Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Collins Hill head coach Drew Prentice has taken the Eagles to No. 1 in the state in his first year.
Drew Prentice, 26, is in his first season as head boys soccer coach at Collins Hill. Prentice is a 2002 grad of Union County High School and attended Young Harris Junior College and graduated from North Georgia College and State University in 2006 with a degree in secondary math education.
Prentice played college soccer at Young Harris and NGCSU and spent the last three years as a coach at North Gwinnett, including the last two as a teacher.
In this latest installment of "Getting to Know ..." staff writer Brandon Brigman talks to Prentice about taking over a defending state champion program, why Gwinnett County soccer is so good and his first car.
BB: So what was it like to have the No. 1 ranked team in the nation earlier this season?
DP: It was fun while it lasted. We lost that game to Northview and they weren't too kind. I think we dropped 15 spots. While we had it, it was fun. At first it was kind of a distraction and led to some excitement and got more fans to the game, so that was fun. But on the flip side we had a big target on us. We were already ranked No. 1 in the state to start the season and defending state champs, so we had a big target anyway. Then you throw that in there and I think we've pretty much been getting everybody's A game. It was fun, the guys deserved it.
BB: But it only matters if you're No. 1 at the end of the season, right?
DP: Unfortunately, rankings don't win you games. That's what we found out.
BB: It's your first year as Collins Hill's head coach. Any pressure inheriting a team that won a state championship last year?
DP: A little bit. There's some big shoes to fill obviously. The way I look at it, that's a good problem to have. I would rather have that pressure than the pressure to go .500 or win a game. There's a hundred coaches that would love to be in my position right now. The players that we have it's almost easy, when we set up sessions, it's such good players that nothing goes wrong. It's all so smooth, the intensity is up and they are working hard because it's the caliber of players they are and what they are used to.
BB: You're a pretty young guy. Do you feel like you can still relate with high school kids?
DP: I think so. I think it's a strength and a weakness. I get along with them all pretty well, but there's times when the line is a little fuzzy of who's in charge and who's your pal kind of deal.
The seniors kind of set the tone and I get along with all of them, but they know when it's time to get to work and when I'm getting on them a little bit and respect me. It's a fine line when you're this young and it's tough. Same thing in the classroom with the kids. There's not a huge age difference for me and the senior kids. I think it helps me more than it hurts me.
BB: Have you ever been mistaken for a player?
DP: Yeah, I've been asked, 'Are you the coach?' plenty of times. Same thing walking down the halls sometimes. I remember my first year at North Gwinnett, I had someone stop me and ask me for a hall pass.
BB: Collins Hill played North Gwinnett a few weeks ago. Was it weird playing a team you coached at the last three years?
DP: It was weird going back and playing them because I knew those coaches for three years. It was emotional for me. As soon as I came through the gate, I think it took 15 to 20 minutes just to get around to the other side because I hadn't seen everyone in awhile. I saw a few players, a few community people here and there. It was nice, but it was kind of tough to stay focused on what we needed there. That was a big game for us, too.
BB: When it comes to certain sports, Gwinnett County seems to dominate some sports like soccer more than others. Why is soccer so good in this county?
DP: I think mostly, it goes back to the player pool and our club system in Gwinnett is amazing. We have so many good clubs. Some people say it hurts because the talent pool is so spread out among the clubs, but I mean in high school we develop, but we're basically benefactors of the club system. We get good players because our clubs are so good. That's why, hands down. We have the best clubs, I think, in this county. You look at Cobb County and they have a lot of good players, but I think maybe two solid clubs. We've got one on every corner in Gwinnett County, so our kids are playing soccer all year round and it's always at a high level.
BB: Did you grow up in Union County?
DP: I actually grew up in Orlando, Fla., until I was 13 and then we moved up to Young Harris, which is in Union County.
BB: So did you know any of the N'Sync or O-Town guys down in Orlando?
DP: Uhh, not really. That wasn't my scene.
BB: Did you hit up Disney World every week?
DP: Yeah, it was down the street and it was fun.
BB: There's probably a big difference going from Orlando to Union County, Georgia isn't there?
DP: Yeah, it was a little bit of a culture shock. The school and stuff wasn't that bad and I didn't mind the small town setting. The weirdest thing was the soccer because I was playing at a fairly high level, I think, in Orlando and then we go up to Young Harris and all they had was rec soccer.
BB: So Gwinnett County is probably more your speed then?
DP: Yeah, I'm glad I'm here. Not to take anything away from there. That's where my family lives and I still have a lot of family up there. I like it here.
BB: How did you meet your wife Erin?
DP: She actually played at North Georgia. She transferred in the same year I did and she played on the girls team. It was a matter of time before we met and we kind of just hung out.
BB: Do you have any spring break plans?
DP: Rest and hope all my kids make good decisions and come back healthy and not hurt or anything stupid like that. That's the main thing, kind of relax and not think about soccer for a day or two.
BB: Are you excited about the World Cup this summer?
DP: Yeah, it's going to be fun. Our team is going to do well.
BB: Do you have a favorite international player to watch?
DP: I like Kaka. I think he's probably one of the best players in the world right now. He's so smooth, he can turn anybody with his back to the goal. It's ridiculous the stuff he can do at that speed. He's incredible. He makes things look so easy against some of the best players in the world.
BB: What's your favorite restaurant and what do you get?
DP: Around here. My wife and I both like Mexican. I like Cheeky's in Suwanee. The chicken burrito is pretty good.
BB: What was your first car?
DP: It was a 1984 Mercury Capri. Mercury Mustang is what they used to call it. It was a piece of junk, but that's what I had. I think my dad traded my uncle a pressure washer for it. That tells you how nice it was.
I think I blew it up within a year and then I ended up buying my next one. I had a '94 Ford Ranger that I bought. I haven't thought about that car in awhile.
BB: It's your first year at Collins Hill, but how long do you see yourself here?
DP: As long as possible. I like the community a lot and everyone is real supportive. The players are obviously phenomenal, so that's always a plus. The parents are great. My wife and I just bought a house in the Dacula area, so we will be here as long as we can.