COVINGTON, Ga. — As Patrick Jones ran down the list of coaches, players, parents, fans and friends who helped him impact the Cousins Middle School football program, he didn’t sound like a person who was quite ready to leave it all behind.
When Jones came from Fayette County to take over what had become one of the more moribund middle school programs in the Newton-Rockdale area, he’d mapped out a plan that called for a quick stay on his way up the football coaching ranks.
“When I came in, I knew it would be a two-year thing for me,” Jones said. “But you know how it is. The Covington community kind of grows on you.”
So when the call came up from Denmark High School for Jones to become the defensive line coach at the upstart Forsyth County football program, he knew it was too good an opportunity to pass up. That didn’t make saying goodbye to what he’d built any easier.
“I can’t like, it was very, very tough to leave,” Jones said. “It was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Even two weeks after, I’m still thinking about it, man. I think about these kids all the time. I think about this area. Covington still has that small town feel, but it really does grow on you, and I appreciate everything we’ve been able to do here.”
The turnaround for Cousins was swift with Jones at the helm. The Cardinals compiled a 15-2 record in the two seasons he led them, climaxing his tenure with an undefeated 2017 campaign that ended with a resounding win over Veterans Memorial in the NewRock League championship game.
But Jones isn’t one to take all the credit for himself. As he reminisced on his short but effective time at Cousins, he gave kudos to the team of coaches around him, as well as the school’s community — without which, Jones said the success may not have been there.
“All of my assistant coaches, I’m glad they’re still going to be there,” Jones said. “Zach Harden, Darren Shepherd who’s almost like the mayor of Covington because he knows so many people, Hayward DeRouen and Larry Cain. All those guys are a big reason why we were able to do what we did there.”
Jones’ departure gave way for Cousins to hire Kenneth Whetstone from DeKalb County as the school’s new head coach. But Jones and the the Cousins administration thought so highly of the current coaching staff, they wanted to do what was possible to make sure they were retained.
“A real key was being able to keep the assistants,” Jones said. “And coach Whetstone seems like a cool guy and very humble. I’m hoping things can keep rolling and that they take it to even higher heights.”
Beyond the coaches, Jones talked about some of the players he’d coached whom he expects to be major high school contributors, as well as the next wave of athletes to prove there’s ample football talent in Newton County.
“Of course everyone talked about Ramon (Hernandez),” he said. “But then there was Tyrell Floyd. He’s going to be a big time player. He scored a long touchdown run in Newton’s spring game against Salem. Then there’s James Amos. That’s gonna be a name all of Newton County’s going to do. He might be the next Lemarius Benson over there at Eastside.
“The players have always been there in Newton County. Of course it takes more than just athletes, but nobody can tell me that any of the high schools around here don’t have the kind of athletes to make successful football programs.”
It’s not out of the question that Jones, who also served on Eastside coach Troy Hoff’s staff, could cross paths with the Eagles again in the postseason. Denmark will play in Class AAAA, the same classification as Eastside, and depending on how playoff brackets fall, if both teams make the postseason, it’s possible the two teams could meet.
But Jones said he won’t wait for that level of chance to determine when he’ll step back into Sharp Stadium again.
“I’m definitely going to be coming back and watching a game or two when I can,” he said. “These guys mean that much to me.”
Ultimately, Jones is hoping this next stop is one more step toward his ultimate goal of being a high school head coach. If or when that happens, Jones will point directly back to his time at Cousins as being instrumental in preparing him.
“When I look back on these two years here, it’s really helped me see what it takes to Be able to lead young men successfully,” Jones said. “I’ve always been a guy who knows the game, as far as the Xs and Os guy.
“I’ve always had a mind for the game. But coaching here helped me develop a lot of skills. And the kind of support you get here was amazing. I’d tell any young coach who’s trying to make a career that coaching in middle school in a place like I did can only help you get to where you’re trying to go.”