Jonathan Miller took over coaching duties at Piedmont High School football in March and has taken over an experienced staff led by Steve Smith, who was still on board, along with eager players looking for state titles.
The Bulldogs have long been one of Calhoun County’s premier programs, winning three state championships and providing close games throughout.
Piedmont High School football coaches Kurt Bryan and Steve Humphries came up with an innovative plan to compete against larger schools in their division. By exploiting a loophole in high-school football rules to develop an offensive scheme that spreads out the field – an idea known as A-11 – they created an impactful game-winning strategy they dubbed.
The A-11 offense takes advantage of a loophole in the scrimmage kick rule to allow teams to throw to five out of six players in any play, such as wide receivers, running backs, and tight ends, as well as quarterbacks. Furthermore, two or four quarterbacks may even be present on the field at once to make covering them more challenging for opponents.
Some teams utilized it successfully for years; however, last year, the National Federation of State High School Associations closed some aspects of its offense as part of new rules that aim to prevent deception and make play more equitable for all players.
Though they lost all-state quarterback Jack Hayes, the Highlanders remain optimistic and hope to make the playoffs this season. Junior Cole Wilson has taken over at quarterback and should prove instrumental. Coach Miller believes his team can fill some significant shoes, including running back Sam Shelby, who returned in excellent condition after competing on their track team during spring practice.
Jackson Cavenaugh, who was a key component of last season’s defense, and Will Kalmbach, recently recognized as an academic All-American, are players to keep an eye on this year. Additionally, helmet covers will help reduce head-to-head contact during practice to minimize injuries on the field.
Tickets to see the Panthers this fall can be obtained through FamilyID, and concessions will include hot dogs, drinks, and candy.
Jonathan Miller took over an experienced defense left behind by former coach Steve Smith, who guided them to three state titles and ten playoff appearances over 11 seasons. Two starters from last season are back – seniors Luke Rhinehart and Trevor Pike, who will both serve as captains again this season; senior McClane Mohon is shifting over from defense to wideout, while sophomore Rollie Pinto may see time at wideout and may prove himself an impact player with his speed and instincts.
Washington was limited to a field goal on its initial possession and forced a three-and-out on its second. Unfortunately, however, the Highlanders allowed T.J. Mauia of Grizzly Running Backs to run deep inside Piedmont 8 on the subsequent drive before Joe Hempeck stopped him at 1. This allowed for an early quarter shutout by the defense.
Piedmont’s offense initially struggled, but Cannon Wood made the play of the day when he deftly tipped an Elijah Fisher pass that was intended for crossing Ishmael Bethel and returned it untouched for an easy touchdown that put Piedmont ahead 14-0 after two quarters. Their defense held up nicely as well.
El Reno’s Malachi Nicholson broke a few runs of 50 yards or more but was often stopped by El Reno’s defense. On one play in particular, when Tyson Benford attempted to catch an overthrown pass that flew well above his hands – it was one of only a few errors of note by El Reno on Saturday afternoon.
The defense was on top in the fourth quarter, too. An interception by Hempeck helped Piedmont secure an upset victory and extend their unbeaten streak by just four points over their last 17 possessions – an encouraging sign of progress from Piedmont’s defense unit as promised at their early season debut games.
High school football teams that are most successful rely heavily on their special teams. These players include kickoff and punt returners, placekickers, and defensive backs; these specialists play an invaluable role in setting the tone for both defensive and offensive schemes, as well as making critical plays during special situations when trying to score touchdowns.
Parkwood beat Piedmont 22-21 on special teams play alone. Senior Isaiah Mobley returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown to open up the second half, while old Kamran Adams blocked a punt to secure Parkwood the lead late in the fourth quarter – marking Parkwood’s first win since August 20, when their Wolf Pack had been sidelined due to Covid-19 pandemic restrictions and contact tracing restrictions.
Piedmont Academy coaches typically require additional time to prepare for each new season, yet are eager to begin play against Gatewood in Eatonton at 7:30 p.m. in their opening game this year.
As a coach, Miller knows precisely what it takes to build a winning program. He has done it at both county schools that share resources as part of one system umbrella, as well as teams with two-way starters who regularly begin on both offense and defense.
Miller became one of Calhoun County’s premier opponents to Steve Smith’s Piedmont teams during his time at Saks, while Ohatchee, Pleasant Valley, and Weaver teams also regularly faced them off.
With a solid core of returning seniors, the Piedmont Tigers should compete for another state title this year. Alongside those veterans is an array of talented junior players in Brayden Hong (RB/DB), Derek Schleuning (OL/DE), and Emmett Maxwell (RB/LB). All three played through COVID-19 as freshmen but lost their sophomore seasons; all are eager to prove themselves on the gridiron this year. All Piedmont fans should look forward to this upcoming season and hope their team has a long and prosperous run throughout.
Piedmont will head into 2023 under new coach Jonathan Miller. A 1996 Alexandria graduate, Miller had served as an assistant coach under Ginn, defensive coordinator under Clint Smith, and then took over after Smith left for Jacksonville in 2012. Since taking the reins 11 seasons ago, he is 100-32 with ten playoff appearances (three 3A semifinal runs and three region championships won) plus three region titles won under Miller.
Miller has made a name for himself as one of the state’s premier coaches despite working at a small high school known for getting maximum production out of each player and often forcing two-way positions from them. That skill set will come in handy at Piedmont, where their roster size may be limited compared to traditional city schools.
Miller takes over a program that was already established as one of the premier contenders in Class 3A. His squad had reached the semifinals eight consecutive years, featuring two all-state players on its roster. That doesn’t mean Miller and the Bulldogs are off slowly: far from it!
At graduation, the program experienced significant losses of experience on both offense and defense; nine starters on offense and six starters on defense left, including all-state quarterback Jack Hayes, who graduated with career passing and total offense records unmatched by anyone in recent memory.
Robinson boasts an incredible 283-81 record during 17 years as high school head coach, winning five state titles and finishing second twice. At Piedmont High School, he had an impressive 198-36 mark that is the best seen at that institution – one of many outstanding records in recent years. Before taking over Parker High School, he coached at Carver-Birmingham for four seasons prior to taking on Parker; there, he established strong relationships with players as well as his staff; this includes James Blanchard, who will become Parker’s next head coach in 2018.
After spending one season at Skyline in California, Seiden took over at Castro Valley. He has amassed an enviable 61-52 career record over 12 seasons with a no-huddle, tempo-based offense that utilizes rotating running backs and tight ends to find matchups; Seiden will need to develop an effective run defense to counter it all.