Crews takes Broncos from 6-6 to state champs

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips<br> Brookwood's Mark Crews coaches from the sidelines during this year's semifinal game against Collins Hill. Crews is the Daily Post's coach of the year after winning the Class AAAAA state championship earlier this month.

Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips
Brookwood's Mark Crews coaches from the sidelines during this year's semifinal game against Collins Hill. Crews is the Daily Post's coach of the year after winning the Class AAAAA state championship earlier this month.

Sometimes only a very fine line separates a good team from a great team.

That’s sort of the way Brookwood head football coach sees the difference between the 2009 Broncos and this year’s team.

After all, many of the same faces who were around for last year’s 6-6 season that included a trip to the second round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs were also present for this year’s 14-1 campaign that ended with the program’s second state championship.

But the Daily Post Coach of the Year sees subtle factors that perhaps pushed the Broncos over that fine line this fall.

“A program is not always built on this year’s talent, but on what people call intangibles,” said Crews, who just completed his ninth season as Brookwood’s head coach after serving as an assistant to retired coach Dave Hunter. “You’ve got to have ability, but you’ve also got to have leadership and you have to work hard, and we had that from our kids, especially the seniors, and our coaching staff.

“A lot of (past Brookwood) teams had better talent than this year’s, but this was a great bunch of kids. They bought into what we were preaching, and they restored my faith in what we’ve been doing the last 25 years.”

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the talent level wasn’t exactly lacking. Plus, the talent pool was, for the most part, a year older and a year wiser.

A mature offensive line anchored by Air Force commitment Blake Fussell created openings for highly athletic skill players such as all-state selections like running back Nick Tompkins and Michigan State-bound receiver A.J. Sims, plus quarterback Ben McLane and running back Jamaal Cole.

Meanwhile, a defense led by Georgia Sports Writers Association Class AAAAA Defensive Player of the Year and Syracuse commitment Cameron Lynch, plus all-state safety Nick Moore more than did its share for the team, as did kicker Erick Yang.

But it is how that talent manifested itself that proved to be the difference this season.

For the offense, it meant getting back to “Brookwood football” — namely, bringing together a strong offensive line to help a well-balanced attack that included an explosive passing game with a punishing ground game.

On defense, it meant simply getting more aggressive.

“It’s hard for a quarterback when you’re running for your life, and likewise the running backs. And our offensive line really developed,” Crews said. “Defensively, we sort of changed our philosophy a little bit after the South Gwinnett game. We learned something about ourselves. … We felt like we needed to blitz and play man coverage more. … It wasn’t necessarily a scheme thing as much as … instead of sitting back, we said, ‘OK, let’s go get them.’”

Still, it often takes some event to help bring everything together.

And Crews believes it wasn’t necessarily the Broncos’ only loss of the season — a 24-14 loss to Dacula on Sept. 10 — but a simple change in philosophy.

“(A championship season) sort of builds as the season goes along,” Crews said. “When we beat South Gwinnett, Grayson and Parkview all within a three- or four-week span, we knew we had a chance to be pretty good.

“Then we watched Norcross just handle Walton (in the first round of the playoffs). And when we moved the ball like we did against Norcross’ defense (in the second round), I think at that point, we thought we had a chance to do something really special.”

And make no mistake, stampeding all the way to the title was something special for Crews, who joined two of his former mentors — Hunter and former South Gwinnett coach T. McFerrin — as championship coaches after the Broncos came up short in two previous title games in his tenure.

But he is also quick to point out it wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of his players — especially the seniors — and assistant coaches.

“I can’t say enough about our staff. They are near and dear to my heart,” Crews said. “And to have our senior class be able to go out on top was great. I told them, ‘You helped make my dreams come true. I’m glad (the staff was) able to help make your dreams come true.’”