• Propst's firing is top high school football story from an active offseason

    By: Todd Holcomb, AJC Sports

    Updated:

    It wasn’t known at the time, but it might’ve been Rush Propst’s final game as a football coach. His Colquitt County Packers — 14-0 and ranked No. 1 in Class AAAAAAA — lost, 14-13, to Milton in just about the largest upset in state finals history. Milton’s preseason odds of winning the state title were 1,073-to-1, according to the computer Maxwell Ratings, which also pegged Colquitt as a 21-point favorite in the championship on Dec. 12. 

    It has been 232 days since that historic event. To get you caught up on what’s happened since, here are the top 10 stories from the offseason. 

    10. Haselwood’s final adieu: The state’s No. 1 prospect for 2019, Cedar Grove wide receiver Jadon Haselwood, was named the AJC’s all-classification player of the year two weeks after leading Cedar Grove to a state championship. He was the only top-10 Georgia prospect whose college decision seemed uncertain leading up to signing day. He signed with Oklahoma. Georgia’s elite prospects continued to take a national view of their recruitment. The top 10, as defined by the 247Sports Composite, signed with nine different schools. 

    9. Stars begin to align: Recruiting services such as 247Sports and Rivals help shape the perception of every new season with their assessment of the latest class of prospects. Myles Murphy, a prominent member of Hillgrove’s strong defense last season, but not then its biggest star, emerged as the state’s consensus No. 1 recruit, a five-star defensive end who committed to Clemson. He’s one of 10 Georgia players in the national top 100. Marietta, led by five-star tight end Arik Gilbert and four-star quarterback Harrison Bailey, has seven in Georgia’s top 100

    8. Artificial turf movement: The number of Georgia football teams that play on artificial turf at their home fields grew by 21 this offseason. That brings the number statewide to 210 of the 422 football-playing schools in the GHSA. Sixteen added artificial turf to their campus stadiums. The 21 is not a record. There were 24 teams that called artificial turf home for the first time in 2018. 

    7. Going to college: The trend of successful Georgia high school coaches taking college jobs continued in a big way. Jimmy Smith, who led Cedar Grove to its second Class AAA championship in three seasons, took a job on Georgia State's staff. Joey King, who won two state titles with Trevor Lawrence as his quarterback at Cartersville, is now at Coastal Carolina. Kevin Whitley, who turned perennial loser Stockbridge into a state power, has joined Georgia Southern's staff. Also moving on to colleges were Villa Rica's Rico Zackery to Kennesaw State, Ridgeland's Cortney Braswell to Louisville, Pacelli's Mark LeGree to Georgia State and Americus-Sumter's Larry Harold to Kentucky State. College programs have tapped into Georgia in recent seasons to nab Jess Simpson of Buford, now a defensive line coach for the Falcons after working at Miami and Georgia State; Mickey Conn of Grayson, a secondary coach at Clemson; and Dell McGee of Carver in Columbus, an assistant head coach and running backs coach at Georgia. 

    6. Retired — Lamb, Dickerson, Herron, Shaw: That’s 840 wins, 242 losses, 13 state titles, 48 region titles and 86 years of head coaching experience for those four — Hal Lamb at Calhoun, Jim Dickerson at Clinch County, Lee Shaw at Rabun County and Jeff Herron at T.L. Hanna (S.C.), formerly of Grayson, Camden County (et al.). Also retiring this offseason were Sid Fritts at Elbert County, Scott Wilkins at East Jackson, Don Williams of George Walton Academy, Vex Farley at Greenville, Mark Daniel at Rutland and Donnie Revell at South Effingham. 

    5. Home-schoolers ineligible, for now: The GHSA’s executive committee in April voted down a proposal to allow home-schoolers to play varsity sports at the high schools that represent the school zones in which they reside. The GHSA office floated the proposal to get ahead of a bill making its way through the General Assembly. The bill stalled, meaning the GHSA could rest easy and vote no, but the issue isn't going away. These so-called “Tim Tebow Bills” — Tebow played for a Florida high school team as a home-schooler — are common in state legislatures. “It’s an issue that’s going to come up every year,” GHSA executive director Robin Hines said. 

    4. Class A to have separate public, private regions: Beginning in the 2020 season, there will be 16 Class A regions — eight exclusively with public schools, and eight with private schools. No more power ratings. Each region will get four playoff teams, meaning an expansion to 64 from 48 Class A playoff teams. Of the approximately 420 football-playing schools, 256 will make the playoffs. The change, approved in April, also means eight more seats on the GHSA’s executive committee from Class A, doubling the influence of Georgia’s smaller schools. 

    3. Dream jobs suddenly open: There has never been an offseason with so many high-profile job openings for head coaches. Cedar Grove and Clinch County just won state titles. They have new head coaches. So do Colquitt County, Grayson and Cartersville, schools that have won two titles each since 2010. Calhoun has won three in that time. Buford has won 10 since 2000. Warner Robins just made the state finals for the second straight season. Perennial winners such as Charlton County, George Walton Academy, Griffin, McEachern, Mill Creek, Rabun County, Stockbridge, Ware County and Westlake also hired new coaches this offseason. All are chronicled in the first seven issues of GHSF Daily. 

    2. GHSA moves state finals to Georgia State: The state championship games, played or scheduled indoors at the Georgia Dome or Mercedes-Benz Stadium since 2008, went to Georgia State Stadium, the former baseball Turner Field south of downtown Atlanta. It’s a cost-cutting move. The Benz charged roughly $600,000, Hines indicated in May, when the Georgia State deal was struck. Georgia State’s fee is capped at $100,000, and the half-million-dollar windfall will go to the participating schools, the GHSA said. The dates for this year’s finals are Dec. 13-14. 

    1. You’re fired: It’s stunning enough to see schools such as Buford and Grayson cast aside coaches who had just won their regions’ coach-of-the-year awards as voted by their peers. Those would be Buford’s John Ford (21-5 in two seasons) and Grayson’s Christian Hunnicutt (20-5 in two seasons). But what happened on March 14 beat them all. Rush Propst, who had led Colquitt County to an unprecedented level of sustained excellence in the highest classification, was forced out amid allegations of insubordination, verbal abuse, providing pills to players and losing control of his team. An investigation by Colquitt County schools superintendent Doug Howell even dragged up an alleged $400,000 in owed back taxes. Propst said the accusations were either “totally false” or “misleading half-truths.” Propst’s record at Colquitt County was 119-35 in 11 seasons. His teams won state titles in 2014 and 2015, each time with a 15-0 record, and had Class AAAAAAA runner-up finishes the past two seasons. The Packers reached the semifinals or better nine of the past 10 seasons, the best run of consistency of its kind in the history of Georgia’s highest class. 

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