When they reached out to me about the opening in February, I jumped on the job. I knew Rabun Gap was the perfect place to build an elite football program. We have an incredible stadium set between the mountains. The academics at Rabun Gap are some of the best in the country, and we have a headmaster who truly values sports and what it really means to be a student-athlete. One look at our website and I believe anyone would agree with me that it would be an incredible place to work.”

4. Going back to your Parkview days, what was it like to play for those historic Panthers teams? And how it might’ve impacted your career path? “Those Panther teams were incredible. The 2002 Parkview Panthers have to be one of the best high school football teams of all time. The coaching staff we had there was truly a blessing to play for. I owe them a lot because what I am teaching here at Rabun Gap is what I got taught at Parkview. What I believe was so special about those teams, and this is what I share with my players all the time: It was never about the trophy at Parkview. It was always about what we did to win it. We were a special group of people who came together for a special goal, but most importantly we would have done anything for each other. Playing at Parkview definitely affected my career path. I want to deliver to my players the experience that we had at Parkview. What we did during the 45-0 run was special but is nothing compared to the way we practiced, prepared and played the game and grew as a family. The coaching staff at Parkview delivered the best high school football experience. I only hope to provide a glimpse to what it was like to my guys. I coach football to build men. I am the man I am today because of the lessons I learned during my time playing for Cecil Flowe at Parkview High School.”

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