THEY KEEP WINNING, AND WINNING AND . . .
With a 30-zip record and two state championships in a row, Washington County's Golden Hawks have found a formula for success.
By Kim Goss
Published: Spring 1998
The matchup for the 1998 Class AA High School Football Championships in Georgia was a classic. The gridiron warriors in this annual showdown came from Washington County, which won the title last year and was ranked #1 all season, and Carrollton High School, which was ranked #2 all season. Making things more interesting, Washington County is primarily a running team and Carrollton is primarily a passing team.
"It was a lot like the Florida-Nebraska game a couple of years ago," says Washington County Head Coach Rick Tomberlin. "Their coaching staff had visited Florida and had copied their offense, and we've been running our version of the Nebraska offense for about 12 years."
For the 12,000-plus fans who attended, the largest crowd ever to see a game at this classification in the state, this was a game to remember. Washington County scored first, but at the half it was 21-20, Carrollton. It was a different story in the second half, however, as Washington County's ball control offense and impressive conditioning took over and enabled them to win their second consecutive state championships by a final score of 42-28 and post a 30-0 record over two years. Some of the stars of the game for Washington County who helped rack up a state record of 613 yards included Victor Miller, who had 12 rushes for 145 yards; Derrick Owens, who caught
three passes for 189 yards; and Jessie Miller who scored four touchdowns.
Although Tomberlin is proud of all his players and their ability to work as a team, he considers Jessie Miller's accomplishments throughout the year extraordinary and is confident that Miller will be making his presence felt in college ball. How's this for stats?: Miller had 42 touchdowns for the year, placing him third on the all-time list in Georgia; totaled 1,600 yards rushing and 250 yards receiving; and as a linebacker led the team with 151 tackles. "Miller was named the Georgia All-Classification Player of the Year," says Tomberlin, "He can go anywhere in the country he wants."
Winning is nothing new to Washington County's football teams. Since he started at Washington County in 1992, Tomberlin's teams have racked up 78 wins to only 7 losses. These numbers include a 43-1 home record, which explains why the Golden Hawks call their home field "The House of Pain!”
With such impressive players and records, you would think that Washington County must enjoy a powder puff schedule. Not quite. "We play six conference games and four non-conference games," says Tomberlin, "and all our conference games are against bigger schools." In fact, the first game of the season was against a Class AAAA team, and they won 48-7.
Strength with Numbers
In addition to sound coaching on the field, the Golden Hawks of Saudersville, Georgia, owe much of their success to a great weight training program. Tomberlin has been using the BFS Total Program since he began his coaching career in 1981. Among this year's most impressive accomplishments in the weightroom are nine players who can deadlift over 600 pounds and 39 who can deadlift over 500. In the squat, Washington County has five players who can do 500, and in the bench press, there are ten players pushing over 300 pounds. "We also power clean really well—in fact, that's probably our best overall lift," says Tomberlin. "We had 27 players power clean 250 or more." Talk about power football! As for individual results, noseguard Tyrie Williams leads the team with a best of 335 lbs at a bodyweight of 250. Chris Edwards, who last year started at Georgia Tech as a sophomore, also broke the 325 barrier when he attended Washington County. Takeo Spikes, a linebacker at Auburn, was Washington County's first player to bench press 400 pounds.
Tomberlin and his assistant strength coaches, Matt Hollismatt and Frank Lee, are sticklers for proper form, especially in the bench press. "We make our players do it right—butt on the bench and no bounce off the chest." As for his favorite lift, Tomberlin definitely favors the power clean. "I know that the squat is the king of all exercises, but we think the athletic movement of the power clean, is very similar to that of blocking and tackling. And we believe that in football, the better tackling teams win—so we put major emphasis on the power clean."
The strength gain from their weight training program really showed in Washington's defense, as evidenced by the fact that Carrollton was able to gain only one yard rushing in the championship game. It also makes the Golden Hawks' offense especially tough to beat in the fourth quarter. This was never more evident than in last year's championship game, in which they overcame a 21-0 fourth quarter deficit to win 22-21.
With these accomplishments in the weight room and on the field, it's no wonder Coach Tomberlin is a strong supporter of BFS. "I think it's the best program you can use for high school athletes. From a time management standpoint, we usually don't have two to three hours that we can spend in a weightroom—generally we're going to have only 55 minutes. The BFS program is centered around the larger muscle groups, and has you working muscles that you use in running, jumping, blocking and tackling. What I also like is that the BFS program doesn't require a tremendous expense to get started with. Also, it's already thought out for you in terms of sets and reps, and you can see immediate results. That's why it's the only program we teach."
As the athletic director, head strength coach and former PE director, Tomberlin has also been able to thoroughly integrate the BFS program into the school curriculum. "We teach seven weight training classes a day and they are open to anyone with a burning desire to become bigger, faster and stronger. We look at these classes as upper-level PE classes, and take them just as seriously as our Algebra and English teachers take their classes."
Weightlifting is also a competitive sport at Washington County, and the school goes to at least one weightlifting competition a year. "We usually take two teams, an elite team and another team for anyone who wants to go, and we've never lost," says Tomberlin. "In fact, two years ago we took six girls and two won their weight classes against boys!"
The Master Motivator
To keep his players motivated during the off-season, Tomberlin has initiated such award programs as "Lifter of the Week" and T-shirts for perfect attendance in the voluntary summer program. He also gives Super Hawk engraved baseball caps to players who he says "have really laid it on the line" in the weightroom. And then there's the most prestigious award, the Golden Hawk, which is given to the player the coaching staff believes "best represents the attitude we have in the off-season." For this presentation, Tomberlin brings out television and newspaper media and gives the athlete a plaque to commemorate the experience. This year the winner of the Golden Hawk was quarterback Terrence Edwards, who was also selected as the Gatorade Circle of Champions Player of the Year for Georgia.
Tomberlin played football at Florida State, but the college program he and his coaching staff most admire is Nebraska's. "We like their attitude, we like the fact that they put a big emphasis on strength and conditioning, and we like their style of offensive football. Tom Osborne is a guy with great character, and he believes in being thorough and working very hard. That's the way we approach the game."
Tomberlin believes his calling and his niche is working with high-school-age athletes. "They need role models at that age desperately because they're receiving a lot of different signals from a lot of people. The biggest thing that I try to tell them, if I could put it into one sentence, is that ‘you really do control your own destiny.' By that, I mean if you're willing to do things right, you can be successful. And the d