By Tyree Brown
Several weekends ago, the Mount Zion Bulldogs attended the Nick Saban 7-on-7 tournament in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. The team entered Bryant-Denny Stadium the complete underdogs, but left with a first place trophy.
It’s just another example of how coach Kevin Jones’ Bulldog squad appears to be a much different team from last year.
After years of personnel changes and disappointing seasons, the Bulldogs finally gain some much needed confidence.
With teams from all over the country including California, Florida, and Missouri, Mount Zion was not only the only team to represent Georgia in Tuscaloosa. The Bulldogs were also the only team that has not recently won a state championship or at least runner-up out of the competitive group.
“We were like the little rug rats when we got there and everyone else was polished and clean.” Said Coach Jones.
Last season, Jones’s team finished the season 3-7. In six of the seven losses, the Bulldogs were either leading or tied at halftime. Finishing the game strong is something Coach Jones is continuing to focus on, even during the 7on7 tournaments.
A month ago, Mount Zion performed well in the Adidas 7v7 State Championship tournament at Holder Park in Locust Grove. Although receiving a first-round by in the bracket, they failed to claim the title. Jones has coaches his team in plenty of tournament and claims this the best he has seen them play.
“Last year there were several 7-on-7 tournaments where we didn’t score a single point,” said Jones. “However, now we have learned that we can execute the plays effectively, score and then make adjustments according to defensive coverages.”
Winning was definitely the icing on the cake, but the Alabama coach’s hands-on involvement with the players will stick with Jones and his players forever.
“In my 25 years of coaching I’ve been to a lot of camps and 7-on-7 tournaments, and a lot of times I see coaches just look from afar,” said Jones. “But these coaches were right in ours kids’ faces coaching them through the technique.”
Winning such a title has come at the right time, now that Mount Zion has changed regions and will be facing tough competition next season. With teams like Jonesboro and Stephenson both making championships runs in last year’s playoffs, the competition will be tough.
“There will probably be a lot of teams that will overlook us.” said Jones.
But Jones welcomes the new competition — and even the underdog status — along with a fired up team. Mount Zion’s got a cache of Division I talent it hasn’t had in years, and feels it is prepared to shake things up in Region 4-AAAAAA.
Seniors such as Lenox Copeland and Tyree Leonard will be leading the way. Copeland has received offers from UNC Charlotte and Wake Forest while Leonard has been offered by both Georgia Southern and Middle Tennessee State.
With talented athletes and a new winning spirit, Jones has reason to be confident going into next season.
“We needed some example of success, and although it was small in the big spectrum, it was big for us,” Jones said. “It showed hard work truly pays off.”