off berth last year for the first time in 20 seasons, but Byron McCall feels like he’s starting from scratch.
A litany of challenges has confronted the Blue Devils’ new coach since his arrival a month ago from Lithia Springs High School. For starters, issues with physicals prohibited Avondale from having spring practice. Also, there is no weight room – or weights. The weight room was dismantled when renovations began at the school last year.
Assistant coaches have been hard to keep; he’s in the process of filling out his staff. Other things on McCall’s wish list include a secure equipment room with no windows and a football-only locker room.
He’s enlisted Avondale’s football booster club to help with some of the items, but his main priority is to put a competitive team on the field in less than three months.
“We’re starting over and building a foundation,” said McCall, who spent three seasons as an assistant at Lithia Springs before taking the Avondale job. “We need to make sure the infrastructure is in place. As long as there is a quality product on the field, wins will take care of itself.”
McCall is one of eight new football coaches in the county, and one of three with no ties to DeKalb. Cedar Shoals assistant Tywanios Lockett is the new coach at McNair, and James Soza takes over at Chamblee. All three are head coaches for the first time.
Some familiar faces are filling other football jobs in the county. Michael Carson, who left Avondale, replaces Corey Jarvis at ML King; Jim Shofety, a former Chamblee head coach, is in at Dunwoody; Redan graduate Clinton Lawrence is the new coach at his alma mater; and Lithonia interim coach Marcus Jelks is now the head coach.
Prior to Lithia Springs, McCall was an assistant coach at North Cobb. He also was an assistant at South Panola High School, a nationally ranked program in Mississippi, and a graduate assistant at Mississippi State University.
“I want us to be able to have infrastructure like we did at South Panola,” McCall said. “We’ll work with what we have to get what we need. Anything that’s broken I want to fix it, all the way down to the spikes on the bottom of the shoes.”
Soza also wants to build some stability, as he is the fourth coach at Chamblee in the past five years. Soza, a Yale University graduate, is the youngest head coach in the county at 29 years old.
“This job has been a stepping stone for a lot of people, but I’m not here to get anywhere else,” Soza said. “I made the decision to move to Atlanta for an opportunity just like this. I was meant to find my way to this job.”
Soza spent five years as an assistant at Carver Atlanta, the last one as assistant head coach. Soza may have the most difficult immediate task of the new coaches as Chamblee finds itself in an expanded Region 6-AAAA with Marist, Tucker, Southwest DeKalb, Carver Atlanta, Mays and Dunwoody.
“We will have a renewed commitment to discipline and fundamental football, and we won’t back down from anybody,” Soza said. He also mentioned developing a culture of leadership and a commitment to strength and conditioning as “the kinds of things that can make a difference.”
Like McCall, Lockett also will be starting over in a lot of ways. A linebackers coach at Cedar Shoals, Lockett comes to McNair after last year’s preseason firing of coach Roderick Moore.
Thirty-seven players turned out for McNair’s spring practice, and Lockett is optimistic that he can build on the success the program has had over the past several years. Before last year’s 4-6 mark, the Mustangs had won at least five games nine years in a row and made the playoffs seven times in that span.
“My main focus right now is to establish discipline, get everything organized and have a good structure,” Lockett said. “We want to build on the success they’ve established where we can get to the playoffs every year and be competitive.”
Many of the intangibles that lead to success come from the booster clubs, which the newcomers are using to help get their programs to the next level in a very competitive county.
At McNair, Lockett has put in place his officers and now is trying to build the booster club from the ground up.
“I have a president, vice president, secretary and treasurer,” Lockett said. “When I started, only the treasurer was here from last year. I have a very good group of people, and we’re trying to get more people involved in the club.
At Chamblee, Soza has specific plans for the funds generated by his booster club as the county only pays for five assistant football coaches.
“The concept of doing more with less is nothing new to me,” Soza said. “Taking care of our coaching commitment is our No. 1 financial priority.”