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Summer conditioning: Cunningham takes control

New Habersham Central coach expects results over summer

POSTED: July 22, 2009 12:03 a.m.

Summer conditioning: Habersham Central

The Habersham Central offensive line practices at the Elite Offensive Line Camp at Mill Creek High School.

Newly-hired Habersham Central head football coach Stuart Cunningham hasn’t wasted any time taking control of the program now in his hands.

Cunningham, who was promoted to head coach earlier this year after six years as the Raiders’ defensive coordinator, has taken the initiative of developing his players with a busy summer schedule.

His itinerary consists of four different camps, 7 on 7 passing games, and daily workouts in the weight room.

“We’re having good participation,” Cunningham said. “We’ve averaged about 70-plus (players) in the weight room every day.”

The process is all part of the daunting task that lies in front of him as the official start of football season approaches: turn Habersham Central around and get back in the playoffs.

But Cunningham hasn’t been left to fend for himself. With a slew of returning starters, some reeling in Division-I attention, his head coaching career starts with the components needed to be a playoff contender.

“It hasn’t been that big of a transition,” Cunningham said. “I do all things now that I used to do, but now I get to watch more than one area. I get to have relationships with the coaches in all areas.

“Most of the pressure has been self-imposed,” he added. “But if everybody plays to their full potential, then you’re doing your job.”

Cunningham takes over a Habersham Central program that has enjoyed four straight winning seasons and two region titles in 2006 and 2007. The Raiders’ bid for a fourth straight playoff appearance ended last year, when they finished 6-4 and lost a tiebreaker with Cedar Shoals for the fourth seed.

During Habersham Central’s span on winning seasons, it saw several players move on to the college level, including Georgia wide receiver Tavarres King and Oklahoma linebacker Daniel Franklin, who played for a BCS National Championship in January.

With examples set by previous standouts, the next generation of college athletes from Mount Airy may be on the verge.

“We’ve come really far,” said senior offensive lineman Kalan Jones, who has offers from Central Florida and Wake Forest, and has interest from several ACC schools, including Clemson and Georgia Tech. “I was kind of scared at first in the spring, but we’ve come a long way and we’ve matured.”

Jones is part of an offensive line that will protect second-year starting quarterback Austin Brown, who is one of the states top junior signal callers according to Scout.com. Running backs D.J. Grffin and Kevin Ellison also return this year, giving Habersham Central an experienced running game.

“We now have more depth at running back,” Cunningham said. “We’ve never had much depth there, but we’ll make adjustments and do what works.”

But how the Raiders will look as a whole has yet to be seen this summer. The offensive linemen recently attended the Elite Offensive Line Camp at Mill Creek High, and were also part of the North Metro Offensive Line camp earlier this summer at North Oconee High.

Meanwhile, their teammates attended camps at Furman University and the University of West Georgia. Weekly workouts at the school have been the only times the entire team has been together.

“I think we’re going to be pretty good, but it’s kind of hard to judge right now,” Jones said. “We don’t do anything with receivers or anyone during the summer.”

But keeping the players separated is all part of Cunningham’s plan to make sure every player gets specialized attention at their position in time to bring everything together when practice starts.

“Summer is the time to get durable,” Cunningham said. “In the middle of the season, there’s no chance to get stronger. You get all that out of the way now.”


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