JOHNS CREEK, Ga. — No team ever wants to face the disappointment, frustration and embarrassment of a winless season, but an 0-10 campaign can serve as motivation.
At a preseason practice, first-year Chattahoochee head coach Mike Malone donned a shirt bearing “0-10” — the Cougar’s 2018 record — and told his players if they want to be respected as a football program, now is the time to earn it.
“I told them no one respects you right now, everyone is thinking it’s just the same old Chattahoochee,” Malone said. “And if they want respect around the region, that has to be earned. But I also tell them they have the opportunity to leave a legacy and lay the foundation for what’s to come.”
The future of Hooch football, Malone said, is the process of getting the Cougars back to a championship-caliber team.
Malone, who joined Chattahoochee as running backs coach, special teams coordinator and assistant coach in 2018, has instilled a motto of “chasing greatness,” and he wants to bring the excitement back to Cougars football.
“I think everyone has taken the attitude that we are looking to be champions,” he said. “But we are not talking about making the playoffs or region championships, we are talking about what it takes to get there. That includes getting better every day and attention to detail. We want our best to be the standard.”
To begin the turnaround, Malone and the Cougars will look to a mix of returning standouts and new starters.
Junior Jaylen Smith will line up as quarterback after 2018 starter Damon Stewart transferred out of state. Smith compiled over 420 yards of total offense in Hooch’s spring game against Meadowcreek.
“I think he is going to surprise a lot of people,” Malone said.
Smith will have a go-to receiver in junior Jordan Palmer, who led Hooch in receiving yards last season and compiled five touchdowns.
“We also have some more guys coming out of the woodwork, so we are really excited to get back on the field,” Malone said.
Malone said Hooch’s offense will be young and the O-line will be outsized, but the Cougars will be able to do “some special things” with quick plays highlighting their speed.
The head coach has high hopes for Hooch’s defense, which returns D1 prospects Gianluca Jones and Parker Jenkins. Jones, a safety, compiled 70 tackles last season with seven pass break-ups. Jenkins will lead the Cougars’ linebacker core coming off a 2018 campaign that included 91 tackles, including 10 tackles-for-loss.
If Hooch is to flip its fortunes from last year, it starts with the defensive side, which will be under the direction of three new coaches and a 4-2-5 scheme.
“We gave up way too many points and way too many yards last season,” he said. “I felt in the past they were thinking too much instead of reacting, and we had a lot of trouble tackling. We have been teaching that attention to detail, and I feel good about the defense at this point. They are flying around to the football.”
While Hooch will be “chasing greatness” this season, Malone said, no specific goals are set in his first year at the helm.
“You can say things like, we want to go deep in the playoffs or win the region title, but often that is out of your control,” he said. “We want to get better every single day, and the kids know we love them, and when they know that, they buy in. We need a lot of positive energy to be what we want to be, which is the best in Class 6A football, and to get the excitement back for Chattahoochee. I think the kids are excited, and we are ready to let them loose.”