Defensive coordinator promoted
Heritage coach resigns week of season opener
by Doug Gorman
D.J. Clay always knew he wanted to be a head football coach.
He just wasn't expecting his first opportunity to come in the stunning fashion it did on Monday, just four days prior to the start of the 2014 season for The Heritage School.
It comes after the resignation of fourth-year head coach Kevin Prisant on Sunday, with the team's home opener looming against Flint River on Friday. Prisant submitted his letter of resignation to school headmaster J.P. Watson on Sunday, citing personal reasons for his decision, which comes at a time when the Hawks seemed destined for a big year.
'This decision has come based on a self ref lection that I have done in the recent weeks, while also confiding in friends and family,' wrote Prisant. 'This is the most difficult thing I have ever done in my 29 years. However, it is something that must be done in order to take care of myself.'
Prior to the resignation, he had been the longest serving head coach in Heritage's short eight-year history, as well as the most successful. A 22-12 overall record included a trip to the Class AAA state championship against Deerfield-Windsor.
Clay, who started his career at Bulloch Academy, arrived with Prisant at Heritage prior to the 2011 season as defensive coordinator.
The Hawks' interim head coach says his team has shown a lot of resilience in the past during tough situations, and he expects the same thing out of his team this week.
Last season, the squad opened the 2013 campaign with heavy hearts without teammate Tyler Henson, who died in a car accident near the close of the school year.
Clay expects his team to be ready to play in the opener on Friday.
'It is going to be an emotional game; the thing that I have been stressing is this is a family,' he said. 'When a family member is not doing well, we have to pick ourselves up, pat each other on the back and give them the confidence to move on,' Clay said.
Watson also said the parting was amicable.
'We are choosing to support Kevin, given what he has experienced, and that is the need for him to make a change. We are in support of him, that he has resigned for personal reasons. We would ask those who are close to him to reach out and support him. This is a tough time for him.'
In his resignation letter Prisant showed his gratitude for his first head coaching job after following three veterans including Coweta County Sports Hall of Fame members Danny Cronic and Ron Beaucham.
'I am confident in my three years as head of the football program that we are a team that competed at a very high level, while instilling great values in these young men,' Prisant wrote. 'I have been fortunate enough to live my dream the last three years, and I thank the entire Heritage School family. The kids, faculty and staff have been nothing but caring and have helped me more than they know.'
Clay, who led Heritage's girls basketball program to last year's Class AAA semifinals, is ready to accept the challenge and hopes his players will do the same.
'I think these guys are going to accept the challenge. When you have a challenge like this, it also gives you opportunity,' Clay said. 'We lost our captain, but we have several lieutenants ready to step up. It is going to be bumpy at first, but we are going to get through it.'
However, he knows Prisant would want the team to continue working hard.
'He wouldn't want anything else,' Clay said.
Watson is confident Clay will keep the team headed in the right direction and will keep stability in the program.
'Derrick is well-equipped to take on this role after serving as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator,' Watson said Clay will center his team around the defense but doesn't expect the Hawks to struggle too much on offense.
Athletic Director Nathan Watts will help Clay with the offense again this season.
Senior quarterback Brad Macke returns this fall after leading Heritage with 665 yards and six touchdowns. He also passed for 1,134 yards and eight touchdowns.
Two of the team' key skilled players on offense will help make things easier for Clay, with Matthew Burns taking handoffs from Macke.
Last season, he rushed for 442 yards. Cole Jones was the team's leading receiver last year after catching 18 passes for 346 yards and two touchdowns. Chaz Bankston has been shifted over to wideout after rushing for 124 yards out of the backfield.