There was a silver-haired man on the Sandy Creek sidelines Friday night who was in town to see two of his babies, both grown up.
One was his son Chip, the head football coach at Sandy Creek. The other was the football program that Rodney Walker turned into a winner in 1999 and coached until 2005, before giving way to his son.
The father, a 290-game winner who is winding down his career as head coach at his alma mater, Mary Persons, had a night off, and he acknowledges this date has been on his calendar for months.
Sandy Creek, the 2009 Class AAAA champion, defeated seventh-ranked Eastside 30-10 in a key Region 4-AAA game.
“As long as I’ve been coaching, last year was the biggest thrill I’ve ever had,’’ Walker said, meaning watching his son and Sandy Creek win a state title. “That ranks No. 1.’’
When Rodney Walker came to Sandy Creek, it was an eight-year-old school that had never made the state playoffs. Walker didn’t want the job for its potential to win big. He already had that at Peach County, which had just gone to the state finals.
Walker wanted to be semi-retired from teaching and still coach. Peach County would not allow it. Sandy Creek, eager to secure a proven winner, gave it to him.
Chip Walker, who was the quarterbacks coach at Mary Persons, called his father and asked for a job.
“I didn’t hire him because he was a good football coach,’’ Rodney joked. “I hired him because he had my two grandsons.’’
They were pre-schoolers at the time. Chip figured Sandy Creek and rural Fayette County represented a good school and community to raise a family. Rodney made Chip his offensive coordinator.
Only problem was that Chip’s speciality was the wishbone, which he ran as a high school and college quarterback. Rodney wanted to keep using what worked at Peach County, which was the I formation. So Chip studied his father’s offense and spent countless hours meeting with Rance Gillespie, who had been Rodney’s offensive coordinator.
Meanwhile, what Rodney found at his new job surprised him. He didn’t expect great athletes or community support, but got both in abundance.
“You see that building there,’’ he said, pointing to the field house. “We got that my second year. Everything we asked for, they did everything they could. It was a gold mine.’’
Rodney watched film and was stunned at the talent he saw. One of the players who jumped out at him was Kedric Golston, a sophomore. He would wind up in the NFL. Walker was suddenly confident, almost cocky, when he introduced himself to the team in the school library.
“I told them I’ve been in the playoffs 18 straight years, and I’m fixing to make it 19,’’ he said. “They looked at me like I was crazy. But you tell there were some kind of football players here.’’
Sandy Creek made the playoffs under Rodney Walker every year but one, when Golston was injured in a car accident.
Golston and three others who have played for the Walkers have played in the NFL, and they keep in touch with the program. Calvin Johnson does a football camp at the school each summer. Andrew Gardner ate with the team during its pregame meal last week. Golston brought his wife and three kids to one of the team’s summer workouts.
Chip Walker and several holdovers from Rodney Walker’s staff are the ones who saw the dream through to a state title, the first for a Fayette County school.
“We’ve had a lot of talent, let’s be honest,’’ Chip Walker said. “We had a plan and put it in place. If you look at Daddy’s track record, he’s gone to so many places and turned it around because he had a plan about what he thinks you should do. All the pieces were there.’’
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