Christian Hunnicutt is excited to return to Grayson and Gwinnett County to fill the head football coaching vacancy left by Jeff Herron, who moved to T.L. Hanna High School in Anderson, S.C.
Herron, who only spent the 2016 season at Grayson, is the only coach in Georgia to win state championships at three different programs. He led Grayson’s dominant championship run last season, but also won titles with Camden County (3) and Oconee County.
Grayson is a familiar home for Hunnicutt. He was the offensive line coach at the school in 2015. And although he has had only one head coaching job -- East Jackson in 2016 -- he is very familiar with successful football programs.
Hunnicutt was the offensive line coach for Buford from 1997-2011 and the offensive coordinator from 2004-2011. During that time, the Wolves won seven state championships. After leaving Buford in 2011, Hunnicutt was an assistant coach at Peach County in 2012, Lowndes in 2013-14 and Grayson in 2015 before taking the East Jackson job.
“I am just lucky to be mentored by five outstanding head coaches who invested in me,” Hunnicutt said. "They showed me the ropes, in terms of coaching, and they definitely influenced me -- Dexter Wood, Jess Simpson, Chad Campbell, Randy McPherson and Mickey Conn. They had a huge influence on me, personally and professionally.”
The well-traveled coach is inheriting a Grayson program that will be defending the Class AAAAAAA title this season, not a bad gig to walk into. But the 2016 state title did not come without baggage. Grayson became the poster child for the high school transfer problem after several top recruits transferred to the school before the 2016 season.
“There was so much noise,” Herron told reporters after the Class AAAAAAA title game. “So many distractions, so much stuff going on outside of trying to build a team. I couldn’t be prouder of a team. Honestly, in my whole career, this is probably the hardest coaching job I’ve ever had."
Hunnicutt is aware of what took place last season. That was then. His focus is on what's happening now. Coach Hunnicutt took time Saturday to answer a few questions on transfers, the Grayson community and more in a Q&A:
Q. What is the plan for your first year at Grayson?
A. The first goal is, I think, to make sure that we are in constant improvement mode. And that is the biggest thing. For us to battle complacency and to understand that we are only as good as that day. Our job as coaches is being the stake-holders of the football program to make sure we are maximizing every kid and we are in constant improvement mode. To borrow a term from our principle, “continuous quality improvement.” And that is kind of where we are going to focus. To know that the day has a life of its own. Yesterday is gone, and you can’t do anything about that. Tomorrow isn’t here yet, so we are going to focus on today. To day-by-day improve every facet of the program -- from a community standpoint, from a strength and conditioning standpoint, from a facilities standpoint, from an equipment standpoint, from a coaching standpoint and from a motivation standpoint. You know, all the little pieces of the puzzle. Continuous quality improvement. That is what we are going to do.
Q. Regarding the transfers at the beginning of last season and the noise surrounding the program because of that, do you see yourself dealing with any flak from the situation?
A. Well, I will tell you this, and this isn’t “coach speak.” I have not given that one second of thought. My only focus is to try to get myself to try to make as much of an impact on these kids as possible. To try to get them to maximize their potential. And it may sound like “coach speak,” but this is literally probably the first time that I have thought about that. I have just been so locked in. Trying to understand which switches get our kids. You know a lot of switches that turn kids on and a lot that turn kids off. We are just trying to, like anything else, coach inside the cage, the proverbial cage, and just worry about how our kids can be better students, athletes and leaders within the school and community. Those peripheral distractions aren’t going to help us make a block or make a tackle. We have literally just been focused on trying to coach our kids and focus on that and trying to build our program and defend our brand.
Q. When you look at the Grayson program in the Hunnicutt-era, what changes do you see that might need to be implemented?
A. We are going to be less Wing-T. Not that there is anything wrong with it. For the most part, we will be no-huddle, up-tempo and spread. It will look very similar to what Coach Conn ran when I was an assistant at Grayson. We will be more personnel-driven on defense, in terms of having different personnel packages. That will probably be the biggest key difference.
Q. Tell me about your relationship with the fan base so far, since being named the head coach.
A. The Grayson community is an unbelievable community that is almost like a by-gone era. The high school is the focal point of the community. Everything in that community is done with one thought in mind. How can they serve the schools, build better schools and be better leaders? The Grayson community is a warm, loving and outgoing community that rallies around its schools and students. Whether it is athletics, performing arts or academics. If you go to any event at Grayson, sporting or performing arts, you will see a lot of the same people. So the community certainly rallies around its school. Whether it is the high school, middle school or elementary school, the community supports those. There is so much pride within the community for its schools. Honestly, we just want to bring honor and pride to the Grayson community. I would also like to add this: I feel that our rising seniors are really, really eager to prove that they are not the forgotten class. They are sandwiched in-between two high-profile classes, and they are extremely eager to prove their worth on the field and in the locker room. That is one thing that I’d certainly like to add is the role of our rising senior class. I feel like our junior class also wants to prove that they are worthy of the acclaim and attention they have been given, as well. So we have one senior class that wants to, more-or-less, prove to the world that they are not the forgotten class and that they can play football, too. And they are going to represent Grayson in all the great, positive ways that they can imagine. Our junior class also wants to prove that they are worthy of the attention that they’ve been given. We do have something to prove.