ATLANTA -- For a football program in desperate need of rejuvenating, newly hired head coach Jason Dukes has been hard at work putting his stamp on the Alcovy Tigers this summer.

From a team trip to Topgolf, a popular driving range with music and entertainment, to a trip to the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta, Dukes, in his eyes, is changing the program’s culture.

Prior to their two trips to Atlanta last week, a separate trip to the state’s capital centered around Dukes’ main objective - bringing a winning football product to the Covington-based high school.

The Tigers were participants in the 14th annual George B. Maloof 7-on-7 passing tournament at St. Pius High School in late June with an opportunity to go head-to-head against some of the best teams the state of Georgia has to offer.

“It was really good work,” Dukes said. “Anytime we have an opportunity to get together and work as a team, it’s good. We faced some really good competition, and the good thing about 7-on-7 is, if you go into it and approach them with the right attitude, not just going out to win, but actually using it as an opportunity to work on the things that you do, both offensively and defensively, that is the purpose. We got that done today.”

With a Tigers’ roster full of talent at the many skill positions Dukes and his staff expect to feature during the upcoming 2019 season, all were on hand to show off their talents at the tournament.

“We played every single skill player in our program today and that was another objective that we had,” Dukes said. “We wanted to give kids an opportunity to get out on the field and actually show what they know what to do. I’m really pleased with the way that we competed.”

Having an opportunity to play in brutal temperatures in the mid 90s as something Dukes expects to help them moving forward, too.

“Anytime that you can get out in the heat and get our kids acclimated to the environment in a safe way, we probably have about 15 athletic trainers here, so the kids are out in it and we’re keeping them hydrated. We started at 9 a.m. this morning and went until 3 p.m. in the afternoon. We probably have to do a little bit more cardio to be able to go 5 ½ hours of work in one day.”

Of the many Tigers showcasing their talents was rising sophomore quarterback MJ Stroud, who lined up as a wide receiver for the team all of last season. While the young right-hander made his fair share of mistakes against the Tigers’ 7-on-7 competition at St. Pius, there were just as many positives Dukes and his coaching staff were left cheering about.

“I’m so excited about him because his growth from spring until now has been really big,” Dukes said of Stroud. “He has so much potential. The biggest thing for us as coaches is to help him develop his patience. Playing a position like quarterback, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on you to perform.”

We have to keep his expectations in line with his growth so that he doesn’t get frustrated. He’s doing a really great job. We just have to keep him on his focus. He’s an incredible athlete. Once he puts it all together, he’s going to be really good.”

With the Tigers and the rest of the state’s athletics set to take this week off from all team affiliated activities, per GHSA rules, Dukes said that in his first few months on the job, he and his team have been steadily improving.

“I can’t wait until the Fall gets here so that we can compete against other teams,” Dukes said. “I’m getting to know my team better. I’m getting to know their mentality. I’m getting to know their athleticism. I’m getting to know their existing football IQ. The more and more that I learn about them, I get excited.”

Knowing what he’s walked into - a Tigers’ program that has failed to win a region contest since the 2015 season - Dukes is expecting a much different outcome once his team takes to the field in late August.

“I know that the challenges that we have and the history of the program, but our kids have accepted the challenge and the coaches have accepted the challenge,” Dukes said. “The administration has been extremely important in everything that I’ve needed to do as far as surrounding these kids with great coaches. I’m really excited to see what the season is going to bring. The kids have bought into what I’ve been trying to do and I’m excited about that.”

Sports Editor

A 2017 graduate of the University of North Georgia, Colin joined the Rockdale/Newton Citizen in March of 2018 as the papers' full-time sports editor. A 2013 graduate of Jackson County High School, Colin received a golf scholarship to Andrew College.

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