By Emmy Powell
For the people who live in football-crazy North Fulton, the name Christian Hunnicutt probably doesn't mean much yet. However, for college football coaches like Mark Richt (Georgia), Nick Saban (Alabama), Gene Chizek (Auburn), Paul Johnson (Georgia Tech),Steve Spurrier (South Carolina), Will Muschamp (Florida), Les Miles (LSU), and many others, the Hunnicutt name means high school football at its finest, and they have been wearing out the path to get to his door (and his players) for a long time.
Now opportunity knocks at Cambridge High School for aspiring football players.
Hunnicutt has been coaching football for 17 years, including 15 at Buford High School where he helped build a football powerhouse. Now after winning seven state championships, having three state final appearances, and churning out dozens of scholarship athletes, he will be the first head football coach at Cambridge High School.
Hunnicutt is deeply committed to building the same, highly successful, winning program at Cambridge that he helped build from the ground up at Buford. While he believes you have to have talented and committed players, he is also looking for solid administrative support including quality coaches, strong feeder programs, and a well-organized booster club.
"Teams don't win championships, programs win championships," Hunnicutt says. "It's the process that matters. The score will take care of itself if you build your program the right way. We aren't coaching football. We are coaching kids."
There have been more than 50 college football scholarships offered to student-athletes at Buford High School since 2000. Programs which have signed those players include the colleges listed above in addition to Oregon, Notre Dame, Florida State, Ole Miss, West Virginia, Air Force, Indiana, and many others. Twenty-five of the scholarship athletes can be directly credited to Hunnicutt and his tireless dedication as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach. Just recently, Josh Cardiello, a top offensive lineman, was offered a scholarship to the University of Georgia and has also reportedly received offers from Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina.
Cardiello is just one player who has been a part of Buford's success. Hunnicutt believes the program is highly accomplished because the coaches are relentless about the fundamentals of football, and they teach their players how hard work can pay off. Cardiello told ESPN he feels the atmosphere at Buford is like a college with the amount of work they put in and the extensive weight room and facilities to which they have access. Just like many others before him, Cardiello credits Hunnicutt as a major factor in his development as a player.
The long list of scholarships would speak volumes at any school, but it is especially impressive coming from a school with a smaller student population like Buford, which is a 2-A school in Georgia. Cambridge will be a 5-A school.
"There will be different challenges at a bigger school, but the end result should be the same. If we focus on the process and relentless improvement, we can create a winning environment," Hunnicutt says.
More Priorities Than Football
Hunnicutt's accomplishments in football speak for themselves. His academic achievements are just as impressive. He was the 2003 Star Teacher at Buford and teaches AP history and AP psychology.
Meet Nedeljko Karaulac. His friends and teachers call him Nedo. He is no football player. Far from it.
He spent 4th through 12th grade in Buford, after moving to this country from Frankfurt, Germany. Nedo was Valedictorian of the 2011 Buford High School class.
He met "Coach Cutt" when he registered for his AP Psychology class his junior year. He still vividly remembers the image of the white index card he filled out to introduce himself.
"Coach Hunnicutt said, 'Yea, I've heard about you. I'm glad you are in my class,' " Nedo said. "I had heard he was a hard teacher, but I'm thinking most coaches are not good teachers.,"
Nedo was one of the guys whom most of his friends knew as the smart kid; the one who makes it to the top of his class. The academics seemed to be the easy part. "I knew I had the academics taken care of. Coach Cutt didn't need to help me with that. He just opened my eyes. He told me to get my nose out of the books and take time to enjoy life."
Nedo finished out his senior year taking Hunnicutt's AP Government class. "We learned things from each other. He loves politics. I think that was his outlet. We would talk after school. I like self-deprecating humor. We seemed to make a strong political connection by sharing the humor in life," Nedo says.
"What I enjoyed the most was just talking to him....the outlandish stories and funny exaggerations. My perspective of what I would call the old country (Nedo's father grew up on a rural farm in Yugoslavia) and his perspective from a small town like Buford."
"He gave me more than just advice. He taught me important life lessons and how to truly enjoy life. He is so much more than a football coach," Nedo says.
When Cambridge Principal Edward Spurka was conducting his search, he said he looked for three things in his head coach.
"First he has to be a good teacher. Second, he has to be a good football man. Third, he has to be a coach any parent would want for their son to play. He is a great teacher, a great coach and a role model. I'm getting the whole package."
Spurka said during Hunnicutt's recent introduction to the community in Milton that Hunnicutt is passionate about his kids and that he has made a tremendous impression on his students, both in the classroom and on the field. In fact, 10 of those student-athletes made the trip across metro Atlanta on a school night to that event to show their overwhelming support for their coach despite his new job at Cambridge High School.
Laying a Championship Foundation
Hunnicutt plans to build a football family by creating a culture where respect abounds for both the athletes and the coaches. Spending hours in the weight room, focusing first on the short term, and constructing highly productive practices will all be part of Hunnicutt's design to build a winning program at Cambridge. He says he will coach "on the edge" and demand perfection from his student-athletes.
"You need to have love and trust. Once you have love and trust, you can build great relationships. Great relationships lead to great chemistry," Hunnicutt said.
Great chemistry starts with young kids. Hunnicutt expects to help lay a firm foundation with the feeder program and have a strong relationship between the high school and the younger players. He knows that some schools actively recruit outside players. "That is their prerogative," Hunnicutt says. He likes to go back to the process itself; the process of building strength, character, and trust among his team.
"It has to be vertical and seamless, and that is vitally important to strengthening the feeder system," Hunnicutt says. He says in order to do that he has to have quality coaches. "We have to get outstanding coaches and keep them. I refer to the three C's: competence, connection and character when looking for a solid coaching staff."
Right along with coaching is the right facility and right equipment. Hunnicutt believes you cannot have successful sports programs without a proper weight room. "Strength and conditioning is the alpha and omega. I cannot express enough how important it is to be able to teach these kids how to properly train through our weight programs.”
Buford High School Principal Banks Bitterman completely agrees. "The weight program is an essential piece of a successful athletic program. No athletic program can evolve without it."
"You will never see a winning athletic program of any kind if you don't put the strength and conditioning people and equipment in place right away," Hunnicutt says.
Hunnicutt admits he has no hobbies because of his long hours in the classroom and on the playing field. The little free time he does have is set aside for his other passion, his own family. He has been married to the former Dawn Beach since 1999. They have a seven-year old daughter, Presley, and live in Forsyth County.
"I have the greatest coach's wife ever," Hunnicutt says.
It is that caring and commitment to everything he does that is so impressive. When asked about his ultimate goals, Hunnicutt didn’t hesitate: "I want my wife to say that I'm a great husband. I want my daughter to say that I'm a great Dad. I want my principal to say that I'm a great teacher." He went on to say if the players say they want to win a state championship or get a college scholarship, he will prepare them for whatever goals they want to achieve. "I care about these kids, not just on the football field. I coach and care equally.”
His boss at Buford HS was free and effusive with his praise. "Christian is one of the hardest working individuals I know,” Bitterman said. “He has a gift for connecting with students as well as student-athletes. Cambridge High School is blessed to have him.”
Anxious to Get Started
When Hunnicutt talks about football and shaping the future of young men, he has a unique fire in his eyes. As he looks to the future, Hunnicutt plans to establish a winning atmosphere as his entire team of players, coaches and families help climb the ladder to success together. He is serious about winning championships year in and year out. "The state championship is the standard," he says without hesitation.
So what would he say to kids and parents who might come play for him?
"I can show you the way....the way to experience winning a championship and the right way to get on a career path through college that will last a lifetime."
Knock, Knock. Cambridge High School football is here.
Cambridge High School will be the most recent addition for Fulton County Schools when it opens in the Fall of 2012. The Bears will boast an impressive athletic campus that will play host to an anticipated full varsity schedule for GHSA sanctioned athletics. The Cambridge Bears Athletic Association is the entity that supports all athletic teams at the school to enable the clubs, coaches and players to represent the school with character, integrity and excellence on and off the field. The Cambridge Bears will begin working towards championships in the GHSA 7AAAAA Sub-region A.