Dave Hunter stays updated on Friday night football scores in retirement as much as he did during his long high school coaching career.
He goes to a local game nearly every week — most often Brookwood, where he worked from 1987-2006, because of his friends there and the proximity to his home — but he checks out other places, too. Not far removed from serious heart surgery earlier this season, he was at Archer for the big showdown with Grayson.
Hunter keeps a special eye on Archer, just as he does Buford, Dacula and of course, Brookwood. All four of those programs are headed up by Brookwood graduates who played football for Hunter — Andy Dyer of Archer, Philip Jones of Brookwood, Tommy Jones of Dacula and John Ford of Buford.
“I’m just proud of them,” said Hunter, who also has a long list of assistant coaches at various places to monitor. “I’m like a grand-daddy. I’ve got my app on my phone (for scores). I want to know what’s going on. Sometimes I can’t figure out what’s going on and (Brookwood athletic director) Jason Dopson is on Twitter with the other ADs, so he gives me the lowdown on the other county scores. I’m just proud of all of them.”
Those four coaches have given Hunter plenty to be proud of this season. All four won region championships, and all four have their teams in Friday night's second round of the state playoffs.
“I really hadn’t even thought of that, but that is neat (that all four won region titles and are still in the playoffs),” Tommy Jones said. “I’m sure that there’s a pretty strong fingerprint from the Brookwood program on each of our programs. The way we go about running the program.”
Tommy Jones and Dyer, the longest-tenured head coaches of the group, both cultivated their love of football and coaching through their playing careers at Brookwood, where they were co-captains of the football team and 1991 graduates. Just like Ford and Philip Jones (Tommy’s younger brother), they experienced a great deal of success under virtually the same coaching staff that held steady in Snellville for decades.
The Jones brothers had an even more direct tie through their father, Tom, the Broncos’ longtime offensive line and strength and conditioning coach.
“I think we’re all very fortunate to grow up as players in such a great program that was so organized,” Dyer said of Brookwood. “The expectations you set for your kids, the way you go about your business in practice, the way you go about your business on game day, it helps you develop a program and develop a vision for your kids. We’re all very fortunate to play for coach Hunter and his staff. Some of us got to coach with coach Hunter or with people who come from his coaching tree. … You just learn, if you pay attention, you learn some of the tricks of the trade and the things that matter most.
“The biggest thing is what we do requires an enormous amount of work. Not Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday work but seven days a week. And it’s seven days a week all year long. So the biggest thing we learned (at Brookwood) was work ethic.”
Dyer coached at Brookwood when he was younger before building the Archer program from its inaugural season. His Tigers sport a No. 2 state ranking and an 11-0 record entering a second-round game against Mill Creek.
Dyer was a running back and defensive back for Hunter’s early teams, and he joined Tommy Jones as the two main sophomore contributors on Brookwood’s 1988 state runner-up team.
“Andy never forgets to send me a note,” Hunter said. “He’s always appreciative. He’s just considerate. One of the things about Andy is he’s so sincere. He loves the kids, and it permeates right through the air, and they know that. You can’t con those kids. And there’s no question he really deeply cares for them. All of them do.”
Hunter wasn’t surprised to see Dyer pursue a career in coaching, and he felt the same way about the Jones brothers.
“The Jones boys, they’ve got (coaching) in their blood,” Hunter said.
Though Ford’s father was a football coach, Hunter didn’t always see that path for the first-year Buford coach, whose Wolves are ranked third in Class AAAAA.
“The kind of surprise was John Ford,” Hunter said. “He was an enthusiastic guy, but he was more of a student. I didn’t know (if he would coach). He’s a Spanish teacher I believe. I didn’t see that coming. But John parlayed that situation at Roswell into a great thing and got the job at Buford. I’m thrilled for him. I’m proud of him. He’s really grown and done a good job. He’s developing into an outstanding leader.”
Philip Jones, a year older than Ford, his teammate on Brookwood’s ’96 state title squad, wasn’t sure coaching was Ford’s path, either. But he expected him to do well.
“John’s one of those guys, he’s just so dang passionate about the game and always has been,” Philip Jones said. “In high school, God didn’t bless him with the greatest ability, but nobody worked harder and nobody wanted to win more. Nobody had more of a passion for Brookwood and everything we were trying to do as a program. I knew if he put that focus on one thing, one day, he would be successful at whatever he did.”
Like his fellow Brookwood alumni, Ford credited those high school days as the foundation of his coaching career. Unlike the other three head coaches, who rose through the ranks in Gwinnett, Ford coached exclusively outside of Gwinnett until this season, when Buford hired him away from Roswell.
He had led Roswell to state runner-up finishes the last two seasons.
“I just learned to operate to a standard of excellence,” Ford said of his Brookwood days. “When you have guys like coach Hunter, coach (Mark) Crews, coach Benjie McLane, coach (Tom) Jones, coach David Nelson, coach (Ray) Allen, you don’t find finer men to learn from than that. So when you start coaching, it’s all you know. I’m very fortunate to have learned from those guys.”
Philip Jones not only learned from those coaches, he now has the tall task of maintaining the football tradition established by them at his alma mater. He inherited a program that went 2-8 and missed the playoffs in 2014 but has steadily built the program back to prominence. He took the Broncos to the second round of the state playoffs last season and guided them to this year’s region championship, their first since 2010.
Brookwood takes a nine-game winning streak into its home playoff game this week against Milton.
“Because we all played for Brookwood and we all came from this program, we all have such reverence and respect for the program we played in here at Brookwood and for the men that coached us,” Philip Jones said. “These were guys that were not only extremely successful, but incredible role models who did things the right way. They obviously loved what they did and brought that to the table every day. During that time, the late ‘80s and into the ‘90s, and really the entirety of the Brookwood program, for us those guys were always great mentors, role models, father figures. Those were guys we all wanted to be like. We were taught love for the game, to be students of the game. We were taught hard work, how to be good men, how to treat kids right. That’s all a credit to the coaches, coach Hunter, coach Allen, coach Crews, my dad, coach (Mike) Phillips, coach Nelson, all those coaches.
“Every day I wake up I kind of pinch myself. I tell the players all the time as a sophomore when I was fortunate to be one of the sophomores who got to dress for varsity games, I still remember getting my first Brookwood jersey. In ’94, I got my first Brookwood jersey. I watched my dad, my brother, all these guys who were older than me that I just loved to death, and I wore that Brookwood jersey with pride.
“Now I have the opportunity to lead this program, and I wake up every day wanting to pinch myself because of how fortunate I feel to lead this program but also the sense of responsibility I feel to lead this tradition of what’s come before me. I know I stand on the shoulders of giants here. The program has been led by so many incredible men.”
That Brookwood is led by someone from the Brookwood family makes Hunter proud. But he gushes just as much about the other Brookwood grads who followed his path into coaching, and the success they have experienced both on and off the football field.
“I have a boatload of assistant coaches that are Brookwood boys, Peachtree boys (the DeKalb school where Hunter coached before Brookwood),” he said. “I’m proud of all of them. I’m proud of the head coaches and the assistants. But the most important thing to me is the kind of people they are. I don’t know how you can get any better than any of those guys.”