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Holloway: Winning Buford's way
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Buford focused on playing in the moment

BUFORD — Jess Simpson prefers to win games. He’s not shy about it, he doesn’t apologize for it. Just ask him.

“Losing is terrible,” he said Wednesday.

Coming from a coach, that’s not exactly an earth-shaking newsflash. A big part of his job, even at the high school level, is to win games.

But what Simpson said right after explains a lot about how he’s helped Buford build one of the most dominant dynasties in the history of Georgia high school football.

“We haven’t lost much,” Simpson said, “but we’re not afraid to lose. We want to play the best folks we can play.

I think you learn a lot more from losing than you do from winning.”

Credit Simpson and his staff then for making the most out of precious few teachable moments.

Simpson joined Buford when Dexter Wood took over as head coach in 1995. Success came immediately, as
the Wolves won a school record 13 games en route to a state semifinals appearance. When Wood moved to the athletic director’s office after coming up one game short of a fourth consecutive state title in 2004, Simpson slid into the driver’s seat.

Since then, Buford has won three more state championships and lost four games.

Again: six seasons, four losses, and they’ll play for their fourth state title today. Regardless of what happens against Calhoun, this year’s senior class will finish with more state championships than losses.

That kind of success doesn’t come by accident. There’s a recipe for it, but baking the cake requires more than knowing the recipe, and Simpson and his staff are masterful at imparting the Buford Way of Doing Things.

“We have a definition of what we want Buford football to be: family, love and respect, playing hard with great toughness, great effort,” Simpson said. “But I tell our kids all the time, ‘you know what, we redefine what Buford football is every day by what we do and what we don’t do.’”

To be a Buford football player is to live with the constant reminder of the expectations upon you. Every day you pass through halls filled with trophies and poster-sized monuments to greatness past. Tradition feels like an almost-tangible thing here, always watching, expecting.

But instead of weighing down the Wolves, it seems to inspire them.

When asked what being a Buford football player meant to him, here’s how senior lineman Devin Lancaster answered: “Being humble; knowing that it’s not about you and it’s not just about your team. It’s about every team that’s ever been through here. If we do something wrong, we’re letting down everybody else.”

Where do you think young Lancaster learned that?

Here’s his coach, in a separate interview two weeks earlier:

“I told our kids in the preseason, ‘nobody cares who’s inside the gold helmets, they expect you to play a certain way,’” Simpson said. “And that’s not really true, because they care who’s inside there, but when you wear that gold helmet in that stadium, they expect you to play a certain way. They expect you to play fast, they expect you to play physical, they expect you to represent our tradition. That doesn’t mean you win them all, but it means you play a certain way.”

It also means you don’t waste a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday when you could be getting better. It means you learn from your mistakes, even in wins, because the losses are few and far between. And it means you carry yourself with the quiet confidence Simpson preaches.

“I never want to be around high school football that’s about self promotion,” Simpson said. “Another thing I love about our team is on offense, we share the football. It’s not usually about one guy. We’ve got a lot of guys who can make plays, we share the ball, we keep guys healthy, and I think it’s great for team morale and chemistry.

“That’s my preference as a head coach: to teach kids to share and to teach them that this is about us and it’s not about you.”

Brent Holloway is the sports editor for The Times. Follow him at

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