Staff Photo. Jason Guzzardo, a Berkmar grad, is in his first season as girls head soccer coach at Dacula.
Jason Guzzardo was a two-sport athlete at Berkmar High School and at Valdosta State and is in his first season as head girls soccer coach at Dacula. Guzzardo, who still holds the county record for longest punt at 73 yards, briefly went into the private sector of criminal justice before returning to Gwinnett County and becoming a coach and teacher.
In this installment of "Getting to Know ...," Guzzardo talks to staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, including turning around the girls program at Dacula, turning into a football player and beating Parkview.
CT: You grew up in Gwinnett and moved back after college?
JG: I moved back after college briefly and then I went and worked in the private sector of law enforcement for about year.
Then I came back to Gwinnett, got into coaching at Berkmar in '05 and then ended up at Lakeside High School in 2007 and coached there for about three years. We went to the playoffs every year and made it to the quarterfinals one year. Had some great players come through there. Lot of success.
But I was trying to move back, because I live in Gwinnett.
The men's coach, Mike Burrell, is a good friend of mine. I've known him for about six years. We got to talking and he said, 'Hey, I may have an opening here at Dacula.' He said you'd have to do a bit of work with the program. Which I said sounded good to me.
So I came in and talked to Coach (Kevin) Maloof, our AD, and just really enjoyed the opportunity to work with him and Mike Burrell.
I was really kind of able to come in with my philosophy and, for the most part, really have changed the dynamics of the program, on the girls side. We've done a lot of things. We have our own field house, which I believe might be one of the biggest female soccer field houses in the state of Georgia. It's huge. Eventually we'll probably share it with some other sports, but I was kind of tasked with designing that. So for now, it's a great facility for us.
We have a lot of players that have come back to play this year. They had been out for a year or two, focusing on their club soccer. So trying to create that chemistry has been a little bit difficult because this team has never played with each other before and we've had a very challenging schedule. I believe three out of our first five losses have been to top eight teams in the state, by two goals or less.
Really our motto for the girls is winning one half at a time and one game at a time. Our team philosophy is no excuses, no exceptions. And the work rate the girls give is like no other that I've ever seen. They always want to improve. I've never seen a group of girls that work so hard.
They have not experienced winning in a long time. They're very hungry to win. It's a great group and hopefully in this second half of the season, and I believe it, things will turn around. We've got some great pieces.
I'd like to be here for quite a while. As long as they'll have me, I'd like to stay.
I'm really excited about being here. It's a great place to be. Being from Berkmar, when I was there, the culture here is much like as it was at Berkmar when I was there, back in the late '90s.
CT: You mentioned changing the culture at Dacula. What did you mean by that?
JG: The culture as far as the girls soccer program is the expecting to win attitude. One of the big philosophies I brought in and Coach Burrell is kind of playing off of is we'd like to bring the program to what we like to call elite status, providing the best for our players, just taking the program to the level it needs to be at. Whether that results as wins and losses, that will come, but just the attitude and the outlook.
One of our major undertakings this year, again, was the field house. We got this building and we put some work into it. It almost has like a collegiate feel to it, which is part of what we want to bring to the program. We bought those huge easy-up tents with our logo as sideline shelters for the players. Just stuff like that to bring us to the next level so that when people come to Dacula High School, there's a lot of respect.
There has not been that continuity on the girls side for quite a while. Since Coach Burrell has been here, the boys have had some continuity, but we're just trying to bring both programs to the same standard.
CT: The look good, feel good, play good theory?
JG: Exactly. How you appear is much of how you play. If you have the best, you play up to the best. It makes you excited about coming to play at Dacula or coming to watch Dacula. We're getting the student body involved. The entire 120 members of the Key Club has adopted the soccer team. They have their own little reserved section for every game. We've started a new program called "Adopt a player" for teachers. Each varsity member has a teacher kind of adopting them. The teachers learn about the game and provide some goody bags and some support and come to their games. So it's been a great program. We're just trying to get more community involvement, make the players feel welcomed. It's a feel-good type attitude.
CT: Where did you get your degree?
JG: I got my degree at Valdosta State. I played football for two years and soccer for two years down there.
CT: The same two years or different years?
JG: It was two years of football when I was a freshman and sophomore. Then my junior and senior year, I played soccer. Unfortunately, they don't even have a collegiate team anymore.
But I majored in criminal justice and, like I said, went into the private sector of criminal justice.
CT: What did you do?
JG: I worked as a private agent, working on undercover investigation for a private firm in Ohio. It was an interesting life that I did not desire much longer after about a year. And really got into coaching, got into teaching. From coaching, really realized I wanted to affect the lives of young people. That's my biggest thing. Because the relationships that you develop, they last for so long. I've coached some great, great kids throughout my career.
CT: When you decided to get out of the job you had, did you start coaching in Ohio or move back to Georgia?
JG: I came back to Georgia. Coached at Berkmar as JV head coach and sub. It really worked out nice because the lady who was the head coach, she had some experience with soccer, but she really kind of let me dictate both programs. So it was a good experience to get the foot in the door and then I had the opportunity to go down to DeKalb County at Lakeside. I had a great mentor down there, Margaret Bowen, who was the head coach my first year there. She's coached for 30-something years. I still talk to her.
CT: Were you a soccer player that was recruited to play football or did you play football growing up?
JG: I was a soccer player recruited to play football. My freshman year, I played soccer and football. My sophomore year was a huge year for me in soccer. I ended up playing in some tournaments overseas. One of the football coaches said, what do you think about kicking?
I said, I don't know. I went out there, gave it a whirl and really liked it. Probably my greatest memory with high school football was beating Parkview two years in a row. My junior year, I kicked the game-winning field goal and my senior year, beat them again.
CT: That was in the heyday, too.
JG: Oh, man, that was just bitter rivals. That was like winning the national championship for us.
Valdosta State recruited me and I had some other opportunities to go play soccer, football elsewhere, but much like now, a new coach came in with a lot of reputation and I went down there. I enjoyed two years and really almost got burnt out and kind of changed it up a little bit and got involved in soccer. I walked onto the team there and played for two years.
Unfortunately, like I said, they don't have any type of men's program, but they do have a girls program. Hopefully I can send some of my girlies down there in the future.
It was a great experience down there. But if it wasn't for football, I'd be paying more for my education. And I got some nice hardware, some conference championship rings. I definitely do not regret it, even to this day, even after leaving football, I have a good relationship with a lot of the football coaches.
CT: Has anyone asked you to help out with the punters where you've been?
JG: I did at Lakeside, my first year I helped out with the kicking game and then last year I actually coordinated all the special teams. So that was a lot of fun.
CT: Do you still play at all?
JG: I play a little bit. A little indoor league and about ready to start an outdoor league playing with Coach Burrell and guys from the Dacula soccer club.