Druid Hills coach optimistic after taking over during COVID-19

DeKalb County School District (DCSD) is welcoming four new head football coaches to the county this season, including Druid Hills Head Football Coach Mark Myers.

Myers is known for rebuilding high school football programs. He said he knew he had his work cut out for him when he took over at Druid Hills in April.

However, Myers said he wasn’t expecting the pandemic to unfold the way it did, and it created new challenges for the first-year head coach already dealing with a program rebuild and depth issues.

“It has been a rough and rocky road,” said Myers. “A lot tougher than I imagined. For me, I’m used to taking over and rebuilding programs. I’m used to being in that situation, but I have never done it during a pandemic. I think if I had been in my second or third year, I would have been in a better position.”

Myers said his work has grown since April, with COVID-19 spikes, stay-at-home orders, county athletic cancelations and similar obstacles, but he also said he’s accomplishing goals and is optimistic about the opportunities his team will have.

“I think DeKalb has been one of the more cautious counties,” said Myers, adding that he’s “trying to wait it out and see what happens. There’s nothing wrong with that. If everything goes well, our kids are still going to play and still have a chance to go to the playoffs. I’m more for wanting to do things safely. Not only for our players and coaches, but also for our players’ and coaches’ families.”

Myers said one of the reasons being a first-year head coach is difficult is because of roster depth.

“What has been one of the toughest things for me has been numbers,” said Myers. “The numbers were already very low when I took over. They finished the season with about 35 players on roster last season, and that’s before you take away the seniors they lost.”

Myers said the pandemic made judging his roster numbers more difficult because some players couldn’t play due to health risks and those returning later than others might not be ready to play as soon.

“As a first-year coach, you’re coming in trying to build numbers up and you have a large number of parents in our community who don’t feel safe letting their kids play right now,” said Myers. “My [number of players being held out] is in the double-digits.”

Mark Myers said taking over as Druid Hills High School’s head coach during a pandemic was difficult, but he is starting to see progress. Photo by Jay Phillips

Myers said he talks to parents of players being held out to keep them updated, but he understands why many players can’t play.

“What we have to remember is it’s not always about a kid getting sick,” said Myers. “It’s about who he may be affecting when he goes home.”
It hasn’t been all struggles for Myers in year one. He said several boxes have been checked this offseason that point toward a successful rebuild.

“One of the biggest things you have to do when you’re trying to build a program is make sure your lower levels are successful and winning,” said Myers. “You have to have a great relationship with [middle school football coaches].”

Myers said since he was hired at the high school, Druid Hills Middle School’s football team adopted his offense and defense.

“We’re pretty much running it like one program,” said Myers. “That was something I set out to do as soon as I got the job, and it was one of the first things I accomplished. It’s not something that has ever happened here, to anybody’s knowledge.”

Myers said hiring a new staff was also difficult but being able to bring middle school coaches to the high school team after the middle school season was canceled has helped, considering the middle school coaches now run the same system.

Druid Hills is scheduled to play at Redan Oct. 1 and at Miller Grove Oct. 9 before hosting Mays Oct. 17 for Druid Hills’ first home game of the season.
“Our first two games are against teams similar to us,” said Myers. “Both of those teams have struggled in the past few years like us. Those will be a good test to see where we are. Our region is very tough, but we’re coming along.”

Myers said players such as senior quarterback Markanthony Hays Jr. and junior receiver Liam Sitz will make the season exciting—regardless of the outcome—and the percentage of sophomores and juniors playing is making him confident about the future.

“[Hays is] a track guy with great speed,” said Myers. “He was a wide receiver, but we moved him to quarterback. The bulk of our guys are juniors and sophomores. We get two or three years with them to help these guys grow. I think that’ll be very good for us.”

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