Freshman Quarterback Devin Henderson

Freshman Quarterback Devin Henderson: Photos Andy Calvert

The Road to Cass

In a year where we wondered if a football season would be able to happen, the Colonels of Cass High School have made the most of their opportunity on the playing field. Cass has played five games and won them all. That 5-0 record is the best start the program has enjoyed since 2004, and while the colonels were moving in the right direction with a 4-6 record last season, not many outside of the program saw this kind of success coming in first-time head coach Steve Gates first season at the helm.

Though he is a first-time head coach, Gates, a former starting offensive linemen for the Georgia Bulldogs, knows what it takes to succeed. With stints at successful programs like North Cobb and Kell, Gates understands the blueprint to building a successful program, and instead of jumping at the first opportunity to take a head coaching, he bided his time and waited for what he thought was the right fit. That seems to be working out quite well for Gates and the Cass faithful.

“My goal was always to be a head coach, says Gates” “11 or 12 years ago I was coaching youth football and working a regular job, so when I decided to make the jump to high school, I knew I wanted to work my way up to a head coaching position.”

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Head Coach Steve Gates

“I learned a lot during my time at North Cobb and Kell and am so thankful to the coaches that gave me those opportunities. When the Cass job came open, it just seemed meant to be. My wife and I lived in White for six years and loved it, so I was interested just based on the opportunity to be back in this area. 

Then I got to know the administration and got excited about what we could accomplish with all those incredible people involved. We’ll see what happens, but I’m thrilled to be here and could see myself retiring from this position in 10-15 years.”

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Players bought in

When a new coach arrives, sometimes there is pushback from current players, but this group of Colonels liked what coach Gates was selling, and the dividends of that buy-in have shown on the field. Through the first five games, Cass has averaged 24.8 points while only allowing 12.4 per game. Many of those contests were hard fought, one or two score victories, showing a team that has learned what it takes to win in a short period of time.

“Like anyone in my position, I had dreamed about becoming a head coach and had a vision for what it would be like to get things started,” says Gates. “Thanks to Covid-19, that all went out the door. I had to improvise in how I got to know my players and parents, but we made it work, and our success so far this season is all about how these kids have learned to live up to expectations.”

“Coach Hughes left behind some great pieces for me to build on, but I firmly believe my expectations for what this program can be far exceed anything anyone has ever imagined around here. That goes for everyone that comes in contact with the program. Players, parents, coaches, training staff, the student body, and so on. I will never give in to those expectations, and our players have realized that.”

Freshman Phenom

While Cass had several upperclassmen to fill the team’s leadership roles, Freshman Devin Henderson, nephew of Georgia Bulldog great, Keith Henderson, has been fantastic so far at quarterback. His electrifying play and maturity beyond his years has been an unexpected plus for those unfamiliar with the Cass program and certainly a catalyst for the early-season success.

“I haven’t had too many freshman throughout the course of my coaching career that have Devin’s level of maturity,” says Gates. “He’s just a different kid. His character is off the charts, and he leads by example off the field. You can’t coach that. As for his on-field performance, he is getting better every week. He still has room to grow physically and as a player and if he keeps progressing like he is, the power five offers will start rolling in.”

Freshman Devin Henderson

Region Play

Next on Cass’s schedule is a date with rival Cartersville, a respected program around the state, and recently had their 62 game regular-season win streak snapped by Cherokee. This game starts region play for the Colonels, and to say the going gets tougher from here would be an understatement. Games against familiar foes Hiram and Woodland will see Cass favored, but Cartersville, Calhoun, and Blessed Trinity are all considered powerhouses. 

A win against any of those schools would be huge, but taking care of business against Hiram and Woodland will send Gates and his team to the playoffs, barring the ever-present threat of cancellations due to Covid-19. That would be the first playoff berth for the program since 2006.

“Nothing is guaranteed this year other than the fact that we are going to line up against every team we play expected to win,” says Gates. “We have three of the top five schools in our classification in this region, and I’d put all three in the top 15 statewide after watching their film. 

We can’t control what they do, but we can control what we do, and we are going in with a plan to win. Will we take some bumps, sure, but I like where we are headed and want nothing more for these seniors and this community than to make the playoffs.”

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