New SWD head coach is optimistic about year one

For only the fifth time in the past 40 years, Southwest DeKalb High School’s football team is preparing for a season with a new head coach.

Marion Bell is taking over for the Southwest DeKalb Panthers, following coaching stints in Georgia as well as New Jersey.

The Panthers—who were coached by Hall of Fame inductee WilliamBuckGodfrey from the team’s inception in 1983 until 2012 and by Damien Wimes from 2017 until 2022–went 2-8 last season with a 42-13 loss to Stephenson ending the year. Additionally, the Panthers haven’t won a playoff game since 2017, despite going 10-0 in the regular season in 2018 and winning an additional region championship since then.

Bell said he’s ready for the challenge—even with the high expectations that come with coaching at Southwest DeKalb—referencing the local support and the more favorable offseason practice rules in Georgia compared to New Jersey.

“I’m hearing so many legendary stories about Buck Godfrey and the program, and I want to bring that back,” said Bell. “I’m glad to be at a school that builds champions … It’s great to be here in Georgia with the seven-on-sevens and workouts year-round.”

Bell said that the 2023 season will be his 16th year as a high school football head coach and his 29th year in football coaching. His last head coaching stint was at East Orange High School in New Jersey, where Bell won the 2007 state championship and lost the 2008 championship by eight points. Bell said ‘s only missed the playoffs twice in his head coaching coaching career and has 94 career head coaching wins after compiling a 69-49 record in 11 seasons at East Orange.

Preparing for game one
Southwest DeKalb’s new coach was hired in May and missed some crucial offseason time, but he said he has concentrated on the practices he was there for and game one – instead of dwelling on missed time.

“I respect mat drills and all of that, I really do, but we’re trying to get these kids ready to compete for 48 minutes,” said Bell. “Spring has been outstanding. We lost five games and won 16 or 17 games with an eighth-grade quarterback and a rising junior quarterback. There are still a lot of discipline things that need to be taken care of, but so far it has been great.”

Bell said his son played at Grayson High School, and that Bell was content with his role as South Gwinnett High School’s offensive coordinator until he saw the Southwest DeKalb job open.

“I was told they have some great athletes down there and that it was a lot like [East Orange]. I applied for the job and didn’t hear back for almost two months. Then … after four interviews they offered me the job and I took it,” said Bell. “I didn’t even know how much I would get paid, I just wanted to be a head coach in Georgia.”

Bell said the history of Southwest DeKalb, during the Godfrey era and the more recent school-wide success, applies pressure and motivation to the job.

“You talk about pressure? We have a breakfast of champions at the school. The track team won back-to-back championships, the basketball team won a region championship, the girls basketball team has won championships, everybody is a champion at this school,” said Bell.

Bell added that the champions also give some support to the football team. All-American wrestler Isaiah Scott represented the Panthers at media day and will start at middle linebacker for the football team. Trey Alexander, a 400-meter state champion with the track team, was another member of the team present at media day.

“I’ve built so many programs in New Jersey, and it’s very rare that you come into a program and have an athlete like [Scott] waiting to be coached and waiting to be unleashed,” said Bell.

Southwest DeKalb begins its season on Aug. 18 against South Atlanta, and Bell said game one is all his team is focused on.

“We’re not trying to win later; we’re trying to win now. It’s going to be a different Southwest DeKalb than you’ve ever seen. Even when Quincy was here,” said Bell, referring to Southwest DeKalb great Quincy Carter.

Carter, along with several other alumni and returning coaches, will be on the sideline as part of Bell’s coaching staff.

“He’s just a fun guy to be around. I think that loosens up the atmosphere, and it rubs off on the kids. Once you have a team that loves each other and wants to be around each other, it’s a different game,” added Bell.

Following the Aug. 18 regular season opener, the Panthers will play a three-game road stint against Tucker, Decatur, and Westlake before returning home on Sept. 15 against Redan.

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