Much like the season in which its housed, spring football practice is about renewal.
Players emerge from their indoor winter workouts. New leaders along with the next gridiron greats begin to blossom, awaiting their summer of cultivation before being harvested in Fall.
For some teams, like Gainesville, Banks County and West Hall, the renewal comes in the form of replacement as each has a new man as head coach.
In most instances, spring football serves to breathe new life into something that already exists.
For Cherokee Bluff’s coach Tommy Jones and his staff, however, when the players emerge this spring and start to blossom while heeding the call of their new coaches, it will be the birth of a program.
“I feel so excited and invigorated to hit the grass and watch these coaches and players work,” said Jones. “(Starting a program) is something I’ve always wanted to do; a bucket-list item. I’ve leaned heavily on my good friends (Mill Creek head coach) Shannon Jarvis and (Archer head coach) Andy Dyer the last few months. I feel like God has prepared me for this and I’m ready to slay the dragon.”
Jarvis and Dyer started the programs at Mill Creek and Archer respectively, and Jones was quick to say that a best-advice moment came from Jarvis, who laughingly told him that one negative to starting your own program is that when something goes wrong, there’s truly only one person to blame.
“This process has already reminded me of why I got into coaching in the first place,” said Jones. “It’s about teaching and instilling a mindset and confidence, instilling fundamentals and building relationships with not only the players, but their families.
“Starting from scratch has, in a sense, purified the process for me.”
Jones comes to Cherokee Bluff after an impressive stint at Dacula where he amassed a 37-22 record in four seasons, guiding the program to three region titles and four playoff berths that included multiple second-round appearances and a state quarterfinal berth in 2013. Prior to his time in Gwinnett, Jones went 27-43 in seven seasons at Lumpkin County.
“I couldn’t be more excited to come back to north Georgia,” said Jones. “I have a ton of respect for the coaches in this area. They do such a good job of getting kids ready for Friday night. Football is big in Hall County especially, and it’s shown in the great facilities and the (college) scholarships coming out of this area.”
On the aforementioned Friday nights, the Bears will compete regionally in 7-AAA alongside, East Hall, North Hall, Dawson County, Lumpkin County, Fannin County and Greater Atlanta Christian. Before even a glance can be had at the schedule, however, the Bears must start the spring process of becoming, culturally and athletically.
“Anytime there’s a new school, you’re going to start young,” said Jones. “We have to build a base that consists of fundamentals and instilling core values into our players and program that I and my staff hold dear to our hearts, and that starts with spring practice.”
With Cherokee Bluff getting its student body from the Flowery Branch area, a lack of exposure to not only football, but football success, won’t be a problem. Because the school doesn’t officially open until the new school year begins in August, however, the start of spring practice will be the first time all coaches and potential players have gathered together.
“Obviously it’s been challenging,” said Jones of beginning the process of forming a roster, “it’s an imperfect process. We’re pulling kids from school(s) where they’ve been entrenched in successful programs. We really don’t know what it’s going to look like at this point. We started after school workouts after spring break and had about 50 varsity players involved, so we have a vague idea, but until feet hit grass there’s no way of predicting.
“I will say though, I’m so proud of the kids we’ve had already and that they’re buying into the future here at Cherokee Bluff. They are showing tremendous work ethic and just have great attitudes."
Work ethic and attitude are intangibles Jones knows must be present profoundly to bring his vision of success for Cherokee Bluff to fruition. With both players and coaches coming from established programs, the Xs and Os of the Bears first spring practices won’t look much different than what’s come to be expected. Vastly different for Jones and his staff is that they’re establishing the culture, not changing it, and establishing the Cherokee Bluff way, not fitting into the old one.
“My staff and I got together and came up with core values that include playing with your whole heart as we want our guys to be passionate; creating one family here at Cherokee Bluff; enjoying the journey, meaning that we want our guys to take it one step at a time and be about the process, not the end result; and creating a privileged mentality,” Jones said.
“Nobody will have it better than us at Cherokee Bluff and we aren’t second-class citizens to anyone,” he continued. “We want these values to carry on in the players not just for football, but for life. And we want these values to be the building blocks that sustain the success we build long after we’re gone.”