WAYNESBORO, Ga. — Michael Youngblood’s cell phone is ringing off the hook this week. His teammates from the 1997 Burke County state finalist squad are putting in a single request.
Finish the deal.
“We need to bring home the first state championship,” Youngblood said. “That’s the message that’s 14 years old that I’ve been relaying.”
A former Bears standout, Youngblood is Burke County’s defensive coordinator.
While the Bears are known for their potent offense, Burke County’s 3-3-5 defense has quietly been having a solid season. The Bears allowed a touchdown in each of their first two playoff wins. In the quarterfinal, Burke County shut down Allatoona on its final two drives to secure a four-point win. Last week, the Bears allowed an early score but bounced back to limit Gainesville in a 63-28 victory.
“The coaches just get on everybody on defense, telling them we make the championship,” senior defensive end DaVonte Lambert said. “We do this, we play defense, we win the championship. Defense wins championships all the time.”
The 32-year-old Youngblood is no stranger to winning titles. He played outside linebacker at Georgia Southern, winning national titles in 1999 and 2000. He later returned to Burke County as an assistant coach for three years before working at Chattahoochee as defensive coordinator for two years. In his one year as assistant head coach at Tucker, the Tigers won the 2008 state championship.
In his first gig as a head coach, Youngblood led Dunwoody to a 7-5 record and a berth in the second round of the playoffs. After the season, the school’s principal fired Youngblood, stating he wanted to “go in a different direction,” according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The school has done just that, finishing 6-4 each of the past two seasons.
Meanwhile, Youngblood returned home to Waynesboro with his three daughters, who range in age from 6 to 9, with his wife, Rasmiyyah. He worked with the defense last year. Then, defensive coordinator Eric Luke handed Youngblood the reins before this season.
Now, Youngblood is hoping his defense will help Burke County finish the job left by the 1997 squad. During that season, he played wide receiver and safety for a Bears team that reeled off a 10-game winning streak to reach the state championship game for the first time.
“It was a big deal, because no other Burke County team had ever won a first-round playoff game,” Youngblood said. “We were able to get over the hump. Then, we were able to make a good run. It was unreal. I’m just happy these players are able to experience that.”
In the final at Thomas County Central, Burke County appeared to tie the game at 7 after Youngblood’s extra-point attempt sailed through the uprights. But Thomas County Central was offsides, and in those days the Bears couldn’t decline the penalty. When Youngblood re-kicked the extra point, he missed.
Burke County played catch-up the rest of the game and eventually fell, 21-19. Now, Youngblood is hoping this year’s team can finish what his old team left behind.
“He don’t tell us about it,” Lambert said, “but the way he looks at us, I know he’s thinking about ’97 all the time.”