Last fall, five of the Mustangs’ losses were to teams that advanced to the state playoffs. They went 0-6 in the rugged Region 5A, getting shut out by four region opponents and scoring only 19 and 14 points in their other two region games. But second-year head coach Ryan Zimmerman said he is optimistic about this fall.
“We are leaps and bounds ahead of where we were at this time last year,” he said. “Last year we were the youngest team in the state, all built with freshmen. This year all [those] players have grown up into sophomores and we have a good group of freshmen coming in. We have only five juniors and five seniors. We’re a year older and a year stronger. We really like where we’re at.”
Mount Vernon lost running backs Jibri Hicks and Keon Douglas and linebacker Andrew Dobbins to graduation but returns eight starters on offense and nine on defense.
The team is led by two seniors, linebacker William Paul and free safety Sam Harris; two juniors, linebacker Ben Martin and offensive lineman Jacob Munoz; and four sophomores, linebacker Marquez Bembry, defensive linemen William White and Alan Harris and running back Ahmir Lee. Zimmerman said a new attitude is helping the program move forward.
“One of the things we've really preached is having a commitment to the team’s expectations,” he said. “Our expectations are not to be a year-round football program but for our kids to be year-round student-athletes. We have a 90 percent participation rate by our kids in a second sport and 95 percent have lifted weights year-round. We had 100 percent participation in the summer workout program.
“Kids love consistency and we've been consistent with them in everything we do. We have a set of rules we follow. They've bought into those. Last year we were at 28 players and this year we’re at 33. This year, for the first time ever we’re going to have a junior varsity team. We’ve weathered the storm. The head coach is still here, the staff is young and we believe in them. They’ve really bought into that.”
Zimmerman said the team’s strengths are its offensive line and running backs and its weakness is its lack of depth.
“If one player goes down, you could be losing a starter on offense and defense,” he said. “We’ll probably have six to seven guys who start both ways. We’ll have to find pieces around them as one-way starters and guys who can fill in if a two-way guy needs to take a breather.”
The Mustangs once again will play in Region 5A, which will have only five football-playing schools this fall.
“Region 5 is still the toughest region in the state. … It still has the three-headed monster at the top — Eagle’s Landing Christian, Our Lady of Mercy and Landmark Christian,” Zimmerman said. “We are looking forward to playing those guys. We played those guys last year and the freshmen stood up to them. … They’re teams that are committed to the process and we want to be just like them.”
The coach said the newly realigned region means he can schedule six non-region games, giving Mount Vernon more chances for success early in the fall. Zimmerman said the team’s goals include making the Mustangs more widely known in metro Atlanta.
“As a program in general, we want to grow the program,” he said. “We want it to be more visible in the community. We want more kids to be excited to play here and we want to make our alumni proud.”
Aug. 22 at Crawford County
Aug. 29 at Hebron Christian
Sept. 6 Towns County
Sept. 12 at Wheeler County
Sept. 20 Cross Keys
Oct. 11 Our Lady of Mercy*
Oct. 17 at Landmark Christian*
Oct. 25 Strong Rock Christian*
Nov. 1 North Cobb Christian
Nov. 7 at Eagle’s Landing*
*denotes region game