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Parris makes a jump across the region to Devils

Region 8-AAAAA Football Preview

POSTED: August 2, 2014 11:00 a.m.

For the last 25 years, Loganville High School has known just two varsity head football coaches in Tommy Stringer and Eric Godfree.

One of those men is now the athletic director at Loganville while the other has recently left the Red Devils of Loganville for the orange devils at Parkview High School, one of the state’s winningest programs.

In the football vacuum left by Godfree’s departure after 10 seasons, a tenure second only to Stringer’s 15-year career in Walton County coaching, Loganville grabbed Mike Parris answer the call. Parris most recently spent a year at Heritage High School in Conyers, another Region 8-AAAAA school, but left due to an inhospitable climate.

Now, though, Godfree feels right at home in the Loganville community.

“I don’t think it’s going to have any sentimental value to tell you the truth. I was only there for a year and it wasn’t the place I wanted to be. I wanted to be here at Loganville and this opportunity became available,” Loganville head football coach Mike Parris noted

The nature of the Loganville job would seem to imply that it is a long-term destination for coaches, but Godfree and Stringer were by far the exception for Loganville rather than the rule. For the first 25 years of football, the school recorded 11 different head coaches.

Four of those coaches were only around for one year, two stuck around for two years, three struck around for three years and just two were there for four.

While Loganville and Parris share the history of high turnover, the new coach says he expects to stick around for some time.

“I think Coach Stringer was pretty much a staple here. He was here and as a matter of fact is still here with us as our AD,” Parris said. “I’ve always thought it would be a great place to be, a great place to coach and to teach. I think it’s just a good place.

“I think we’ve got great people who support football, and we’re just trying to get it the best we can possibly get it,” Parris added.

Longevity has historically benefitted the Red Devils, too, as the tumultuous 25 years only resulted in five winning seasons. By comparison, Godfree and Stringer combined for eight winning seasons in their 25 years with four seasons at 5-5.

Of the 13 previous coaches, though, only three had winning seasons in their first year.

Either way, Loganville has struggled in the past and has been an uneven contender for region titles or state playoff berths.

“We’ve just got to kind of change the mentality. It’s not their fault, but they’re kind of used to being 5-5, 6-4, 4-6. They’re used to that,” Parris mentioned. “I’ve been working hard to get us to the point where we’re not accepting mediocrity.”

One of the frustrating elements of Loganville football is that they tend to sit right in the middle. Last year’s team went 5-5 and finished one spot out of the playoffs by virtue of a 21-7 loss to Heritage, a Heritage team that was then coached by Parris.

As a team that sits squarely in the middle, they lose games by virtue of getting wildly outscored or they lose games by narrow margins. They win close, hard-fought battles and they win by landslides on occasion.

This Loganville football team, in short, has no firm identity.

“I think that’s a good word to use. We’ve got to establish an identity here. I’ve always been a defensive guy in the 29 years I’ve coached. I think you’ve got to bleed slow on defense. Make people go 80 yards. Make them make a mistake,” Parris said while referencing one of Loganville’s negative identities.

“We’re real susceptible here to the big play, and that’s what we’re trying to change,” Parris added. “We just want to slow the game down and play our game. We don’t have anybody here who is going to blow past you, but if we can play smarter and not make mistakes, that’s how we’re going to win.”

Loganville is also unique to the region in that they do not feature a natural rival in the region like the other eight returning members of Region 8-AAAAA. While Clarke and Cedar Shoals have each other to fight while Heritage and Salem go at it and Winder-Barrow and Apalachee trade blows, all of course yielding to Gainesville and Flowery Branch’s epic rivalry, Loganville sits in a spot all by themselves as the only member of Region 8-AAAAA in Walton County.

“Where I was at in Jackson we never really had a region rivalry. Our biggest rivalry was kind of like it is here,” Parris said. “Every one of them is just as important as the other. We’re going to try to take it one game at a time and try not to get too high on the wins and not get too low on the lows.

“Sometimes young people will put too much into that game and it’ll end up hurting you a bit. We’re just going to take it one game at a time, and of course it starts out with Monroe. We’re not going to worry about what other people do, but we’re going to worry about what we can do better,” Parris mentioned.

Although the Red Devils do not necessarily have the same rivalry in-region that other schools do, they do intermittently stage a heated contest with the Monroe Area Purple Hurricanes.

The series with Monroe has undergone a few breaks in recent years, departing from the continuous line of succession from 1980 to 2001, the two Walton County schools have played 10 times since the turning of the Millennium and they are scheduled to face off this season as well.

Monroe’s Hurricanes lead the overall series 18-14, largely aided by a dominating 15-5 stretch from 1976 to 1998. Since the year of Saving Private Ryan and The Truman Show, on the other hand, Loganville has zoomed back with a 9-3 advantage. Consequently, Loganville’s six-game winning streak from 2004 to 2009 is the longest in the series for either team. Monroe has three separate five-game streaks, but they never seemed to pull off that elusive sixth win.

“That’s really what high school football is all about if you look at the grand scheme of things. You can’t put too much emphasis on that game, because that game in the grand scheme of things means nothing. Of course it’s a big rivalry game…but as far as where you line up in the region and making the playoffs, it means nothing,” Parris mused. “Of course you want to win it and you want to have a lot of people there.”

While the overall win total for the Red Devils may have gained some advantage from coaching stability under Godfree and Stringer, the two landmarks in Walton County hold a severe advantage over the previous coaches in this particular series.

Prior to Stringer’s start in 1989, Loganville had defeated Monroe just once in 1983. Stringer’s career was kick-started by a four-game winning streak against Monroe, and Stringer’s squads would build a three-game streak from 1998 to 2000. The six-win stretch was under Godfree’s watch.

Parris’ task will be slightly more difficult than that which befell his predecessors, though, as Monroe has undergone something of a resurgence in the last few years. The Hurricanes have brought home more than 10 wins in three of the last four seasons, including an 11-1 effort in last season’s runaway region championship.

The 2012 ‘Canes were state semifinalists with a 12-2 record.

“Monroe the last couple years has had some outstanding athletes and they’ve had a great run,” Parris pointed out. “We haven’t even started watching them on film, and it’s going to be hard to watch them on film because you see those great athletes kind of take over the game, but they’ve graduated.

“I know they’ll have some more, but hopefully they’re not that good,” Parris joked.

“We’re not as big as we’ve been here in the past. We’ve always been known as being big up front, but we don’t have that right now. Then again, we may be faster than we have been in the past.”

The Hurricanes and the Red Devils will start off the season with each other on Aug. 29, but Loganville will jump right in to what might be their newest candidate for a serious rival: Heritage.

The Devils play the Patriots, Parris’ former school, two weeks after Monroe for their second game of the season. The Sep. 12 kickoff will pair Parris up with a road trip to his old stadium and what is already known to be a harsh environment.

“I was only there for a year, and I’m not a moving around type person, but my biggest thing is that it’s a region football game and we have to go in there and be as prepared as we can be,” Parris said. “As far as sentimentality, I honestly don’t think there’ll be much of that.”

Although Monroe is easily Loganville’s biggest rival right now, the Red Devils have recently cultivated a rivalry with Apalachee. It is not quite as bitter as others seeing as how both schools have somebody else they look forward to beating more, but the atmosphere between these two institutions is not as lukewarm as it could be.

 What makes the Loganville and Apalachee series close to a true rivalry has much more to do with the quality of the meetings than it does location. Loganville holds the series lead 4-2, but the series might as well be tied with how close it really is.

With these two teams playing in six straight seasons, only once has the game been decided by more than one score, and that was during the 35-10 drubbing of Apalachee in 2010, Loganville’s last playoff season.

 The region champion Wildcats in 2009 took Loganville to the buzzer in a 42-41 overtime victory, while the 2011 meeting ended similarly close and similarly high in a 45-42 win for the Devils.

“What I have to do as coach is convince these kids that we’re going to win every time we step off the bus. You can’t coach a kid to do that. He might say he believes it and he might act like it, but to actually act like it is something else,” Parris noted. “No matter who it is, whether it’s Gainesville or Apalachee or Winder-Barrow, it’s a football game and we have to step out there and try to win it. If we do what we’re supposed to for 48 minutes, good things will happen for us.”

Even the most recent edition of the series featured a memorable night as the 0-5, woebegone Wildcats held a 21-7 lead late into the fourth quarter before Loganville rallied for a late comeback and a 29-21 thriller. Loganville, which entered the game 2-3, would finish the season 5-5. Apalachee would end up 0-10, maybe indicating that they lost more than a game that night.

In the six years of facing off, Loganville holds a 195-162 points lead. That sounds like a wide margin, but it translates to a 32.5-27 average over six games. Without the one blowout game in 2010, the numbers get even closer with a 32-30.4 margin.

Parris comes to Loganville via that one-year stint with the Heritage Patriots, but Parris was a Devil long before signing on the dotted line at Loganville.

The new coach spent 17 seasons at Jackson High School in Jackson, GA where he had varying levels of success. His 2000 team took a 12-1 record into a semifinals match with Fitzgerald where another set of Purple Hurricanes took them out 28-16.

“It was great. I’ve been fortunate enough to do it twice, I did it one time when we were with Forest Park…and being able to take that team to the Dome was a thing I know those young men will never forget and I know I’ll never forget. Many of those kids had never even been to Atlanta, much less the Georgia Dome, so that was good,” Parris reminisced.

“It’s fun. That’s what high school football is all about. Those young men will never forget that. That’s a team that didn’t think it could go that far.”

In 17 seasons, Parris took Jackson to the playoffs 10 times. He also experienced a playoff season with Heritage last year, and two more with Forest Park in his first role as a head football coach in Georgia.

Clearly Heritage hired Parris away from Jackson because they once believed him to be a playoff coach, and he delivered. Now, he is hoping to have similar results with another team out of Region 8-AAAAA.

“Our kids have worked real hard this summer, so that’s going to be a big thing for them. The games are the fun part. Go out there and have a lot of fun and good things will happen,” Parris concluded.

After the Devils get what might be their two biggest games of the year out of the way first, they will make the trip to Barrow County to see Winder-Barrow on Sep. 19.

 

“We’ve got to prepare like we’re going in to battle each and every night, and that’s what we’re working for around here,” Parris said. “It might take a little while, but that’s my goal is to get them believing that every time we step on that field we’re going to have the confidence to win.”

 

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