The Panthers Path to Perfection: 45-0
With the second-longest winning streak in the country, there’s a lot to be proud of at Parkview High School
Published: Spring 2003
One of the most predictable aspects of high school football is its unpredictability. Amazing comebacks, razzle-dazzle plays that win games in the final seconds and memories that last a lifetime are the reasons our families huddle together in the bleachers under those Friday night lights. You never know what to expect. Unless, of course, you happen to be watching Division AAAAA football in Lilburn, Georgia. In that case, you can almost always count on one thing: a Parkview High School victory.
Their 45-0 record, three consecutive state championships and second-place national rankings by USA Today and numerous other sports media, have earned the Panthers nationwide attention and respect. Quite simply, it doesn’t get much better than this.
Although the Panthers’ record of three straight undefeated seasons is what is currently attracting media attention, success is nothing new to Parkview. In 1997 the Panthers won the AAAA State Championships and enjoyed a 13-2 record, and in 1995 their sole loss was in the finals of the State Champs. Those results, along with their recent 45-0 string and five additional winning seasons with at least eight victories, have given them a 118-18 record for the past decade!
Most dominant high school football teams are backed by a solid weight training program, and Parkview is no exception. Ensuring a quality program for the Panthers is Mark Whitley, who has been the head strength coach at Parkview since fall of 1999.
One of the few full-time high school strength coaches, Whitley was recently awarded the honor of National High School Strength Coach of the Year. And with good reason.
“Our coaching staff across the board has supported our lifting program,” says Whitley. “We all work together, and our winning tradition speaks to that.”
Working out of a 6,000-square-foot weight training facility that features 20 power racks and 20 power clean stations, Whitley says basic core lifts for football include the power clean, bench press and the parallel squat, with box squats replacing squats prior to games. Cleans, pulls, dips and deadlifts are among his favorite auxiliary lifts.
Power cleans are performed both from the floor and the hang, but Whitley prefers to test the players from the hang. To give you some idea of how the Panthers measure up, last year 22 athletes each cleaned over 300, eight did over 330, and topping the list were defensive end Todd Brooks at 365 and fullback Matt Romano at 370. As for other lifts, four players squatted over 500, with Romano lifting the most at 550; and 14 players benched over 300, with Zeb McKinzey, a lineman who was recently recruited by the University of Georgia, topping the list at 405.
To keep motivation high, Whitley encourages his athletes to compete in powerlifting, Olympic lifting and even a Parkview bodybuilding contest that helps the athletes raise money. As for handling slackers, he says, “‘Look,’ I tell them, ‘I watched you lift today—tomorrow we’re going to be partners.’ And I’ll go through the workout with them, using the same weight they would normally use, and show them how it needs to be done. They don’t like that.”
“The road to the championships runs right through the weight room. If you’re not strong and don’t have good flexibility and agility, then you can’t play the game. You have to have a body that can handle the pain that we put it through in practice. We also believe that our speed, quickness and lateral movement are the keys to our success. Strength is what gets us through the fourth quarter—our kids know that when we get to the fourth quarter, we’ll be stronger because we’ve paid our dues in the weight room.”
The Winning Staff
Parkview has an experienced coaching staff that includes three ex-head football coaches. Leading the team is head coach Cecil Flowe, who has been with the Panthers for 12 years.
Relying on a multiple pro-set offense and a 4-3 defense, Flowe says he adjusts his coaching according to the talent available rather than trying to force his players into a rigid system. He agrees with Whitley that it’s essential for his athletes to work hard year-round in the weight room, and he subscribes to the motto “You don’t make a first down on what you did the year before.”
“It seems that every year we get one of the marquee players who will intercept, say, 15 passes and catch 60 balls on offensive, and people think that’s the reason we win,” says Flowe. “But this is not the case with us because when those types of players graduate, we still come back the next year and win again. Our success is a testament to how hard our players work and how much they believe in our system, our staff and each other.”
Panther assistant coach Steve Brooks focuses on the things that matter
by Dr. Greg Shepard
Years ago I did some BFS
Clinics at two high schools in Georgia where Steve Brooks was a successful football head coach. Now he is he backfield coach for Parkview High School, which has one of the winnings football programs in the country. When I contacted Steve recently to set up this article, he asked me if I remembered him. Here is what I wrote to him:
“Coach Brooks, I have always held you in high esteem as a coach and as a man. But it is your example as a father that I cherish most about our acquaintance. I will always remember looking down at your son Craig in his crib when I stayed in your home. I was overcome and lifted by the Holy Spirit.”
You see, at this same time I also had a son who was just a baby in a crib. My son, Mark, was healthy. Steve’s son was born without eyes or an esophagus. In addition, Craig’s brain was not fully functional nor would it ever be normal. It was suggested that Craig be placed under institutional care where he wasn’t expected to live very long. Some even hinted at just letting little Craig pass on. However, to Steve and his wife Carol, their son was special and God’s gift to them. Craig would be raised at home and be greatly loved. I was filled with emotion and gratitude for two things: First, for my son being healthy and second, for Steve’s wonderful example.
On the recommendations of Dr. Charley Howell, Craig went through several operations and survived. Recently, Coach Brooks gave me an update and sent me a photo of his son. Craig will be 17 this June; my son Mark will turn 17 in July. Craig can hold hands with his dad and walk around the track. He smiles and can even say a few words. Steve credits his wife Carol as the one who has made Craig’s life what it is today. “She has done all of the hard work,” he said. “Craig’s special ed teacher April has also been a true miracle worker.”
As I looked at the photo and pondered over life’s bigger picture, I reflected upon the importance of gratitude and families.
I finished my letter to Steve: “I know that in the afterlife Craig’s body and mind will be restored. I know he will thank you for being the father that you are. Families are a forever thing.” Later, Steve called me and told me he has the same feelings.
It’s a good time now to remember our families and treasure them. Time to take a few moments to think beyond our everyday problems and focus on the big picture.
Time to be grateful.