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Former Gwinnett players fill staffs of county teams

Minutes before the final school bell rings, the Mill Creek coaches office starts to fill up.

After the bell, the slow trickle of coaches bursts and there are assistants in every corner. Some talk defensive alignments. Others scribble plays on a dry-erase board. One checks his e-mail and another swaps his school clothes for his coach's shirt.

All the talk centers on Mill Creek football. The program is in just its fourth year. The field house still shines new. But in this room the history of Gwinnett County football runs deep. Behind the Hawks' logos and the deep-red shirts this coaching staff is a walking history of more than 25 years of Gwinnett football.

Doug Jones graduated from Parkview in 1983 and has coached football and baseball at Parkview, Brookwood and Mill Creek for more than 15 years.

"I was just trying to give back to what was good to me," Jones said. "It was the atmosphere both scholastically and athletically. I had such a good experience with all of that, that I wanted to come back and give a little bit back."

Roger Parham graduated from South Gwinnett in 1983 and returned to Gwinnett to coach in 1994, first at South, then Mill Creek.

"My first child was born in 1992 and I had the opportunity to come home," Parham said of what prompted his return.

Bo Adams graduated from Parkview in 1989 and has been a coach in Gwinnett off-and-on since 1995. He was on the Panthers' staff for their state championship runs and on the team for a 3-7 season.

"I got to see from the pre-excellence to when they reached the pinnacle of their run," Adams said. "The kids (at Mill Creek) are similar, they are very eager to win. That is how Parkview was. It's pretty exciting."

Andy Dyer (Brookwood) and Josh Lovelady (South) both graduated in 1991. The two roomed together at West Georgia and Dyer returned to coach at Brookwood in 1997 and Lovelady went back to South in 1999. They both came to Mill Creek in 2004.

"Number one was the education and No. 2 the football," Lovelady said of his return home. "I missed the competition (in Gwinnett county). The quality of the coaching and of life for me and my family was a lure."

Benji Queen graduated from Central Gwinnett in 1995, returning to Gwinnett in 2001.

"When I decided I wanted to teach I decided I wanted to come back home," Queen said. "Gwinnett County is always where I wanted to be."

And that's not the whole room. In all, Mill Creek's staff boasts 11 assistants with high school diplomas and football letters from Gwinnett schools.

"The success that's been going on in this county the last 15 years has happened for a reason," said Mill Creek head coach Shannon Jarvis, who assembled this Gwinnett-heavy staff. "It takes a lot of work and a lot of hours. You want coaches who know what it takes to be successful. It's a huge commitment in this county to play and coach football. It takes a lot of time. It takes a special person to do that."

Jarvis is not alone in that belief, and Mill Creek is not unique in its assembled staff of Gwinnett products.

At least one former Gwinnett player fills a staff position on nearly every county football team. Topping the list behind Mill Creek's 11 are Berkmar and Dacula (six), GAC and Grayson (five) and Brookwood (four). Two head coaches, Grayson's Mickey Conn (South) and Duluth's Richard Gillespie (Duluth), were schooled in Gwinnett County.

"People who are from this area tend to have ownership ingrained deep down," said Gillespie, who returned to his alma mater from Birmingham, Ala. "You tend to have a little extra pride to put into it, saying this is our town."

But it's more than just pride in the area. Coaches look to hire Gwinnett-reared players because they have a full understanding of the atmosphere surrounding the sport here.

"They know how good the football is here and they've lived it themselves," said Norcross head coach Keith Maloof, who has three former Gwinnett players on his staff. "They were part of it. When they go somewhere else, they see it's not always the same thing. They don't get the same feeling they do here."

Said Brookwood's Mark Crews, whose four local staffers are all former Broncos: "They understand how important football is to us in this area. They understand what they are getting into as far as work habits and the time and effort that goes into it."

The work ethic extends outside the coaches offices and the practice fields. The new teachers and coaches also know exactly what the schools demand from students in the classroom. More than anyone, this is a consideration for Dacula head coach Kevin Maloof, who is also the school's athletic director.

"I like hiring Gwinnett people because they, No. 1, know what to expect in the classroom and No. 2, if you graduated from a Gwinnett County school you've pretty much been held to high standards both inside the classroom and out," Kevin Maloof said. "It is not a prerequisite obviously, but it doesn't hurt to talk to, and hire, people who have been in Gwinnett Public Schools."

And since not every graduate returns or stays at their alma mater, there are those strange Friday nights where they stand opposite their former team. For Mill Creek's Jones, who graduated and coached at Parkview before moving up Five Forks-Trickum to Brookwood, that feeling was always strange. In both football and baseball.

"You grow up as a Parkview Panther with that hated rivalry and all that," Jones said. "But once you are married and have a family it changes. No doubt (leaving Parkview) was a difficult decision."

But for Jones, and many others, returning home was not.

SideBar: COMING HOME

A look at Gwinnett graduates who have returned to Gwinnett County as assistant football coaches. In addition to the assistants, Duluth head coach Richard Gillespie (Duluth grad) and Grayson head coach Mickey Conn (South Gwinnett) also are Gwinnett products. The list below breaks down the Gwinnett grads on each school's coaching staff, with each coach's alma mater in parentheses.

BERKMAR

Todd Brooks (Parkview)

Dallas Leduff (Parkview)

Dennis Pittman (Brookwood)

Matt Romano (Parkview)

Emilio Vitulli (Berkmar)

Toby Whiting (North Gwinnett)

BROOKWOOD

John Batchelor (Brookwood)

Kyle Gaines (Brookwood)

Heath Hinton (Brookwood)

David Nelson (Brookwood)

BUFORD

Dicky May (Central Gwinnett)

Quincy Nuckles (Buford)

CENTRAL GWINNETT

Bryan Allen (Central Gwinnett)

COLLINS HILL

Korey Mobbs (Parkview)

Todd Welborn (Collins Hill)

Billy Wells (Shiloh)

DACULA

Jason Holcombe (Brookwood)

Jack Lowry (Meadowcreek)

Brad Williams (Central Gwinnett)

Ted Wilson (South Gwinnett)

David Wright (Collins Hill)

Travis Young (Dacula)

DULUTH

Chris Patterson (Berkmar)

Isaac Wahl (Duluth)

GAC

Matt Biggee (Brookwood)

Jack Brewster (GAC)

David Ellis (GAC)

Hayden Lane (Brookwood)

Stanford Phillips (GAC)

GRAYSON

Jason Abner (Parkview)

Derek Benton (Brookwood)

Marc Lancaster (Grayson)

Jeremy Mulkey (South Gwinnett)

Brent Tisdale (Central Gwinnett)

MEADOWCREEK

None

MILL CREEK

Bo Adams (Parkview)

Andy Dyer (Brookwood)

Brian Fiddler (Dacula)

Ryan Figlestahler (Brookwood)

Doug Jones (Parkview)

Josh Lovelady (South Gwinnett)

Roger Parham (South Gwinnett)

Chad Pickett (Brookwood)

Benji Queen (Central Gwinnett)

Tim Rondeau (South Gwinnett)

Preston Stancil (South Gwinnett)

NORCROSS

Jason Prather (Norcross)

Steve Sims (Dacula)

Jay Warren (Parkview)

NORTH GWINNETT

Kyle Jones (North Gwinnett)

PARKVIEW

Robert Hill (Central Gwinnett)

Todd Salo (Berkmar)

PEACHTREE RIDGE

Chad Rogers (Shiloh)

SHILOH

Allen Evans (Brookwood)

SOUTH GWINNETT

Todd Poucher (North Gwinnett)

WESLEYAN

None