There are over 5,000 coaches listed in the Georgia High School Football Historians Association (GHSFHA) database, and only about 6.5 percent of them have accomplished what John Milledge Academy head coach JT Wall did Friday night.
With his team’s 42-14 state semifinal win over Tiftarea Academy, Wall reached 100 victories in just his ninth year as a head football coach. Since taking the reins at his high school alma mater in 2011, his win-loss record now stands at 100-14 overall, good for an .877 win percentage. Though some are close, not one of the other coaches who has reached the century mark has a win percentage higher than Wall’s.
“I think it’s more about the players that have come through here these last nine years and the coaches we’ve been able to get to come help out,” Wall told The Union-Recorder. “It’s by far not me. These guys are doing a great job game-planning on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball and on special teams. I think it has a lot more to do with great players than it does coaches. I could list a slew of players these nine years I've been here as head coach that have really made an impact.”
Players like JMA Class of 2016 alum Harrison Bryant who currently plays tight end at Florida Atlantic University and has earned his status as a finalist for this year’s John Mackey Award, an honor given to college football’s top tight end. Players like current running back Amaad Foston who, after turning defenders black and blue on Friday nights, now spends his Saturdays visiting the country’s top college football programs as he prepares to soon choose his post-high school playing destination. Players like Chad Freeman, Heath McDonald, Cody Miller and BT Walters — all guys who have been named All-State while playing under Wall and come back to coach on his staff at one time or another. In total, 28 John Milledge players have been named to the GISA All-State team in Wall’s tenure, and the 30 barrier is likely to be broken once this year is all said and done.
While Wall wants to pass the praise onto his players and coaches, a look at the numbers shows unprecedented consistent success for the Trojans since his watch began. Looking back there are a few double-digit win seasons sprinkled throughout the program’s almost 50-year history (one of which Wall had a hand in as a player), but eight of the nine under Coach Wall’s watch have reached that mark now. This season’s 10-0 effort makes the fourth perfect regular season since 2011 when Wall took over. Also, the 2019 campaign marks the third time in four years that John Milledge’s season will end on the game’s biggest stage at Mercer University where Wall helped lead the school to its first state championship berth and victory back in 2016. The Trojans returned there last year only to lose to a very tough Frederica Academy team, but the players, coaches and fans will all be looking for redemption on that same field this week against challenger Valwood.
All of those accomplishments have been reached under Wall’s leadership, and to some, like his own high school football coach Bruce Lane, the success is really no surprise. Now at Westfield School in Perry, Lane was John Milledge’s head coach during Wall’s sophomore through senior seasons. The ’96 season, Wall’s junior year, saw the program finish the regular season slate a perfect 10-0 before being knocked out in the state semifinals.
“He has always been a winner at everything he does,” Lane said of Wall. “He made us a better football team just by his presence and his leadership. I think that’s certainly carried forward in his coaching career.”
After a successful high school career, Wall went on to start playing college football at Southwest Baptist University in Missouri before transferring to the University of Georgia where he played under Mark Richt and eventually earned a scholarship. During his time as UGA fullback the Dawgs won the SEC Championship and Sugar Bowl. He was later taken in the seventh round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Through all of that, coach and player remained and still remain in touch.
“I’m very proud of JT,” said Lane. “He’s like a son to me. We’ve stayed in contact through the years, and I think that’s part of the blessing of being a coach — seeing the young people that you work with go on and become productive husbands, good fathers and also be successful in their endeavors. JT certainly fits that bill.”
A familiar voice will greet Wall and the Trojans when they take to the Mercer University football field later this week with the state championship on the line. Longtime John Milledge play-by-play announcer Greg Stephens will handle those same duties inside Mercer’s Five Star Stadium for Friday’s title triple-header as Class A, AA and AAA championships will be up for grabs. Stephens’ relationship with the current JMA head coach goes back to when his own son Parker played with Wall in high school.
“JT spent a lot of time with us and we considered him a part of our family — always has been,” said Stephens. “I used to kid him all the time about how much he was costing me in food. We really built a connection with each other to where we could just talk about anything.”
Stephens has more than 35 years’ worth of experience behind the microphone calling athletic events having done a self-estimated 2,100-plus ballgames whether they be football, softball, basketball or baseball. From his seat high above the playing field he can see the difference in Wall’s teams and the opponents they line up against on Friday nights.
“He brings something to the table you just don’t see in a lot of coaches, in my opinion, and that’s setting goals and reaching them by following through with one of the most complete and rigorous workout programs I've ever seen,” Stephens said. “Many kids and coaches can’t believe what our kids go through during the offseason workouts over the summer. I attribute a lot of his success to that. He’s taken a lot of kids that to me were not what you would call football players and made them part of the team. I always say that if you can make it through JT’s summer workouts, you’ve done something.”
The Trojans will see just how that offseason regimen stacks up Friday night when they take on perennial powerhouse Valwood for the GISA AAA state championship. They will take their shot at the title while also trying for win No. 101 for their head coach.