The biggest upset of the season in Georgia high school football took place last week when Lovett, an Atlanta private school, defeated two-time defending Class AA champion Buford of Gwinnett County, 28-21.
Buford, a five-time state champion this decade, had won 32 straight games overall, 49 straight in the regular season and 58 straight in region play. Despite an enrollment of fewer than 1,000 students, Buford has been a football factory for college players, with more than 30 alumni on college rosters.
Lovett can be called a state power now under coach Mike Muschamp, the brother of University of Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. Lovett reached the 2007 Class AA final but lost to Buford 50-0. Buford had shut out Lovett in their three previous meetings until last week.
Lovett scored on its opening possession, a three-play drive, and never trailed. Quarterback Jonathan Carkhuff was 18-of-30 passing for 209 yards and three touchdowns.
In this question-and-answer, Muschamp talks about what the victory means to Lovett, the role that his ninth-grade and JV teams played in the win and what it’s taken in his five seasons as head coach to put the Lovett program on a state level.
What does it mean for your program?
‘’First and foremost, it reaffirms the things we’ve been preaching for the last five years: Hard work is going to pay off. One of the things we had to do here is develop a work ethic. A lot of times in a private school setting, kids come from affluent backgrounds where it’s easier to just say, ‘That’s what I want,’ and you get it. When you step between the lines in sports, whether it’s a baseball field or volleyball court, that’s out the window. You have to work for it. Our kids have bought into that. It’s been a process to get them to work.’’
Are you talking about offseason training, the year-around aspect of football?
"Those are the things people don’t know about. They think you roll the balls out on Friday night and go play. That may have been the way things were done when I was in high school. If you’re not preparing your body for the beating it’s going to take on Friday by practicing hard every day and working in the weight room, you’re not going to be successful. We had to develop that. It’s an everyday thing. It’s a huge time commitment, and the rewards can be fantastic. Friday was a step in that direction.’’
What won the game? How did you beat Buford?
"For us, the biggest step was mental. I told our kids after the game that they have to thank our ninth-grade team and our junior-varsity team. Our JV team beat Buford 28-7 the week before, and our ninth-grade team beat them the same day, 8-7. It was like, ‘This can be done.’ When you’re dealing with the 14-, 15-, 16-year-old male mind, the belief that it can happen is huge. Then we did things we needed to do early in the varsity game to get that belief. It was like throwing gas on the fire. We had offensive success, which we haven’t had the last few times we played them, and we kept playing hard.’’
How did you have success on offense this time?
"We’ve had a maturation within our program of a group of seniors, particularly on the skill side of it. All started as sophomores. They were looking at the region game against Buford from 2007 and commenting on how small we looked versus them. We were playing sophomores against T.J. Pridemore and Omar Hunter (who were Buford seniors in 2007 and now play at the University of Florida). We just weren’t physically prepared to handle that. Not to say we’re on the same physical level as Buford now, but we’re in better shape than we were because of the maturation.’’ (Among those seniors who started or played significantly as sophomores on a state runner-up team are running back Taylor Mack, receivers Drew Stockton and Max Williams, quarterback Jonathan Carkhuff and fullback/linebackers Bo Anderson and Zach Wolfe.)
What kind of player is Carkhuff, your quarterback?
"He is as even-keeled a kid as I have ever coached, never way-high, never way-low, a great perspective. He works extremely hard mentally and physically. He has a folder on every one of our opponents that he’s kept since he was a sophomore. He comes in here every day after school. School ends at 3, and he’s here at 3:01, peering in my door. We sit down and watch film. That kid doesn’t just show up on Friday to play. He takes practice film and game film home. It’s literally his sixth class in a five-class schedule. That’s the way he approaches it.’’
Carkhuff and several other players also play baseball. How many multi-sport athletes do you have on the football team?
"A ton. We’ve got so many kids that do so many different things, not just sports. The Wednesday night before we played, our defensive end and left tackle (John Marc Street) had to go to a founders day dinner where he played guitar. Of our 25 seniors, 21 play another sport. For the juniors, it’s the same way.’’
How does Lovett get them to play more than one sport? At many schools, that’s a challenge today in the era of specialization.
‘’Our coaches work well together. I want our kids on the free-throw line with no time on the clock to win it. That’s going to do nothing but help them in life or in football, when they’ve got to make a kick or a throw in those pressure situations, being on a team, making sacrifices. There’s a lot of carryover. Our baseball program has been in the state championship series the last two years and won last year. Lacrosse has won a state championship three of the last four years. There’s a lot of winning going on.’’ (Lovett has 15 players from the baseball team and eight from the lacrosse team who play football.)
Finally, what does your victory over Buford mean for Class AA football? Is it wide open now that people realize that Buford can be beaten?
"It’s the same as back in the day with the Dallas Cowboys or Duke basketball in the ‘80s and ‘90s. That’s the way Buford football is. It’s been, ‘Who’s going to play Buford for the state championship?’ Now, there’s that realm of possibility that something could be different. But that could be more perception than reality because Buford is still an outstanding football team. We’re beat up so bad that I’m concerned about getting enough healthy people on the field Friday. There’s an awful lot of excitement around here right now, and I don’t want to dampen that. But we need to be focused on what’s next.’’
Todd Holcomb is editor of Georgia High School Football Daily, a free email newsletter. To subscribe, go here.