Five questions with Ridgeland head football coach Mark Mariakis, who took the Panthers to their first playoff appearance in nine years last season.
1. What is something a high school football coach does that most people don’t see?
Spend countless hours in preparation. I was talking to a gentleman at church last Sunday at homecoming — and this is probably for every high school coach — my work hours starting now for football season is 98 hours a week. It starts at Friday at school at 6:30 in the morning. The game gets over with Friday and we don’t leave here until 1 o’clock after watching our game film. Saturday you trade films, we copy films, coaches pick them up and then have a four or five-hour film session at home breaking them down. Then we meet Sunday at 2 o’clock and stay until 6 or 7 and then you start Monday at 6:30 at school and practice until 6:30 or 7 that night, and coaches don’t leave here until 8 and that goes all through the week. And then it’s Friday again.
2. What has to happen before this program can be on a level with Dalton, Northwest Whitfield at Rome?
You’ve got to beat them. Those people are where they’re at because they are consistently winning. I’ve always said from the first day I took over the head job at Lakeview years ago, I’ve never wanted just a good season, I want a good program, one that is consistently in the hunt for the playoffs. Are you going to make it every year? I don’t know. There will be some years you don’t, but if you’re consistently battling for it, and you’ve had a chance to make it, then I think that’s when you’ve kind of arrived and you’ve got a program you can be proud of.
3. What’s the best part of a football Friday night to you?
I guess it’s just watching a game plan unfold and the kids execute it. The ballgame itself is two hours long, but there are countless hours of preparation. And I guess when it all shakes down and you call a play, call a defense and you do something out there and the kids execute it and they execute like you’ve taught them to execute it and they get rewarded for all that work, that’s the best part of a Friday night.
4. Can a team north of Atlanta ever win a Georgia state football title?
I think so. The key to winning consistently is speed, and you’ve got to have it. If you don’t have it, it’s nearly impossible to win deep into the playoffs. You’re going to get to the point where you’re going to run into somebody that’s so much faster than you that you’re just not going to catch them. That’s the one thing I’ve learned doing this now for 23 years, games where you don’t tackle well are the games where you can’t catch them. The difference between a tackle and missed tackle is often no more than six inches because you can’t get your head across. To win it, to get to the Dome and win all the marbles and get a ring on your finger, you better have some talent and some speed. I’m not going to say never, we’re trying ourselves to win it like everybody else is, but you better have some speed.
5. You’re a big supporter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. What does that organization provide the student-athlete?
That’s an organization and a vehicle that we kind of hang our hats on around here. It’s a platform and a vehicle that allows us to share Christ with the kids in our program. That’s a foundation that we layed down first and everything else builds off of it. The spiritual aspect of a team _ just speaking of our team _ is strong. We’ve got some kids who have learned to love each other. I mentioned it yesterday at the first FCA meeting, I talked about being able to be humble and gentle and telling each other you love them in a close man-to-man way, that it doesn’t matter who you are or what you do, I’m going to care about you. So our coaching staff knows that, that we love every single one of these kids as Christ loves us, just like we are. It doesn’t matter if he’s the superstar who gets his name in the paper or the kid who will never see Friday night on the football field. That’s probably where most of the credit needs to go on our turnaround, on the spiritual aspect on our team.