Photo by Brian Paglia / Stockbridge coach Kevin Whitley once called the Tigers’ program a “diamond in the rough.” He’s quickly polished off that dirt and turned Stockbridge into a legitimate contender.
It sounds ridiculous. It sounds absurd. It sounds like someone grasping for column ideas.
But as the weekend progressed the thought gained steam. By Sunday, its momentum was unstoppable.
Now, it’s time to declare it, to put this on record for Henry County high school football fans to embrace it:
Stockbridge’s 17-14 victory Friday at previously No. 2-ranked Griffin was the biggest win in county history.
And let’s be honest — Henry County could use more football history.
For so long its success — or lack thereof — has been defined by Henry County, Stockbridge and then a little later Eagle’s Landing. It was a two-school county from 1964-1992. Travel a few hours south and that kind of dynamic usually creates powerhouse football programs.
But not here. Instead, Henry County needed more schools, not fewer. It needed population growth. It needed a little Clayton County exodus mixed with airport proximity with real estate affordability — a concoction that attracted families who brought or birthed athletes.
Now, Henry County is starting to make some history. It’s starting to win region titles, which Union Grove got started in 2002. It’s starting to win playoff games, which the Wolverines also got started in 2002.
But county football teams are also starting to get reputation-building victories against marquee programs from around the state.
Stockbridge’s on Friday wasn’t the first. As one reader pointed out, Henry County beat Marist, 20-14, in 1993. The Warhawks also beat a Jackson team in 1963 that finished that season 10-2 and advanced to the state semifinals. Dutchtown went to Thomas County Central — a program that once won five state titles in six seasons — and shut out the Yellow Jackets 15-0 in the first round of the 2010 playoffs.
Those were good wins, but hindsight has taught us more about them.
We now know that the 1993 Marist team was the first in six years to lose a first round playoff game and the first in 15 years to go through the season unranked.
We now know that 1963 Jackson team was a blip; the Red Devils didn’t have a winning season for another seven years.
We now know that 2010 Thomas County Central team was ranked No. 10 going into the playoffs, but was more notable for its superstar Georgia recruit/preacher Ray Drew than its state title potential.
So without hindsight, without the annals of high school football for evidence, Stockbridge’s win at Griffin will stand as the biggest. Bigger than Marist in 1993. Bigger than Thomas County Central in 2010. Even bigger than Eagle’s Landing Christian’s win at then No. 2-ranked Wesleyan in 2010.
No county team had beaten Griffin in 28 tries since 1988. Let alone in Memorial Stadium. Let alone against a Bears team packed with returning starters and Division I-caliber talent.
This win was enough for voters of the Associated Press high school football poll to send Griffin tumbling eight spots to No. 10. Stockbridge jumped from unranked to No. 8.
Expectations have now been raised — for the Tigers and the entire county.
Stockbridge coach Kevin Whitley called the Tigers job a “diamond in the rough” when he took it four years ago.
Who knew it could get this polished.
Brian Paglia covers sports for the Henry Daily Herald newspaper. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter? Follow him @BrianPaglia.