For the first time since 1998, a Walker will not be at the helm of the Sandy Creek Patriots football team. Chip Walker took the head job at Newnan in February, and the Patriots hired long-time assistant Brett Garvin to fill the void.
Before we get to Garvin, it's best to understand the coaching background at Sandy Creek. Rodney Walker and his son, Chip, have been a standard in the Patriots program, molding it into the perennial playoff powerhouse that we have come to know.
The elder Walker coached from 1999-2004, then moved to Mary Persons before retiring after 39 seasons and a 300-141-3 record. At Sandy Creek, he compiled a 48-19-0 record.
In 2005, Sandy Creek hired Chip Walker away from Peach County to fill his father’s shoes. By all accounts, he did. The younger Walker coached for 11 seasons and put together a 127-26-1 record and won three state titles in 2009, 2010 and 2012. In 2010 and 2012 Sandy Creek went undefeated with 15-0 records.
As Sandy Creek transitions to the Garvin era, it is safe to say that the Patriots are in good hands.
“Well, I’ve been at Sandy Creek for 16 years,” Garvin said. “Before that, I was at Fannin County up in Blue Ridge for two years. Before that I was in Cochran for five years, and then I was in South Carolina. And before that I was in Thomasville. I did my graduate work at Union College and was a graduate assistant up there, and I graduated from Presbyterian College. So I have been from one end of the state to the other.”
In his 16 years at Sandy Creek, Garvin has coached the likes of Andrew Gardner, an offensive lineman for the Philadelphia Eagles; Kedric Golston, a defensive lineman for the Washington Redskins, and Rajion Neal, a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers. But perhaps the most famous Sandy Creek alum he has seen pass through is Calvin “Megatron” Johnson, who played at Georgia Tech and was Matthew Stafford’s favorite target in Detroit.
For Garvin and family, who live in Tyrone, the job has been a blessing.
“It was probably four weeks or five from the time (Walker) announced he was leaving to when I knew I had the job," he said. "But it seemed like a lot longer than that. This is where my kids grew up. My oldest boy (Cole) played here, and my youngest (Till) will be a junior next year. So yeah, it is kind of neat that I get to be the head coach where my boys will play."
It has been a family affair for the Garvins and Sandy Creek. In 2012, Garvin watched his son, Cole, lead the Patriots to an undefeated season and a state title against Ridgeland.
“My oldest boy was 5 when we moved here, so he really doesn’t know anything but Sandy Creek, so I am excited to be the guy," he said. “There are no words to describe it, watching your son win a state title. You’re proud, of course, but at the same time you’re trying to coach and trying to do your job. But then you have to steal a minute to watch him do his thing. As proud as you could be, you know. It is hard to describe. I tried to be that dad who was always watching, but I had other things to do. But you know, every now and then I would catch myself sneaking a peek.”
Sandy Creek, which finished with an 8-4, 4-2 record last season, will be in a rebuilding year after losing to Cairo 10-7 in the second round of the playoffs. But with Garvin at the helm, the Patriots are sure to be as confident as ever.
Garvin took time Friday to discuss a number of issues about Sandy Creek, his boys and his team:
Q. Sandy Creek has had some big-time athletes come through the program. Have any reached out since you got the job?
A. Oh yeah, a lot of them have texted me or called saying, “Congratulations” or “I can't wait to come see you.” Most of all of them have reached out in some way. You know, they keep up with what’s going on. That’s one thing that happens, I guess, the tradition builds. When the kids go away, they are extremely proud of their school. Extremely proud. They always want to know what’s going on. They’ll text you about seeing the score in the paper or get up and look online at the scores. Regardless of where they are in the country playing ball, they’ll get up Saturday morning and the first thing they're gonna do is look online and see the score. That has just always been that way. That’s not necessarily anything that I’ve accomplished. You’ll get a text on Saturday morning, “Coach, I saw the score last night; keep it up,” or “Coach, what happened?” They’ll come back every time they have a chance. They like to come back and watch the game on the sidelines.
Q. Being a perennial power, there can be some added pressures to succeed. Anything less than a deep playoff run is considered a failure. How do you handle that now that you are the head coach?
A. Well, I think I have a leg up being in the same program and understanding that. And because my name is on the masthead now. But being an assistant coach in the same program, you still have the pressures to win. Because, again, that is what the community expects; that’s what the kids want; that is what they push and they work for. So I have been a part of that pressure, I guess, for the last eight or nine years, since we started winning. It is not anything new to me other than the fact that sometimes I sit down in a chair and go, “Well, you know what buddy, if you mess this up, it is all on you, ha-ha.” This is what you get into it for. This is why you work hard. Ask any coach in the state, you want to build a perennial power program. That is what you’re doing it for.
Q. Tell me about the transition and your team.
A. Well, you know, it has been very good. Pretty smooth. That’s the one thing I tried to sell to the powers-at-be. This will be the easiest for the kids. They’ll transition. They know me. There will be some changes, obviously, but they are comfortable with me, for the lack of a better term. Defensively, you got Nick Fulwider, who is 6-7 240 pounds. He may be up to 20-25 offers from all over the country. SEC, Big 10 ... he has them from everywhere. (Louisville, Arkansas, Duke, GT, Indiana, etc). So you have him anchoring the defense. Three other guys, Taylor Hodge, Mark Penson and James Strothers, who all played last year. With those four on defense, you just can’t coach experience. We could go out there and practice 10 times a day, but it is not the same as going out there under the lights on Friday . You have an experienced front four. Two of the three linebackers who got playing time last year will be back. Two of the four secondary guys who played will be back this year. Defensively we will be OK and experienced, but the offense will be young. Obviously we have to replace the quarterback. We have a competition right now between Jamal Lewis and Matthew Williams, and whoever wins it is going to win it. So we are going to be inexperienced at quarterback. We have an upcoming 10th-grader who we think is going to be pretty special, Amhad Jackson. He is about 6-3, 195 going into the 10th grade. He is 16 years old. If I had been that big at 16, I would’ve ruled the world. We have some tall guys at the wideout position. A tight-end, one of those who played a bunch last year probably will step in and play, and that just happens to be my other son, Till Garvin. He is 5-11, 215. So we are looking forward to it.
Q. Is there a message for the Sandy Creek fans?
A. We are going to continue doing what we do. We are going to continue to work diligently to put kids in college. We have had 132 kids in 16 years sign with colleges. We will continue to do that. We are not slowing down. The expectations are to remain high for our kids to be successful on and off the field. That is one of the things we stress pretty hard here. If the kids can’t pass their classes, they can’t play on Fridays. So that starts now in the spring. If the kid is in grade trouble during spring practice he won’t suit up. He will go to tutoring every day after school. Like I told the other papers, we are trying to win football games. Make no mistake, that is what we are trying to do, but we are also taking these young boys, and we are turning them into men. That is part of the charge we have been given, as males, so that they can be successful in life and go on and take care of their families.