Franklin Stephens was part of a football program that went 63-5 and won a state championship in his five seasons as an assistant at Camden County.
Using Camden coach Jeff Herron’s winning formula as a blueprint, Stephens has crafted his own model for success in five seasons at Tucker. The Tigers (13-0) are in the state semifinals for the fourth time in five seasons under Stephens. Tucker plays at Northside-Warner Robins on Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m.
“My work ethic I learned from my mom and dad,” Stephens said. “But as far as what goes into a program such as offense, defense, strength and conditioning, it resembles Camden County.”
Stephens led Tucker to its first football state title in 2008 and is 62-6 in five seasons at the school.
As humble as he is hard-working and demanding, Stephens credits his success to those around him.
“I don’t think I’ve done a lot,” Stephens said. “I’ve been blessed with great players, great community support and a great administration. Plus, we have great coaches and when you put all that together you can be successful.
“I don’t make the plays,” he said. “[The players] are the ones out there making the plays. I couldn’t do any of this without our coaches. Overall, I just feel blessed by the good Lord.”
Tucker’s opponent this week also has a storied history, especially recently. Northside has played in four state championships since 2005, the last being in 2009. It won state titles in 2006 and 2007 and finished runner-up in 2005 and 2009. Northside has made the state playoffs every year since 1992 and has advanced past the first round for 14 straight seasons.
In the only meeting between the two schools, Northside rallied from a 28-7 deficit to beat Tucker in the 2007 semifinals. Stephens and his staff were able to learn from the loss.
“You’ve got to be able to finish games,” Stephens said. “We didn’t do a good job of finishing that game. I understand as a coach if you have an opportunity to finish a team, you’ve got to be able to do it.”
It’s not a coincidence that Tucker won its first state title the next season, avenging a regular-season loss to Marist with a win over the War Eagles in the state championship.
Stephens credits the strength and conditioning program and the attitude of his players for being able to put away opponents in the second half.
Last week’s 42-34 win over Flowery Branch was a good example as the Tigers rallied from a 14-0 deficit and needed a fourth-quarter touchdown to put the game away. It was only the second time this season Tucker has won by fewer than 10 points (the other was a 15-11 win over Marist).
Northside also has been able to put away opponents this season. A 32-24 win over rival Warner Robins is the only game decided by fewer than 21 points.
“When I first came to Tucker I didn’t want to be successful one season, and then have a down year,” Stephens said. “I wanted to be successful over a period of time and compete for the state championship. I had the privilege to work under coach Herron at Camden and that’s the program I look at as far as a model.
“However, I do look at what Northside has done over the years,” Stephens said. “Another program we look at is Buford. We strive to have a Buford or Northside-Warner Robins type program as far as success. But I model our program after Camden.”
Stephens said he still keeps in contact with Herron and other Camden coaches, often seeking advice about upcoming opponents. Northside, which played in Class AAAAA along with Camden in 2008 and 2009, was eliminated by the Wildcats in the state playoffs in both of those seasons.
Stephens and Herron spoke a few days before the Northside game. “We talked about what he thinks about the game,” Stephens said.
Stephens is hopeful his next conversation with his former boss will be a pleasant one.