It takes a lot of time, work, determination and sacrifice for players and coaches alike to do what is necessary to win a championship. But that was a trade the Calhoun Yellow Jackets gladly made this season.
Calhoun earned their fourth-ever state title last Friday when they defeated Peach County 10-6 in the Class AAA State Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It was the Jackets’ third state title since 2011 and third for head coach Hal Lamb, further cementing his legacy as one of the greatest high school coaches in Georgia history. It adds another big accomplishment to his resume, which also includes 17 region titles and 225 career wins.
This championship might be his best coaching job, however, as the majority of people outside of the Calhoun community expected Cedar Grove to repeat as state champs or one of the other top teams, including Greater Atlanta Christian or Peach County, to hoist the title. The Jackets were having none of that as they continued to fight, scratch and claw and exceed expectations all the way to the top.
Recently, the Calhoun Times caught up with Lamb to discuss the feelings as the final seconds came off the clock last Friday in the state title game, how special (and unexpected) this title was, the Jackets’ defense playing at an extremely high level all season, his reaction to the controversy surrounding last Friday’s game, the confidence he had in his team all the way back to Spring Practice in May, a special group of seniors and the talent he has returning in 2018.
Here’s what he had to say:
CT: What was the feeling when the final seconds ticked off the clock on Friday and your team was officially crowned state champions? How much hard work, dedication and sacrifice from your players and coaches went into making that moment a reality?
LAMB: It was very gratifying because we defied lots of odds to be state champions. Playing 15 games is very difficult on the players and coaches, and to be able to win the last one is always gratifying.
CT: All championships are special, but do you think this one is more special or at least different than the other two? Why?
LAMB: It was very different because we surprised a lot of people. There weren’t many people who thought we could get this far much less win it. All we heard all year was Cedar Grove, GAC and Peach County. There wasn’t much mention of the Calhoun Yellow Jackets, but we proved them wrong.
CT: How impressive was the defense this year and what kind of definitive statement did they make finishing the year off by giving up a total of 12 points to Cedar Grove and Peach County? What went into allowing that unit to reach the level they did in 2017?
LAMB: Our defense was incredible in the playoffs. Defense has to be played with a lot of heart, determination and discipline and that’s what our kids did. It was awesome to watch.
CT: What is your reaction to the much talked about call on Peach County’s fourth-down attempt late in the fourth quarter and the controversy it has stirred up the last few days?
LAMB: I really don’t care about the controversy. The player took two steps out of bounds which makes him an ineligible receiver. It’s called ‘illegal participation’ and it’s a 15-yard penalty from the previous spot so it would have been 4th-and-24. Officials are humans, and they will make mistakes just like missing the two steps out of bounds and the two huge fumbles we recovered that weren’t awarded to us. So it is what it is.
CT: How far did this team come from Spring Practice back in May to last Friday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium? Did you believe during that first practice session that they had the potential to win it all?
LAMB: I really thought we had a really good chance to have a tremendous season, but to win it all, probably not in May. As the season went along though, I thought we could win it all. We beat a lot of teams that had more talent and athletic ability, but there weren’t any teams down the stretch that had more heart than our players.
CT: How proud were you of this senior class to be able to go out with a state championship?
LAMB: Our Seniors are a very special group. They were very business-like, and when the lights came on, they knew it was time to shine. It is an awesome feeling to go out a winner.
CT: With so many experienced and talented players returning next season, how excited are you already for what 2018 will hold for the Jackets?
LAMB: We do have a good nucleus coming back which is always good, but it’s all about the chemistry and leadership. So we will see.