Druid Hills High School is a very special place, located right next door to Emory University. Founded in 1914, it is one of the oldest high schools in metro Atlanta, with an alumni list that includes an Atlanta Mayor (Sam Massell) and a Georgia Governor and Senator (Herman Talmadge). There is a great tradition here. Unfortunately, that great tradition has seldom found its way to the gridiron.
The Red Devils last appeared in a playoff game way back in 1985. None of the current students had been born yet. In fact, there may be parents of current students who had not been born yet. Enter Frederick Green, a Savannah native who previously coached at Lithonia. Green stepped forward to take the Druid Hills challenge.
“I knew it was a program that really hadn’t had much success in the recent years,” says Green. “Once I got the job, I was like ‘WOW.’ I would really need to change some things around. We are working with youth football to just try and bring some joy to the community and bring the school together, in that aspect.”
Credit: Sam Crenshaw
Here is the part where it would have been nice for the coach to step into a nearby phone booth or discover a pocket full of magic dust. Green had neither, but brought a lot of determination, tenacity, persistence, patience and elbow grease. It would all come in handy.
“I got the job just two or three weeks before the season started and there were only nine players,” recalls Green. “I walked in and someone said, ‘Here Is the team and I went WHOA!' The first year I was just wanting to make it to the off-season. That could give us a chance to build the guys up. The first year we were 0-10. That was followed by a good off-season and last year we went 4 and 6."
Weight training and conditioning during the off-season has helped transform the Druid Hills team in ways that others can see. Green says that before last Friday night's game, the McNair coaches complemented the physical appearance of some of the Druid Hills players. That was before they beat the Mustangs 27-18 to improve their record to 2-0.
“Last year McNair got up on us 20-0, and we came back to win,” recalls Green. “The kids were believing that we could do it again. This time we were down 18-7 with seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. We just knew that we had to click. When we started clicking, it seemed like nobody could stop us. We kept on fighting and things started going our way. We were able to score three touchdowns during those seven minutes to take the lead. Then we went for a two-point conversion to go up by nine. That sealed the win and it was pretty awesome.”
The last time a Druid Hills team started the season 2-0 was 2014. This year's team has a different vibe. Green says that his roster has grown to more than 60 players. Practices are better, with more time spent in the playbook along with teaching fundamentals. There were group trips to Atlanta Falcons training camp, to see how the pros do it. The coach is seeing his vision come into focus.
The Red Devils are 2-0 for the first time since 2014.
Credit: Sam Crenshaw
“When you are building a program, you want it to go beyond football practice,” says Green.”So we came up with a number of outings that allowed the players to spend more time together away from the field. Now, when you walk into the cafeteria and see guys actually sitting together, that means you’re doing something right.”
There is something else at work here. The Druid Hills Red Devils are playing a non-region schedule. That means no region championship and no playoffs. At the same time, it increases the team's chances for success and a winning season. That is something that hasn't happened at Druid Hills since 1993. Coach Green has watched the success enjoyed by fellow DeKalb School District member Chamblee after playing a non-region schedule.
"I’m really connected with Chamblee," says Green. "They did give a blueprint for us. I talk with their coaches all the time."
The Red Devils are not alone. According to the Georgia High School Football Daily, there are 13 schools in the state playing a non-region schedule this fall. Druid Hills, joins Lakeside Dekalb, Stone Mountain, Clarkston and Cross Keys as non-region participants from Dekalb County. Chamblee head coach Bob Swank has seen his program flourish after playing a non-region schedule. The objective was simply to make the game fun and have success.
"Football is a game of confidence and it is very hard to gain confidence when you are getting beat up every week," recalls Swank. "We went 5-1 in the COVID season and then went 9-1 the next season, both as a non-region schedule. We had way more fun knowing that we had a chance to compete, and we actually got way better, way faster than we ever anticipated. It paid off when we went back into a region last season, and we finished second in our region and went to the second round of the state playoffs. I do not believe there is any way that we would be where we are right now without having made that decision to play non-region."
Playing a non-region schedule gives Druid Hills a chance to realistically taste victory, a model used successfully at Chamblee.
Credit: Sam Crenshaw
Last season the Red Devils won their homecoming game for the first time in five years. It's another box Green got to check as he watched his program thrive. Athletes from baseball and basketball have decided to play football as the participation and retention rate increases.
As the 2023 Georgia high school football season gets rolling, practically every team is aiming to play 15 games and win a state championship. Those that fall short of that lofty goal will be happy to win region championships or earn a state playoff berth. Teams that play a non-region schedule set different goals. Frederick Green sees his team reaching those goals and hopes that he can serve as motivation for other coaches of programs that have trouble competing.
“It’s hard to sell the kids on what you want to do, when you don't have any success at all,” says Green. “Success helps build up your program. It makes a big difference when you have those wins. So, if you can do it, in order to build your program up, I definitely recommend it. Then you can keep that momentum going when you hop back into region.”
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