Watching two teams on rise in Starr’s Mill, Fayette

The high school football season is getting to the really interesting bits. Region play is well underway for all of our teams and the jockeying for playoff positioning is heating up. There’s been enough football played to start taking stock of where the season has headed for our teams. Along with that, I was sorting out how some of our end of season awards might shape in. One award in particular seems impossible to choose right now. How could you pick Coach of the Year between Starr’s Mill’s Chad Phillips and Fayette County’s Mike Davis?

The Panthers and Tigers have both flipped the script this season. For the last couple years, they have been traveled down a similar path. Killer injuries and bad luck have played key roles as they stumbled a bit. With topnotch leadership, both teams are back on the winning track.

Starr’s Mill has long been a program accustomed to winning. In 2010, the Panthers were the state runner-up in Phillips’s first year at the helm. Faced with replacing the dynamic core from that team and rotten luck (like losing running back John Smith on the first play of practice before the 2012 season) forced a bit of slipping. The Panthers managed just three wins in 2012 and four last year. The team could’ve kept backsliding and look back on their glory days. Phillips wouldn’t let them. They’ve learned how to battle adversity and rise above it. They’ve already won four games this year to put them over .500 for the first time since the middle of 2011.

The winning tradition looks to be back online, and the scariest part is this could just be the beginning. The Panthers are led offensively by a young core that will only get better. They have two super-talented freshmen running backs in Rico Frye and Nic Brown, and a quickly emerging sophomore quarterback in Stone Kasten. Add in junior wideouts Satchel Goodrich and Dion Munerlyn and they’ll have more than enough weapons to blow up scoreboards next season.

At Fayette County, Mike Davis have rebuilt the Tigers. He’s turned them into a tough and gritty fighting machine, building up a crew of players willing to fight for every inch. They’ve had more than than their fair share of close calls in recent years and bad luck. They too lost a key running back on the eve of the year, theirs coming last season. This season started off like it might have been more of the same as the first two games were both winnable until the end when they slipped away. But something is different this year. Davis’s team has turned the corner. All of the tough losses have hardened them up. They’ve already tallied three wins this season, highlighted by last week’s 33-7 beating of Carrollton. That matches the most wins they’ve had in any year since 2009.

You really can’t say enough about the job Phillips and Davis have done. You also won’t get them to toot their own horns, but they will have plenty to say about their fabulous coaching staffs. They both appreciate the impact every man on their staffs has had in turning the tide. Football is the ultimate team sport. You need each cog in the machine running smoothly to succeed, and Phillips and Davis both laud their coaches for sharpening up every position in the lineup. The head men get the accolades, but they know is the whole team that earns the W.

The successful run of both teams also had me thinking back to when they battled in early September. At the time, it seemed like just a regular non-region battle that Fayette won 21-14. Now, I think it can be looked at as a measuring stick game for both teams. For Fayette, they can now see it was another quality opponent they’ve beaten as they build up their resume. At the time the Panthers hadn’t won a game. Now, they’re in prime position for the playoffs. On the other hand, Starr’s Mill can take solace knowing that while they lost, it was to a very talented team. They didn’t flop against a bad team. They were beaten (in a really close team) by a squad with playoff hopes of their own. They’re in the same boat as a perennial power like Carrollton.

There’s still a lot of football left to be played, but I like where we’re headed. I couldn’t be more excited with the rebounding of the Panthers and Tigers, and I’m looking for them to keep rising. Come the end of the season, I won’t mind making a tough call on Coach of the Year between two very deserving candidates. It’ll be well worth it.

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About

Christopher Dunn has been the sports editor for Fayette Newspapers since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Game Day magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.


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