Just before spring football practice was set to begin, Lanier High School’s assistant coaches were hit with the news that longtime head football coach Korey Mobbs would be leaving in a few days to take a new job in Tennessee. School administration had to get someone in place to take the helm of the program as spring practice was set to begin. They decided to look no further than the group of talented and dedicated assistant coaches they already had to fill the position, and defensive coordinator David Willingham was selected to be the interim head coach. Willingham will act as the interim head coach for Lanier’s football program for the 2021 season and will then have the chance to apply for the job permanently.
Willingham, a 2002 graduate of Stone Mountain High School and 2007 graduate of Georgia Southern University, has tried to make the transition of head coaches as easy as possible for the program. He said he is blessed that the program has a great group of assistant coaches who all have supported him during the transition, picked up extra duties and have poured their all into their players.
“I couldn’t have done it without them,” Willingham said. “Those guys have been great.”
With Willingham already familiar with the culture of Lanier football — he came to the school when it opened in 2010 — the transition for the players has been a fairly smooth process. He has carried on with the same core principles that have been the backbone of Lanier football, the three C’s — character, class and commitment.
“Nothing is more important than the character of our young men, whether they are on or off the field in that school building, they go home or they are on that field,” Willingham said.
Character development teaches the players how to be men, how to be good members of society and to be good husbands and fathers later in life. Class means doing everything with a first-class mentality and the program strives to provide its players with first-class facilities and equipment.
“Teaching them that a commitment to something is rewarding, that there’s hard work in it, that you are supposed to sweat,” Willingham said, “you spend an entire year, 12 months of work, to get 10 opportunities to play.”
Players will want to give up, but they learn to be committed to something and stick with it, which will be an invaluable lesson that will pay dividends later in life.
Looking ahead to the approaching season, Willingham said the team is young in many areas, but they are fighters.
“They are really good kids. They are going to play hard and want to be good,” Willingham said. “These guys are committed no matter what record they have this year, I know that they will battle their tails off. They are going to have to play football in a very tough manner.”
His team’s strength, he said, lies with his offensive line led by Luke Jones. Willingham said this year’s offensive line is perhaps the best in the program’s history. He expects his No. 1 running back junior Brian Williams to have a breakout season, along with his quarterback, Carson Thomas. Thomas is a first-year starter, but Willingham said he has a natural ability to lead his teammates.
In years past, Lanier has traditionally been known for having an experienced and stout defensive line having produced the likes of Derrick Brown, defensive tackle for the Carolina Panthers. This year, Lanier’s defensive line will return only one starter from last season. The Longhorns will depend on a group of inexperienced players who will be put to the test, but Willingham is proud of the growth the group has made since spring practice.
When asked which opponents Lanier will face this season that will prove the biggest challenges, Willingham said Buford and Dacula. Buford, the defending state champion, is always competitive and runs a first-class program, Willingham said. Lanier will face Buford on Buford’s home turf this year on Oct. 22. For Dacula, Lanier has yet to beat the Falcons, but last year the Longhorns lost by only one point. Willingham said his players are hungry for that redemption and they will get the chance on Sept. 24 when the two teams meet up on Dacula’s home field.
Key players to watch this season:
Carson Thomas, QB, Sr
Luke Jones, OL, Sr
Reese Scott, WR, Sr
Anthony Ramos, OL/ DT, Sr
Ben Claypole, OL, Jr
Bryan Williams, RB, Jr
Matthew Laughlin, OLB, Sr
Tywan Royal, DB, Jr
Featured photo above: Lanier High School’s new interim head football coach, David Willingham (left) observes afterschool practice as the Longhorns prepare for the season ahead. Photo by Alicia Couch Payne