Ole Miss commitment Charles Wiley is one piece of evidence of the success of Stockbridge coach Kevin Whitley's football program building project at the school. (Special Photo)

GABRIEL STOVALL: Stockbridge football coach Kevin Whitley is a program changer, but not a magician

Gabriel Stovall

Gabriel Stovall

Try this stat on for size.

In the past six seasons since coach Kevin Whitley has been at the helm of the Stockbridge football program, the Tigers have won exactly 50 games, with three consecutive 11-win seasons to help bolster their five-year total.

And yet the second oldest school in Henry County is still 109 games under .500 all time.

That’s right. Even with an unprecedented five year stretch of success, Stockbridge — which has been playing football since 1964 — still has a sub-40 percent winning percentage all time.

What does that say about Stockbridge football over the years? Not a lot — not a lot of winning, that is.

Here’s another story told in numbers: While Stockbridge has had five straiI nning seasons since Whitley showed up in 2009 — that year Stockbridge went 2-8, incidentally — before that, Stockbridge had just seven winning records dating back from 1977 to 2009.

The previous high water mark in the program’s history came during Mike Creasman’s nine-year stretch pacing the sidelines. From 1992 through 1995, Stockbridge posted records of 6-4, 7-3, 6-4 and 6-4. Winning marks, but no playoff appearances.

Playoff wins are no longer a missing part in Stockbridge’s football history. Whitley and company made sure of that back in 2010 when a young quarterback by the name of Trent Earl burst on the scene in place of injured starter Leon Prunty and led the Tigers to five wins in their last seven games, including a near-win against a strong Sandy Creek team and the school’s first ever playoff win against Washington County.

But that’s not all. Each of the past five seasons have seen an uptick in colleges coming after Stockbridge talent. In Whitley’s six years, he’s seen 56 football players sign college scholarships, including two Division I signees on National Signing Day 2014 in Kendarius Webster (Ole Miss) and Maetron Thomas (Charlotte).

Just this past season defensive end Titus Davis inked with Central Florida, although he also fielded offers from the likes of Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Purdue, Indiana and Charlotte and got strong interest from West Virgina and Big 10 Conference runner up Wisconsin.

And last week arguably the Southern Crescent’s highest rated recruit Charles Wiley seemed likely to join his former high school teammate when he gave a verbal to the Rebels.

Such a drastic turnaround in the high school game, while not necessarily unheard of, is decidedly rare. Even the most infamous also-ran can rise up and have a good season here and there. But what Stockbridge has seen over the last half dozen years is a complete program overhaul. A culture and attitude change.

Now at the beginning of each football season, football pundits are putting the name “Stockbridge” in their state championship conversations without raising eyebrows or even using the “sleeper” adjective as frequently.

People expect Stockbridge to be there. They expect them to win. They expect deep runs in the playoffs. And with each season the Tigers seem to take another step toward a berth in the Georgia Dome to compete for a state title.

The environment around Stockbridge football has transformed so drastically that it’s even caused a shift in the way Stockbridge shapes its yearly calendar.

Whitley said when he finalizes his calendar in late December/early January for the next year, he automatically inputs practice dates in for late November and early December because he said it is now an expectation for his team to be still playing football past Thanksgiving.

All of this program building and re-shaping would make many coaches swell with hubris and start itching to get their names out in other high profile searches. And make no mistake, Whitley isn’t still at Stockbridge because he can’t find anywhere else to go.

Surely there have been suitors. Opportunities, no doubt, abound for him every year. But Whitley — at least for the first six seasons — has stayed put.

But don’t try to cast him as some sort of magical program savior. Well, you can try to cast him in that role if you want to. It’s just that chances are he probably won’t take it.

In fact, he points out how Stockbridge has had decently large signing classes before, like the 2007-08 team that produced 15 signees, or the 2006 class that produced Tyler Bass — a consensus national top 100-ranked dual threat quarterback who signed with Memphis and later transferred to Florida A&M.

In other words, Whitley himself isn’t some pied piper of never-before-seen Stockbridge football talent. He’ll be the first to tell you that football talent coming out of Stockbridge isn’t anything new.

“This school has always had talent and athletes,” Whitley said. “But no coach would stick it out through the process. There’s nothing special about it or what we’re doing here. We were just willing to go through the process.”

The process, also, isn’t anything new for Whitley. He took a North Springs program that had seen great success from the 1960s when it began up until Norris Vaughn departed in 1995 after a 10-1 season. From there, the program went through a miniature wilderness, posting just one winning season (8-5 in 1998) and essentially deflating all previously built momentum the program once boasted.

Enter Whitley in 2001 and 2002. He guided North Springs to 4-6 and 5-5 marks in his two-year stint at the school before heading to Creekside where he coached Eric Berry, the eldest of the uber-talented Berry brothers trio.

Taking over for successful predecessor Amos McCreary, Whitley shook off a 6-4 2003 campaign and guided Creekside five straight playoff appearances, three consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins, including a 12-1 year in 2006 that ended with a quarterfinals loss to state runner-up Marist.

Creekside has seen success since Whitley’s departure. North Springs hasn’t been the same since.

But the Stockbridge job was the deepest turnaround project he’s ever had to lead, given the program’s dismal past.

And that extended patience has paid off and has even resulted in the strengthening of area middle school feeders like Austin Road Middle.

It’s also helped the school develop the foundation for a bit of a regional college football pipeline that goes through Old Conyers Rd.

And although it once may have seemed far fetched to see Stockbridge football in the place that it’s currently in, it is more than reasonable to believe that as long as Whitley is around, it’ll be even harder now to see Stockbridge football be anything other than what it is now.

A winner.

Gabriel Stovall is the editor of thecrescentbuzz.com. Follow him on Twitter @GabrielStovall1 and follow thecrescentbuzz.com at @crescent_buzz. If you have a story idea, you can contact him at gstovall@thecrescentbuzz.com.

Ole Miss commitment Charles Wiley is one piece of evidence of the success of Stockbridge coach Kevin Whitley's football program building project at the school. (Special Photo)

Ole Miss commitment Charles Wiley is one piece of evidence of the success of Stockbridge coach Kevin Whitley’s football program building project at the school. (Special Photo)

 

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