July 14, 2013

After run to title game, Mariakis still building

Mark Mariakis jokes about how he sometimes pretends his first two years as the head football coach at Ridgeland High School never happened.

But then his serious answers kick in — and he’s completely serious when he calls his loss-filled first season a fun one.

Ridgeland is one of the 35 schools competing this weekend in The Daily Citizen’s Southeastern 7-on-7 Championship, and the Panthers are one of five programs who also have a “B” team in the 40-team field. The event, sponsored by AstroTurf, started with pool play on Saturday and will conclude with double-elimination bracket play today.

Mariakis is 65-38 in seasons with the Panthers and coming off the program’s best season, which ended with a trip to the Georgia High School Association’s Class 4A state championship game at the Georgia Dome in December. Despite losing 45-10 to Sandy Creek, it was still a milestone year for Ridgeland.

“I always said I never wanted to build a great season,” Mariakis said. “I wanted to build a great program that can weather the down years.”

But it wasn’t always easy breezy in Mariakis’ kingdom.

In his first season, 2004, the Panthers went 1-9. They followed that with a 3-7 mark. When asked about his time at Ridgeland, he said while laughing that he “sometimes forgets about the first two years.”

It’s a joke. Those years matter a lot to him.

“I tell people all the time, that first year was 1-9 and it was as fun a year as we’ve had here,” Mariakis said. “Even though we lost, we were in ballgames. You could see the kids’ confidence start to grow. It was that first block in the wall we were building.

“(After the 3-7 year), I told that senior group, ‘Y’all have laid a foundation for something special to happen.’ From that year on, the worst year we’ve had is seven wins.”

Now the current players are continuing the success — from highly touted recruit Vonn Bell, a senior last season who signed with Ohio State, to current senior linebacker Ian Hayes.

“Now that we got the taste of (a state title game), we know what it takes to get there,” Hayes said, noting one of Mariakis’ best attributes is his relationship to the players.

“He also welcomes us in. He’s really family and like a father to us.”

How did Mariakis do it? What is the uber-special secret he knows to turn a program from more losing seasons than winning — the Panthers, who started playing in 1989, had just two campaigns better than .500 before Mariakis took over — to a state title contender?

“I don’t think there’s really any secret,” Mariakis said. “The first thing they allowed us to do is get our kids in the weight room. I said, ‘If we can’t get them in the weight room during the school year, then we won’t have a chance.’”

The school upgraded the weight room facilities and added a weight training class during the school day. Next was bringing in the right assistant coaches to supplement Mariakis. Finally, he needed athletes.

“Any coach would be stupid to think you can outcoach somebody,” he said. “You have to have athletes who can make plays.”

Mariakis is thankful his supervisors gave him time to build the program.

“So many people want wins (right away),” he said. “‘If the coach doesn’t win in the first or second year, then get rid of him.’ I tell you, that mentality means those people think all teams are equal and the only variable is the coach. How ridiculous is that? When I see these programs with this coaching turnover every year, you’re creating that inconsistency.”

Text Only
  • Dalton State College hires Kerem Daser as soccer director

    Dalton State College athletic director Derek Waugh said Tuesday that Kerem Daser, a veteran soccer coach, is the Roadrunners’ new soccer director.

    July 29, 2014

  • NW vs Cass baseball 6  mlh.jpg Thrown a curveball

    About four weeks ago, Seth Pierce and his family moved closer to Ringgold High School — a move which has big ramifications on two sports fronts. Not only will his departure affect the Northwest Whitfield High School baseball program, the move will also put him back on the football field.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • NW Football3.jpg Prep football: NW Whitfield staying hungry for more success

    Northwest Whitfield High School entered the 2013 season motivated to reach the state playoffs — something the Bruins accomplished.
    This year’s team possesses the hunger to mirror last season’s successes — and possibly more.

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Chris Whitfield: Ending ride (kind of) as sports writer

    T wo weeks ago, I was told by managing editor Jamie Jones that I would no longer be a full-time sports writer with The Daily Citizen. It was a mutual decision.

    July 28, 2014

  • Local trio leads NW section to 3rd place

    Tori Owens, of Chatsworth finished 11-over-par Monday in the Junior Sectional Challenge Match at The Landings Club-Marshwood and Magnolia in Savannah for third place in the girls 12-13-year-old 9-hole division. She joined Landon Painter and Hardin Chambless on the Northwest team.

    July 28, 2014

  • SE fball conditioning 1 mlh.jpg Prep football: Raiders enter preseason hoping for breakthrough

    Entering his third year as Southeast Whitfield High School’s football coach, Sean Gray believes the last obstacle is belief.
    He believes this group of Raiders has that quality.

    July 28, 2014 2 Photos

  • Devin Golden: Other sports start practice this week

    Football isn’t the only high school sport during the fall — and the others are joining in this week.

    July 28, 2014

  • Three locals on NW team in state golf event

    Three local golfers — Hardin Chambless, Tori Owens and Landon Painter — played Sunday in round one of the Junior Sectional Challenge Match.

    July 28, 2014

  • DHS fball condition#1C0E6F8.jpg Prep football: Dalton enters camp well ahead of learning curve

    The joke came quick to the lips of Dalton High School football coach Matt Land when asked how the opening day of conditioning for the Catamounts went on Friday.
    “We can quit and go home,” Land said. “They have it all figured out.”

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hall of Fame Baseball_Chan.jpg Making a trip into town

    Frank Thomas was always driven to excel, and that sure served him well.
    “I was never that blue-chip prospect,” he said. “I had to outwork my opponents.”

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

Devin Golden's sports updates
AP Video
US Ready to Slap New Sanctions on Russia Kerry: Not Worried About Israeli Criticism Boater Rescued From Edge of Kentucky Dam Girl Struck by Plane on Florida Beach Dies Rodents Rampant in Gardens Around Louvre House to Vote on Slimmed-down Bill for Border Looming Demand Could Undercut Flight Safety Raw: 2 Shells Hit Fuel Tank at Gaza Power Plant Raw: Massive Explosions From Airstrikes in Gaza Giant Ketchup Bottle Water Tower Up for Sale Easier Nuclear Construction Promises Fall Short Kerry: Humanitarian Cease-fire Efforts Continue Raw: Corruption Trial Begins for Former Va Gov. The Carbon Trap: US Exports Global Warming Traditional African Dishes Teach Healthy Eating