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STATE OF THE PROGRAM: Longhorns' play for May results in Directors Cup win
Zach Vlajk
Lambert players hoist senior goalkeeper Zach Vlajk on their shoulders after beating Centennial in the Class 6A-7A state championship game. - photo by David Roberts

The month of May is often reserved for graduation practice and senior skip day.

At Lambert, it’s a destination. It’s the month the Longhorns dream of all summer, the one they train for all fall and winter, and it’s the month they play for all spring. 

The Longhorns play for May.

“Coming into the spring, everyone was getting excited about the spring and there was a good air and feel to it. We all coined a little phrase, ‘We play for May,’” Lambert athletic director Drew Ferrer said. “We had a little hashtag for our spring coaches, and they were really trying to get back what we lost last spring. They really wanted to do it for those kids and those teams and our whole school.”

Nearly every one of Lambert’s spring sports programs extended its season into the final month of the GHSA calendar. The only exception was gymnastics, which wraps up its season with the state meet on April 14.

Every other spring program played into May, with boys lacrosse and girls golf winning state championships. Boys tennis, girls tennis, boys soccer, girls soccer and boys golf each finished second in the state, while girls swim and dive brought home a state championship and competition cheer finished second in the state in February. 

In all, Lambert tallied 1,335 points in the Georgia Athletic Director’s Association Directors Cup, winning comfortably over second-place Walton [1,196].

FCN: After missing out on last spring, what was it like witnessing such a dominant spring season?

Region titles: 8 [Boys lacrosse, boys tennis, boys golf, girls soccer, girls swim and dive, girls golf, girls tennis, volleyball.]

Team state titles: 3 [Boys lacrosse, girls swim and dive, girls golf.]

Individual state titles: 4

Director’s Cup finish: 1st in Class 7A [1st in boys; 2nd in girls.]

Best boys state finish: First, boys lacrosse

Best girls state finish: First, girls golf, girls swim and dive 

College signees: 27

Ferrer: “I was so happy for our kids. If you would have had to miss two years in a row, that means as a junior you wouldn’t have gotten to play, then as a senior – it would have been tragic for those kids. You spend your whole life playing something, then [as] freshmen and sophomores, you typically don’t have a great opportunity to be a varsity player. So, I’m so glad these kids got a chance to play.” 

“It was a phenomenal spring. Our kids in every area just seemed like they did really, really well. Our county did fantastic, which I love seeing our county do so well and represent like that. That was a great spring and great school year for everybody. The fact that Dr. Bearden and our whole county, from staff to community and everybody, was able to push through and make this work was a great thing.”

FCN: One thing I thought was particularly enjoyable was the fact that all of the Forsyth County public schools were in the same region. What did you think that did for the rivalries and overall atmosphere?

Ferrer: “The great thing about our county is that all of these kids probably played against each other in the parks coming up. They know each other and have great relationships, and then they get to middle school and they’ve got that unique opportunity to play sports against each other there too. Then you get to high school and it continues to build. I think for the most part it’s a pretty friendly, good, competitive rivalry and not an ugly rivalry like we have across the state in some other places. I think it’s really a good rivalry here in our county, and that’s because of a great job by our coaches, our administrators and our ADs and keeping that a very nice, friendly competition. We want to beat each other, but it’s friendly.”

FCN: You probably knew coming into the season that you had a good chance to win the Directors Cup. When did it sort of materialize that Lambert was actually going to win in?

Ferrer: “People tell you all the time, ‘Oh, we don’t look at that stuff.’ I do. I’m not going to lie to you. I love to see where we are, because I think it’s a great barometer of where your programs are. I always look at it after the fall. If we’re in the top five – probably any of our schools in Forsyth County – if we’re top five coming into the spring, we’ve got a shot. Spring is kind of where we all dominate a little bit, or do really well across the state. If we can be in the mix from having a good fall; whether it’s volleyball, softball, cheer or cross country, then come into swim and wrestling and do some things – our wrestling team ended up in that third-place spot and then you had swimming. Our girls swim – I’m going to be honest with you, I knew they’d be top three or four, but the way they performed at that meet and having Faith Johnson and I think they all just wanted to do it for her. It was a neat thing. I think that put us in a great position, and then boys swim finished top 10, so there was a lot of momentum.” 

“I think volleyball had a chance to win it, but unfortunately we lost to Alpharetta. We had some girls that were hit with contact tracing and stuff. That’s not an excuse, but when you lose, you always hope that it was at your best, and I didn’t feel like we were that day. We had some kids that were out. Nonetheless, we had a great fall and great winter. At that point, I knew that it was going to be a situation where we were going to make a run at it because our spring sports, especially this past year. I knew we had some good teams.”

FCN: Considering everything that happened this past year, does this Directors Cup win feel any different?

Ferrer: “I think it’s very special this year, because last year we were in great shape coming into the spring – and I’m not saying we would have won it last year, but I think we definitely had another shot. So, I think for the kids that didn’t get that opportunity and left and had that sour taste in their mouths, I feel like this is something we did for them too. I think it’s a great way to recognize and honor our Class of 2020 that had a really bad year of bad luck. I think this is something that everyone felt like we were going to do it for them.”

FCN: And we can’t talk about the spring without talking about girls golf. Where does that team rank in Lambert history?

Ferrer: “There’s a lot of phenomenal teams that have come through Lambert and our county. This has to be one of the most dominant things I’ve ever seen. I mean, you’re talking about winning region by 60 strokes, then winning state by close to 40, and now you win another tournament by almost 30. It’s amazing to have that many girls who are just phenomenal players, and they’ll all great kids and easy to pull for. I think they’ve got a chance to be very good again the next few years.” 

Lambert's girls golf team captured the 2021 NHSGA High School Golf National Invitational on Friday, winning by 28 strokes. - photo by David Roberts

FCN: It was sort of difficult to gauge how competitive the baseball teams in the county could be in the playoffs because they all beat up on each other. I know you’re a baseball guy. What did you think of the competition level this baseball season?

Ferrer: “First off, I thought this year was wide open across the state – more so than I’ve seen in any other year. Then you look at our region and you start to think, ‘I wonder if our region’s that good or not.’ You have all these games that are one-run games and not a lot of runs scored, then you get outside the region and you see all of us do so well. It makes you think that across the board our region is very good. Our county is very good. And I love to see that, because when I first came to this county, I felt like we competed in some areas but it was still behind. Now I think we can go toe-to-toe with any county in the state and really perform and do well. I think our kids are starting to believe. I think that’s what it takes sometimes, is kids just believing. If you believe and you start to think that we can do this, it’s contagious. It gets to the point where kids start to just go in there expecting to win, and it’s a different attitude we have in our county right now.”

“That’s the thing about high school sports, is that you’re always one little injury away – even a breakup. I’ve had a pitcher who was going to start that day and had a breakup with a girl, and he was a mess. You’re just one little thing away. That’s the thing with high school kids. I think high school sports is always so challenging, because you get what you get and you’ve got to take those. You’re going to have some kids like Seth Beer come through every now and then that are special – the [Dakota] Chalmers kid, the [Ethan] Hankins kid. All of us are going to get some of those, but what can you do with the rest to get them up to speed. And that’s where you make something. I think all of our county, especially here at Lambert, I feel like our coaches have done a great job of that.”

“We added an element this year that we feel really good about. We hired someone that is just dedicated to the weight room in Curtis Mattair. He’s done a phenomenal job in giving attention to every sport. I’m not saying that wasn’t the case in the past, but I think it’s easy to neglect certain sports. Now, with our administrative support getting us to be able to do some classes and add some stuff to it, we’re able to train every sport – swimming, tennis, golf, whatever. I think that’s a great thing once we’re able to get that piece going.”

FCN: Another legacy question. Kojo Antwi just signed with Ohio State, so I’m wondering if there’s another Lambert football player you can think of whose recruitment compares with Kojo’s?

Ferrer: “When it comes to football, I can’t think of anybody. I mean, you’re talking about every major program He could have gone anywhere he wanted to – Alabama, Clemson, everyone. Not to that magnitude. Chris Laye was a tight end for us who went to Auburn. There’s been some kids that have gone some places, but not sought after like him. He’s probably the most talented, special, upside kid we’ve had in football ever.”

Kojo Antwi
Lambert wide receiver Kojo Antwi, right, escapes from Forsyth Central defender Caydin Mowen during Friday's 43-42 win against the Bulldogs. Photo by Mitch Martin

FCN: When you look at Lambert geographically and you think about football, you’re only 15 minutes from North Gwinnett, 20 minutes from Lanier and 25 minutes from Buford. Those are successful football programs. How does that affect Lambert?

Ferrer: “It’s tough. If anybody ever asks me – because we definitely have lost kids in the past to Buford – here’s what I would say: The margin of error at Lambert High School to play football is minute. So you matter. You’re not going to go play a couple quarters and then be pulled out of the game because you’re up 55-0. You can go over there and go have a terrible day or terrible game and mail it in, but you can’t do it here. We have got to have every kid playing as a team and playing as a unit, and they matter here. I think that’s relevant. I think people want to matter. I think as long as we’re offering the same opportunities to train and get better, which I think we are especially now with the program and what we’re doing with having our own performance academy and everything, I think we can offset some kids saying, ‘I want to go down the street and go over there.’ Chasing a ring, I just don’t know that’s that big of a deal to somebody. I’d want to matter where I go play and make a difference be a part of something special as opposed to just being another kid on the team. That’s what I would pitch it. I think that’s how we have to sell it, because this is a great county and great school system. Our academics are not even close, and that’s for the whole county.”

FCN: Sticking with football, what do you make of Tommy Watson’s first year and what are you looking forward to this season?

Ferrer: “Last year there was a lot of turnover in our head coaches in football across the county. It was probably the most difficult time they could have done it, because they came in March or April right when they got shut down. So what I saw instantly from his staff was how willing they were to just do whatever to learn. They did Zoom meetings two or three times per day to install. So, now you’re going through these meetings online and installing, and the relationships they built online and through the phone was incredible to me. They did just a phenomenal job, and they killed social media trying to connect with kids and build that buzz and excitement. After one year of that, I was very excited because I was thinking now we’re going to have a full year of them actually being in-person.”

FCN: Between Josh Sagel, Scott Luthart, Brent Paige and Scott Bracco, there are some pretty high-profile coaches you have to replace heading into next school year. Is that one of Lambert’s biggest challenges?

Ferrer: “The programs that Bracco ran and that some of these other people ran, they ran such good programs and left us in such good shape that we were able to turn internally to people that were on staff already because they knew our kids and knew our system well. So, we felt very comfortable moving forward with [boys basketball coach] Clay Wages and trying to get someone internal with lacrosse and with track and cheer. With soccer, Jen Wilson was a head coach in Alabama for a long time. In fact, Chris [Wilson] sent me an article the other day from when they were engaged and they were coaching in the state championship game against each other. So she’s going to fill a void for us there.”

“I feel very good about the people we have to replace them, and it’s a testament to how well Luthart and Bracco and Sagel and all these guys did to put us in position with these programs that we didn’t have to go with an outside hire. They’re so well-run right now that we just someone to continue doing what we’re doing. We feel great about it. Everybody needs an opportunity. Clay Wages is a first-year head coach, but over the years we’ve all seen him work and put the time in. This is his opportunity. We’re excited for him and looking forward to supporting him.”

FCN: Did having an extended spring season like you did help offset some of the potential loss that came with COVID-19 protocols such as reduced attendance?

Ferrer: “Definitely, and especially when you go so deep for so many years, you end up getting gates and money from those as well. In the playoffs, in our state championship game at Denmark, we got a good chunk of that. So, there’s some of that that’s really good, too. Our spring sports definitely helped offset, especially when we had COVID last year. We were already in a little bit of a hole anyway. Also, when we brought in a new football staff, I think the excitement went up. So, we really didn’t get hit too hard in the fall. It helps playing everybody in the region. There’s no reason that people from Denmark can’t come here and we can’t go to West and we can’t go to North. That helps a lot as well.”

“Our biggest athletic expense to be honest with you is when you drive on this campus and you see all the state championship banners. I get killed, but it’s a phenomenal problem to have. I don’t complain about that, because I feel like I don’t really want to sit on a nest egg. I want to put it right back in the facility so kids want to come here and think, ‘I don’t want to go to Buford. I don’t want to go to Lanier. I want to stay here. They’re winning championship here and they’ve got a great weight room and they’ve got a great facility. So, we’re not trying to build up a nest egg. We’re trying to use it and get by, because I want people to see in our facilities what they’ve earned.”