HAMMOCK: Georgia's never seen a better run

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

ATLANTA — In a county blessed with such great Class AAAAA football, what happens up at Buford High School isn’t fully appreciated by the masses.

A Class AA school by enrollment, the program reloads year after year and punishes any team in its path, methodically doing its job to perfection. And when all that work is added up, it’s a pretty substantial body of work, the best most of us will ever see.

Buford completed its yearly march to the AA state championship Friday evening at the Georgia Dome with a 31-24, overtime win over Calhoun, adding another historic chapter to the greatest run in Georgia high school football history.

Just how good is it going?

The Wolves’ fourth straight state title ties an all-time Georgia record. It’s only matched by West Rome’s four in a row from 1982-1985.

It’s also the best 10-year run in state history, with seven Buford state titles in the past decade that started with three straight crowns from 2001 to 2003. That span in the early 2000s was when the Wolves built a state-record 47-game winning streak.

Only storied Lincoln County, which won 7 of 10 championships from 1985-94, and Valdosta, 7 of 10 from 1960-69, can boast similar success in a 10-year period.

“You look back on the last 10, 11 years and we’ve been blessed, probably a little lucky at times, but we’re there because we’ve done things the right way,” said Buford athletic director Dexter Wood, the head football coach for the 2001-2003 title teams. “And the No. 1, main ingredient of it all is Jess Simpson.”

Simpson is now 82-4 in six seasons as Buford’s head coach since taking over for his mentor, Wood. He played for Wood at Marietta, coached with him briefly there and then followed him to Buford back in 1995.

Their decision to move to Gwinnett County created a green-and-gold powerhouse.

“This speaks to the vision Dexter Wood gave me in January of 1995, in the Marietta High School cafeteria when I was on lunch duty,” Simpson said. “He had just stepped down (at Marietta) and he told me he was going to Buford and, ‘Would you consider going with me? We’re going to win some state championships there and build it the right way.’ I followed him because I believed in him and his vision.”

That vision didn’t look too promising when they inherited a paper-thin, 27-player roster. That was it, ninth-graders to 12th-graders.

Their success was immediate, 25-2 in two seasons, then reality set in. Building needed to be done, and that’s exactly what happened. The numbers grew, a tradition was built and Wood’s vision blossomed.

“I don’t know if we had this great a vision,” Wood, marveling at the seven titles in 10 seasons, said after the championship game. “We just thought everything was here at Buford to build a championship program.”

Boy, was he right.

When Wood retired from coaching, he knew Simpson had the ability to take the program to an even higher level, which has proven true the last six seasons. Unfortunately for the rest of AA, their reign may not end any time soon.

The feeder programs are strong, but most importantly the bulk of the talent on this year’s state championship team is in the junior class. Those guys will be back next season, working tirelessly to add to their program’s unprecedented run.

The celebration will be fun, but the goal of fifth straight championship will be the goal very soon. The bar at Buford was set high by Wood, and even higher by his successor.

“I don’t have a place in state history, Buford football has a place in state history,” Simpson said.

Indeed it does.

Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His regular column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, visit www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.

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