Liberty County High School football coach Kirk Warner said ensuring his players’ academic success is an essential function of his job. Warner stressed the importance of discipline and education Tuesday when he addressed the Hinesville Rotary Club during its weekly lunch meeting at the La Quinta Inn.
Discussion of the upcoming football season — especially next week’s game between the Panthers and Bradwell Institute — was plentiful. Rotarians asked the coach about his team’s schedule, and Warner said Wayne County will pose the biggest challenge in the region.
The coach brought along some of his senior athletes, including the nation’s top linebacker prospect from the class of 2014, Rakewon McMillan. Four-year veteran Jordan Waters, the Panthers quarterback; running back Trentice Williams; linebacker/tight end/receiver Jeremy Caldwell-Fabregas; and offensive/defensive lineman Kharn Collier-Ellison also attended.
McMillan boasts more than 20 offers from Division I schools. Fabregas, Waters, Williams and Ellison are getting their fair share of looks as well. Warner said it is because these seniors hit the books just as hard as they hit opponents on the field.
“Raekwon has a 3.4 grade-point average. Our quarterback is well over a 3.0 GPA. We have probably more guys this year with a 3.0 or better overall GPA since I’ve been here,” Warner said. “Those are some of the things that stand out about this team and what I am more proud of.”
He said he teaches two classes a day in addition to his after-school coaching duties, and he keeps up with every player to make sure they remain academically eligible to play.
“We have 92 players in the program,” he said. “And those guys that might be below 3.0 GPA, we follow them … we have them entered into a database where I can go in and find their updated grades every day. I feel if we can catch things early, then we can alleviate the problem before it happens.”
Warner said if a player is in academic trouble, his first call is to the student’s teacher, which helps him gauge whether the problem is a disciplinary issue or a lack of understanding when it comes to the material.
If the issue stems from the student being talkative or disruptive in the classroom, that player will run extra laps during practice. But if the student is having a difficult time with the curriculum, Warner said he advises the player to spend extra time in study hall and with tutors and less time in the weight room.
“I will tell them, football is to come second,” he said.
The seniors Warner introduced all said they want to keep up their grades so they can pursue degrees while playing college football. Ellison said he wants to attend Georgia Southern and study physical or occupational therapy. Waters has his eye on Mercer University, where he’ll focus on mechanical engineering. Williams wants to study science at Tuskegee, and Fabregas plans to major in physical education at Ole Miss. McMillan said he will major in finance, but he hasn’t selected a school yet. He said Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Florida, Ohio State and Ole Miss — in no particular order — still are his top choices.
“We do spend time with these guys and try and steer them to a career path,” Warner said. “Their teachers do it, but as coaches, we sit down with them and let them know, sooner or later, it is time to decide. The first two years of college, mostly everybody takes the same courses, but they need to go in with a plan A and plan B if something happens. And certain majors or areas of study may require a certain GPA … and if that doesn’t pan out, they need to have a plan B.”