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Jarvis rebuilding culture with Duluth football

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Photo by Brandon Brigman

Corey Jarvis and the Duluth football coaching staff piled out of a sports utility vehicle outside the school's field house last month. Jarvis and the crew were all smiles after having lunch, cracking jokes as they approached the field house.

Once they entered the door, the laughing subsided as they headed to their offices, preparing to watch film.

"Where's that tape?," one of his coaches asked.

Jarvis heads to a cabinet filled with old game films and professes he's a film junkie.

It's nearly two months before the high school football season kicks off and the Duluth coaching staff is already working for the upcoming season. Why so early? Well, when you've been hired to rebuild a program that hasn't had much success in the last 15 years and you play in arguably the toughest region in the state, that's reason enough for the early preparation.

"We like to get an early start to prepare for the upcoming year," Jarvis said. "It just gets us a little mental prep before summer camp when we start installing things with the kids."

Jarvis has a staff of 18 coaches, which includes five from the previous Duluth staff. The former M.L. King head coach brought with him Kerry Hood and Lee Hannah as his offensive and defensive coordinators.

"At M.L. King I never had that many coaches," Jarvis said. "I had to wear a hundred different hats. I can allow some of my coaches to do some other things, which is tough for me since I'm used to doing it all."

The rest of the staff is made up coaches with different backgrounds, including some with Gwinnett County ties. Like Doby Rogers, the cousin of Duluth alum and Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers, who is an active member of the community and coached with former coach Richard Gillespie. It also includes Buford grad Matt Pelot, who played on the Wolves' 2000 state finals team, and Kyle Chewning, who was a starter on two North Gwinnett playoff squads.

"It's his coaches he brought with him," Duluth player Xavier Walker said. "They are always making us work hard. There is no slacking. We still need some improvement, but we're getting there."

Jarvis was introduced in January as Duluth's football coach, replacing Gary McDonald, who was 1-19 in his two seasons. Since then it's been a constant effort to change the culture at Duluth. The Wildcats haven't had a winning season since 1995 and play in Region 7-AAAAA, which has put a team in the state finals three of the last four years.

Spring practice had 110 kids out for the team and some of the workouts were the toughest the Wildcats have had in recent years. After the first speed and conditioning workout some players were throwing up.

"It was the toughest spring I've had at Duluth since I've been there," said Walker, who will be a senior this season.

It hasn't just been on the field were Jarvis has made an impact. Players were required to turn in weekly progress reports during the spring semester, study tables were created and players were involved with leadership meetings.

"It's a big change," Walker said. "The atmosphere is so different in the weight room and the school."

Jarvis has became more involved with the community as well, reaching out to the parents by being more involved with the touchdown club and letting them know what's going on with the program. Parents and fans have embraced him in his early tenure as coach. A story run by the Daily Post in January has dozens of comments on the online version, welcoming Jarvis to the Duluth community.

He's embraced George Rogers and wants to use him as a tool to improve the program. Jarvis has also encouraged other alumni to get involved with the program by allowing them to have their number and name placed on a locker.

Jarvis came to Duluth after a successful five-year run as M.L. King's head coach in DeKalb County. He was 49-11 during that span, leading the Lions to the playoffs each season. He led M.L. King to a 10-2 record last season and to the state quarterfinals in 2007.

That's the kind of success he would eventually like to have at Duluth. But he's realistic to know it won't happen overnight.

"I've always said to see the fruits of your labor you have to give it three years," Jarvis said. "That first class you have to get them to buy into what you're doing. The second class you start to see some things and the third class you see what you instill in the program."