Westover football coach Octavia Jones is The Herald’s John Reynolds Coach of the Year after leading the Patriots to their first Region 1-AAAA title in school history.
ALBANY — Westover High School principal William Chunn cracks a smile when he thinks back of the first meeting his new football coach Octavia Jones had with his team shortly after he was hired nearly five years ago.
Jones had put together a slide show for his players, and one of the images caught Chunn’s immediate attention.
“He showed them a slide of the Georgia Dome,” Chunn said, referring to the site where the state high school football championships are played annually.
“In order to get to where we wanted the program to go, the kids needed to see that. They’ve been getting better each year.”
While the Patriots haven’t accomplished that elusive goal, Chunn believes Jones has the program headed there. The Westover coach earned the 2013 John Reynolds Coach the Year award, guiding the Patriots to their first Region 1-AAAA title and a trip to the second round of the state playoffs in 2013.
After Westover started 1-2, the Patriots rebounded to win eight straight before falling to Stockbridge in the postseason.
“I would have loved to have gone all the way (to a state championship),” Jones said when looking back at the season. “I don’t want to put a sour note on the season because we lost in the second round.”
Jones said he challenged his team after they lost to Lee County 24-6 at Hugh Mills Stadium in the third week of the season.
“I knew we needed time for our offense to gel,” he said. “But I told our guys that we didn’t have to lose anymore. They responded by reeling off eight straight wins and showing a lot of high resolve.”
It was a season for Jones and Westover fans to remember. Not only did he guide them to their first region title, their 14-9 victory over perennial region powerhouse Cairo on Sept. 27 ended the Syrupmaker’s 24-game winning streak. They also defeated rivals Monroe, Dougherty and Albany by a combined 94-33 to earn the title as City Champions.
Chunn said the 2013 season is a small part of what Jones is building. After the Patriots finished as the region runner-up in 2012 and made the second round of the state playoffs, Westover took a step forward by winning the region title in 2013.
“He’s a proven winner, whether it’s football or track and field,” Chunn said. “That was a fantastic season … one for the record books.”
Jones said he was blessed with a solid program when he took over from former coach Jeff Caldwell. The biggest thing he said he tried to do was to get the players to eliminate the mindset that Westover couldn’t be successful in football.
The Patriots’ athletic department has always been known more for their basketball dominance. Jones desperately wanted to change that.
“These guys heard for the longest time that Westover couldn’t win in football,” Jones said. “Those other guys put their pants on just like we do.”
While Jones has already proven his success on the field, Chunn said his character off the field makes him even more valuable. Westover quarterback Ta’Keevian Harris said his coach fills the father-role in his life.
He told a story about needing supplies for a school project but had no money to purchase them. He said Jones quietly made sure he had what he needed.
“He did that with no problem,” Harris said. “He’s given us rides home and rides to church on many occasions. I don’t have a father in my life, so Coach Jones has been like my father.”
Chunn pointed out that when several players lost their homes due to tragic fires last year, Jones organized donation drives to help.
“He’s always been a leader doing that,” Chunn said. “But he doesn’t do it for the spotlight. He doesn’t want any credit for that.”
The Patriots will be losing several key players to graduation, including defensive line standout Brenton Wimberly, cornerback Jaelon Benjamin and running back Shannon Saunders. However, Westover could be even better defensively as junior defensive lineman Trenton Thompson, one of the top players in the nation at his position, as well as defensive back Jysanti Richardson return to lead the team. The defense was one of the team’s biggest strengths this season.
“I believe the best is to come,” Chunn said.