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Dominant Wolves aim for sixth title this decade

Photo by Christine Troyke

Photo by Christine Troyke

Inside the Buford football field house is a trophy case filled with memories of the Wolves' historic program.

It's filled with state championship and region championship trophies, old jerseys and helmets of some of the greatest Wolves and team pictures.

The way the past decade has gone for Buford, the trophy case has filled up pretty quickly.

"That's a good problem to have," Buford athletic director Dexter Wood said.

From 2000 to 2009, Buford has put together an unprecedented run in Georgia high school football. The Wolves have set numerous state records, won five state championships this decade and will play for their eighth state title in 10 years on Friday in the Class AA state championship game.

"Certainly this team has carried on the tradition of what has happened around here this decade," Buford head coach Jess Simpson said. "Hopefully, a long, long time ago is a big part of who we are and what we do."

It's been a quite a decade for a program that has won more games the last 10 years than the previous 19 years combined. Of a possible 150 games a team could play in one decade with the regular season and playoffs, Buford will play its 146th game today. The Wolves have a 138-7 record since 2000, which includes five undefeated seasons. That more wins this decade than any other team in the state, inlcuding Class AAAAA powers Camden County and Northside-Warner Robins. Also meshed in those 138 wins is a state record 47-game winning streak from 2001-04, a 49-straight regular season wins from 2001-09 and a 58-straight region winning streak from 2001-09.

"It is phenomenal. No, I don't think we would ever imagine that this decade would be like this," Wood said. "Who would have thought that and what are we 138-7? I mean how do you explain it?"

You could point to Wood as the architect of the Buford dynasty. He took over the Wolves' program in 1995 after a successful run at Marietta where he coached Simpson. Wood, who stepped down as head coach after the 2004 season, credits other factors for Buford's success.

"Everything has come together. We were in the right place at the right time in a growth area where Buford City Schools made the right decisions about sales tax money and putting it into facilities and hiring the right kind of people," Wood said. "Our feeder program was hitting it and athletes were getting developed and certainly we've been blessed as a city school by some that have come here occasionally. That has helped us. All those factors came together."

But the biggest factor has been coaching. Many of the main pieces of the coaching staff have been intact the entire decade. Like Simpson, who moved from defensive coordinator to head coach after Wood resigned. Christian Hunnicutt has been with Buford for 13 years as offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, David Snell has been coaching defensive backs for the last 10 years, Bryan Rogers and Drew Anthony have been with the program for the last seven years and Bryant Appling is in his sixth season.

When Simpson took over as head coach in 2005, he brought in Neal Auer, the former offensive coordinator on Parkview's state title teams, longtime Central Gwinnett and Dacula coach Dickey May as defensive coordinator and Gary McCroskey, a former head coach at Johnson-Gainesville.

"That has been the solid thing every year, the coaching staff," Wood said. "The talent level every year seems a little different but the process, the philosophy and support we get has all been a constant."

Buford's decade of dominance started with a state finals appearance in 2000. Commerce and record-setting running back Monte Williams were the only team to hand Buford losses that season in the region and state championship games.

The Wolves came back next year to beat Commerce for the region title en route to the Class A state championship win over Bowdon and a 15-0 record. It was program's second state title and first since 1978.

Buford moved to Class AA in 2002 and whether the Wolves could compete with the bigger classification was a question mark. Another 15-0 season, a win over two-time state champion Americus in the semifinals and beating rival Greater Atlanta Christian in the finals put that to rest.

The 2003 squad may have been the best to ever come through Buford. The pressure of repeating, record-setting running back Darius Walker on the team and completing a third-straight perfect season made that year's team special.

"All I could do was mess that year up," Wood said with a laugh. "When you talk about best teams ever in AA or in Buford I think that '03 team has to be in there the way it dominated from start to finish."

Buford lost to playoff nemesis Charlton County in the state finals in 2004 and in the quarterfinals the next two years.

Littered with future Division I football players, the 2007 team brought home Buford its fourth state title this decade in dominating fashion, giving the '03 squad a run as the best Buford team ever. It was also the first state title for Simpson as a head coach.

"The '07 team was like the '03 team. It had all those Division I prospects," Wood said. "That has to rank as one of our better teams, too. They were so powerful, so good running the football and they won state 50-0."

Last season's team survived some regular season scares, but turned it on during the playoffs and posted another 15-0 record and a fifth state title this decade.

"I don't think any coach can ever imagine going through a run like that," Simpson said. "We've been the combination of blessed and lucky and I don't think you can ever imagine that. I think we're in the middle of it, you probably don't enjoy it and when you're done you look back on it and get to reflect. All the extra weeks and work these kids and coaches have gotten to do this past decade, I think it helped build on the tradition we have."

Now in the final year of the decade, Buford is once again in the state finals. It will play Calhoun in rematch of last year's state champion game that Buford won 45-21. This year's team is just as special as the last nine in its own unique way.

The Wolves had to replace their quarterback and running back, rebuild their defense and rely on a lot of young players. They even endured a rare regular season loss. But the result has been the same -- a trip to the state finals for the eighth time in 10 years.

"What's amazing is keep doing it year after year," Wood said. "You're always everybody's No. 1 game, you're always the rival, everybody wants to knock you off. When you put all that together it's so remarkable."

So what does the next decade hold for the Wolves?

"The goals will be the same," Wood said.

A bigger trophy case might be needed soon.