A chapter of Forsyth County high school football history came to a close Thursday as Forsyth Central head coach Frank Hepler announced his resignation.
Hepler, who spent 12 seasons in the county between Central and West Forsyth, accumulated a 69-47 overall record at the two schools, which marks the most wins by a coach in county history.
Hepler launched West's football program in 2007 following 14 seasons and 135 wins at Florida powerhouse Plantation High School.
"My time in Florida was great. We won so many games and set so many records, but I don't know, I might even be more proud of what we did in Georgia over the time," Hepler said. "As a coach, that's why you coach: You want to see the fruits of your labor, and taking something from nothing and making it into something. I feel proud that we did that. Again, we had great coaches and great kids and great families that allowed us to do that."
Hepler said his wife, Heidi Hepler, who also works at Forsyth Central, accepted a job at a school in Lee County in southwest Florida, which is home to Fort Myers.
"I haven't moved many times in my life. It was a move forward, especially for my wife getting a chance to become an assistant principal," he said. "Regardless of what the reason is, it's always tough because it's such a great community. If it was a bad community and bad people, it'd be easy. It's a tough decision, but at the same time easy because it's going to be something that furthers my wife's career, and it's something that she's worked very hard to achieve."
At Central, Hepler guided the Bulldogs through their entry into Class 7A, and in 2018, led the Bulldogs to a 7-4 record and their first playoff appearance since 2001.
Central went 3-16 in Hepler's first two seasons but finished 15-13 from 2018-20.
"One of the things I was asked five years was, 'Coach, the kids in the community don't think they can beat a lot of teams on their schedule,' Hepler recalled. "Well, we went into every game these last three years knowing that, 'Hey, we can win that game.' There's nobody on our schedule that we didn't think we could beat, and I think that's a huge turnaround from where we were. I was really proud of the kids for that."
Central finished 4-4 in 2020 and was on the receiving end of a couple of heartbreaking losses — first 33-28 to Gainesville, then 43-42 to Lambert. Still, the season was marked by a thrilling 28-27 win against North Forsyth and a 21-7 victory against Etowah in Central's final game of the season.
The Bulldogs' 15 wins over the past three season marked the school's most successful three-year run since 2000-02.
"I was really proud of our kids for changing that mindset, knowing that on paper we might not have what everybody else has talent-wise, but we're going to line up and play you and try to beat you because we think we can," Hepler said. "I told the kids when I talked to them about stepping down that they need to keep that attitude, because that's an attitude you've got to have in life. People are going to tell you all the time that you're not good enough or they'll knock you down, but you've got to get back up and compete and know that you can achieve whatever you work for."
Hepler said he told his players the news virtually Thursday morning because he didn't want the players to find out he was stepping down through rumors.
Prior to Central, Hepler led West to a 52-18 record, including four playoff appearances, a trip to the Class 5A quarterfinals in 2011 and a region championship the following year.
West has grown into one of the county's most consistent programs, suffering only one losing season (4-6; 2019) since its inception.
The growth was evident this season as the Wolverines captured the Region 6-7A title and reached the quarterfinals for the first time since Hepler's 2011 squad.
Despite being at a competing program, Hepler said he kept a close eye on West, and admitted he will continue to monitor both Central's and West's football programs.
"I'm very proud of that fact," Hepler said. "My ego says, 'Hey, we started that and we built that,' and they've continued it. Coach Svehla came in and did a great job. Adam was there and did a great job. I'm very proud. I have a special place in my heart for that place. It was a great place for me to come up to Georgia and start, and I think we built it into a competitor right away."
Hepler is the second long-tenured football coach to step down following the conclusion of the 2020 season, joining former South Forsyth head coach Jeff Arnette.
To Coach Hepler and the Hepler family, thank you for your service and commitment to our community for the past five years. We wish you nothing but the best in your next adventure! #heartofforsyth #chouseforeverhttps://t.co/Fc23166juf pic.twitter.com/DEYJyE93Bb— Forsyth Central HS (@ForsythCHS) February 11, 2021