In need of a shakeup within its football program, McIntosh County Academy sought out the coach with the best winning percentage in Buccaneer history to lead the turnaround.
In April, Bradley Warren became the third head coach at MCA in as many years, but unlike his predecessors, he has experience building a winning team in Darien.
“I feel like I’ve got an advantage,” Warren said Monday. “I’ve been here before and I know what it takes to win. I don’t know how long it’s going to take us to win, but right now we’re working at it really hard. I’ve been really proud of these guys.”
Warren coached at McIntosh County from 1999-2001, during which time won more than 70 percent of his games. His 11 wins in 2000 are still the most in a single season in the program’s 38-year history.
In three seasons with Warren at the helm of the program, the Buccaneers compiled a 27-11 record. Over the past five seasons, the Bucs are just 18-35.
Although MCA is just three seasons removed from an appearance in the Class A-Public state championship game, the Buccaneers’ successes have been few and far between in the 17 years since Warren walked the sidelines at The Ship.
Just twice has McIntosh County Academy advanced past the second round since Warren’s first stint despite having accomplished the feat in each of his last two seasons. Rediscovering the aura of the Buccaneers’ semifinal run in 2000 is a priority for Warren.
“The kids are working super hard, the community’s been great,” Warren said. “We’re starting to build this football atmosphere back.
“In 2000, we went and played in the Georgia Dome and got beat by Buford. We’re trying to get that atmosphere back.”
Warren has been anything but idle since departing from MCA. The process of starting his family took Warren and his wife to Central Gwinnett, where he spent five years from 2002-06 and notched a handful of prominent wins after taking over a 2-8 program.
In his third year at Central Gwinnett, Warren led the team to a 7-4 record, which included a 20-14 victory over then-No. 1 Buford that snapped the state’s all-time longest winning streak at 47. In 2006, the Black Knights got some revenge for a quarterfinal loss to eventual state champion Lowndes the season prior by upending the No. 1 ranked team on the road.
Following a season at Gilmer in Ellijay, Warren took over at his alma mater Dade County, where he went 47-67 over 11 years. Winning 41.2 percent of his games at Dade County was a significant improvement on the 30.5 percent the program has won over 34 seasons sans Warren.
Although it’d been nearly two decades since Warren coached in southeast Georgia, he was never able to stay away for long.
“I met my wife here, so we’ve been coming back for six weeks of the year for 20 years,” Warren said.
Warren’s wife is from Darien and her family still lives in the area, so when new McIntosh County Academy principal Dr. Chris Wolski, who coached the Buccaneers’ basketball team during Warren’s first go-round, reached out about a return, it was too good an offer to turn down.
And the Buccaneers have hit the ground running since Warren returned.
Monday was MCA’s 34th practice of the summer. The Bucs have participated in eight padded camps and played in 16 games of 7-on-7, starting off 0-4, before finishing 7-3-2.
But Warren says the biggest issue he’s faced since taking over has been re-developing commitment to the sport.
“We’ve got a core group of about 33 players that have probably missed less than five. Some of them haven’t missed all summer,” Warren said. “I’ve got another 10 or 15 that haven’t figured it out yet, but they’re getting there.”
Only five seniors graduated from McIntosh County Academy’s team a year ago, so most of the team should be intact, but it will likely come in a much different form.
The loss of do-it-all standout Johnny Cummings is the biggest blow as the 5-foot-6 senior led the team in rushing (495 yards), receiving (297), and touchdowns (nine) while making 47 tackles and intercepting two passes as a cornerback.
The returners, however, will all be competing for their spot this season.
“I didn’t worry about who started where, I just started from scratch,” Warren said. “I started to say this kid fits my offense, this kid fits my defense.”
The Buccaneers averaged over 24 points during Warren’s first tenure while allowing just over 13 points per game, and they’ll look for similar results out of the hybrid wing-T and a three-man defensive front this season.
Due to the lack of size at MCA — in both school population and individually among players — the Bucs will work to get players into space with traps, waggles, and jet and buck sweeps to take advantage of its athleticism.
“We’re a small school, we only have 360 kids in the school, but we run really well, we’re pretty quick,” Warren said. “That’s our strength. We don’t have a ton of size, so we’ve got to rely on speed right now.
“Everything we do is going to be centered around speed.”