Bill Stewart, North Gwinnett, Coach of the Week for October 28, 2018
What a difference a year has made in the fortunes of the Bulldogs, since Bob Sphire, whose 11-year tenure at NGHS produced 110-28 record, but 13 off those losses had come in his past three seasons, resigned to move to South Georgia, and was replaced by Stewart, who has proven to be the right person to get the program back to where it had been for the bulk of the time under his predecessor.
The win over Collins Hill assured North of entering the Class AAAAAAA state playoffs as the No. 1 seed out of Region 6-AAAAAAA, even before ending the regular-season with a 41-7 drubbing of Discovery. And since then, in the first round of playoffs, the Bulldogs easily dispatched North Forsyth 55-7.
Sphire’s last season produced a 6-5 record, with a shocking 17-13 loss to South Gwinnett in the first round of the playoffs. That team scored an average of 30 points a game and allowed 23.54.
Under Stewart, who left Mill Creek after three years as its defensive coordinator, linebackers coach and strength and conditioning coach, to get back to being a head coach, which he had been for seven years, compiling a most impressive at Etowah, which he led to six state playoff appearances in his six seasons there, a major feat for a program that had
just one playoff trip (1994) since it opened its doors in the late 1970s, the Bulldogs began proverbially growling and biting almost immediately.
Through November 10, North, after losing its opener to still undefeated Walton 31-28, had won 10 consecutive games and seemingly had not been contested since winning its second outing 31-28 over Milton, has put up some highly impressive numbers under its new defensive-minded first-year coach.
North has scored an average of 38.727 points a game, 8.727 more per game than it did a year ago; meanwhile, the Bulldogs have allowed only an average of 13.18 points a game scored against them, which is 10.46 points fewer that the 2016
And, if those figures alone are not impressive enough on their own merit, Stewart notes proudly that the 2017 Bulldogs have surrendered fewer than a thousand yards offense compared to statistics from the year earlier.
“In my second year at Mill Creek, when we nine touchdowns scored by our defense,” Stewart pointed out, “I thought I’d never see that happen gain, but this year’s has done that, too, scoring nine defensive touchdowns.”
Some reasons for the overall improvement in the fortunes of the program, Stewart said are five new coaches he brought in who have messed well with the hold overs of the old staff.
But the biggest thing, Stewart said is the “culture,” that is now present among the team members. “The kids genuinely like one another. We have done a lot of work on relationships. We have forgotten about the word ME. It has been our mantra going through this thing…The kids really play for each other.”
Yet, the turning point in the season came in the 31-28 win over Milton, the same score, incidentally that North had lost to Walton in the season-opener, when the offense sputtered and a winable game got away.
North had to overcome some major injury factors in that win that started the 10-game win streak. First Texas A&M commit QB Cade Fortin broke his leg early in the contest, and the team’s top two linebackers, Jayden McDonald, a Rutgers commit, and Stewart’s son, Jake, both sustained injuries to complicate matters further.
“But Jimmy (Urzua, scheduled to be Fortin’s back up) led us on a game-winning drive in the last seconds f that game, when we had to convert two big fourth downs,” Stewart said. “That was the turning point in our season. The kids have played together
and believe in each other. They now believe they can beat anybody.”
-Courtesy of Tony McIntrye with All American Specialties