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Veterans Memorial coach wants 'buy-in' to championship process
Dante English
Veterans Memorial Middle football coach Dante English believes his team has what it takes to challenge for a league crown. - photo by Gabriel Stovall

The Veterans Memorial Middle School football coach came within one game of winning a NewRock League championship in 2018. But that one game was against a juggernaut Cousins squad that basically plowed through everyone in its path, en route to an undefeated season and title. 

And while turnover, graduation, etc. is a part of any team’s talent attrition, transition goes to a different level when coaches leave. 

That’s what happened at Cousins as its coach left for a defensive line coaching job at Denmark High School. But that doesn’t mean English is licking his chops, thinking Cousins’ coaching change provides his team an automatic open door. 

“We can’t get caught up thinking about things like that,” English said. “We just have to keep working on us and putting in the same level of energy with our team and our players, regardless of what other teams have, whether players or coaches.” 

And what English has is a ton of talent. Although he lost guys like Willis Shepherd, III who stands to get some playing time at Salem this year, he’s got players who are drawing attention from beyond the Newton County border. 

Guys like eighth grader Justin Benton. Benton is a defensive end who may follow in the footsteps of his father who played at Newton High and Georgia. Benton has received attention from the likes of high school recruiting guru Rusty Mansell and some of the Southeast region’s largest recruiting services. 

“Justin is a player just like Willis was,” English said. “But I’m not just talking about what he does on the field. He’s excellent in the classroom and just a mannerable, respectable young man who really wants his teammates around him to be better.” 

Benton’s not the only one, though. 

“Kyle Veasley is going to be one of those guys too,” English said. “He’s a leader, and he can play at that level that Benton plays at as well. Also Bryson Virgle is going to be a kid that’s going to turn some heads.” 

English still knows, though, that being that close to a championship last year is going to be a point of motivation for all his returning players — as he would expect it to be.

“I expect them to compete and to want to compete,” English said. “I think these guys have the talent and the ability to be as good as they want to be. It’s just a matter of how hard they want to work and how well everybody buys into the process.”