This year marks the 25th anniversary of Parkview High School’s first state championship.
Buster Faulkner started under center for that title-winning team.
Of course, at the end of the season.
Faulkner, who earned time at quarterback as a sophomore early in the season, was given the starting job after coaches decided to move junior quarterback Jeremy Muyres to wide receiver.
They made the right move.
The 1997 team captured the title, but Faulkner says those Panther teams from a few years earlier were the breakthrough for a Gwinnett County dynasty that would stretch out across the next decade.
“Our crew did win the first one, but it really started in ‘94, ‘95,” he said. “Greg King, Brett Millican, Matt Stinchcomb (and others) that we grew up watching, were great players and great community. They kind of got the excitement going.”
That 1995 team came so close to a title.
The 8-AAAA South Region Champions went 14-1, with their lone 14-7 loss coming to a Southwest DeKalb led by Quincy Carter in the state championship game. Ranked second in the final AJC Class AAAA poll, the team had two all-state players including quarterback and defensive back Jon Muyres – Jeremy’s brother – who was named to the AJC Super 11 and went to play college football at Georgia Tech.
That 1995 squad was juggernaut. The Panthers scored 515 points during the season, while their defense yielded just 88. Region play was a breeze – Parkview’s closest game was decided by 21 points against Briarwood.
Fast forward to 1997, where the team was off to a solid, but underwhelming 6-2 start, losing to rivals Brookwood and Clarke Central. Faulkner, a JV quarterback who played mostly in mop-up duty or in times of need during varsity matchups, got the start against Habersham Central.
The Panthers won 24-0.
The team beat Central Gwinnett the following week to finish 8-2 in the regular season. Then, Parkview embarked on a playoff run that almost never happened. Faulkner remembers the first-round game at North Cobb where the Panthers snuck by in a game largely affected by storms in the area.
“That Friday night across the state it was just a downpour,” Faulkner said. “We were literally playing in the mud bowl. We blocked a punt to win – (our title run) could have ended in the first round of the playoffs.”
But it didn’t. The Panthers rattled off three straight wins by seven or fewer points – including Parkview’s first-ever win against Clarke Central in the state quarterfinals – before beating Tift County 21-7 for their first state title.
Faulkner remembers he and his teammates’ run was special.
“I do believe the ‘97 team was a magical team,” Faulkner said. “Maybe not the most talented team that they ever had, because they had some great, talented teams there after us, but it was a group of community glue guys. Six sophomores, a bunch of juniors and a class of seniors that just wanted to win.”
Both the 1998 and 1999 seasons weren’t too shabby either.
In the former, Parkview went 9-4, dropping their first three games to non-region opponents before winning nine straight and ending the season on a loss to Colquitt County in the state quarterfinals. In the latter, the Panthers won the region, before bowing out again in the quarterfinals, this time to Brunswick.
Something, however, was building in Lilburn.
Another streak was brewing, one that would cement Parkview’s place as one of the state’s most revered football programs.
“The chemistry of those teams from 1995 to 2006, the chemistry is what made it go. Everyone thinks to win a state championship you have 15 guys that are going to go D1, but it’s not.”— Cecil Flowe, former Parkview head coach
Building the foundation of a winner
Championship teams aren’t made in a vacuum.
They’re born out of a blend of unmistakable talent, hard work and belief.
Few folks were able to bring those elements together as efficiently and effectively as the Panthers’ ‘ole ball coach, Cecil Flowe. Both Francoeur and Faulkner said Flowe played a large role in creating the dynasty’s culture. The four-time Atlanta Journal-Constitution and two-time Associated Press Coach of The Year led Parkview from 1993 to 2013.
Flowe’s path to becoming the head coach of the team wasn’t normal by any means.
He was an assistant coach to Chuck Mize, who got the head job for the 1991 season. In 1991, the team started off with 37 seniors, but, after making them compete for starting spots with underclassmen, 27 of them quit. The Panthers went 2-8.
The 1992 season was the inverse. Parkview went 8-3. The following spring, the Panthers, and assistant coach Flowe, began spring workouts when tragedy struck.
“First week of spring training was over, I show up on Monday at 6:30,” Flowe said. “There was a big hullabaloo at the school. Come to find out, Chuck’s son had killed him.”
The senseless killing of Mize shook the community to its core.
As the school and community healed, Parkview opened applications for the vacant position. Flowe said some of the kids on the team wanted him to become the new coach. While Flowe had been around the game for some time, he’d only served as an assistant in Class AAAA.
The process ended up working out.
“I’d been a head wrestling coach and an assistant baseball coach,” Flowe said. “I’m a guy with no head coaching experience with 100 applicants. Somehow I got offered the job, and I never looked back, got some good people around me and went to work.”
And work – hard work – provided the foundation.
Jeff Francoeur, an All-American in both football and baseball at Parkview before moving onto a successful Major League Baseball career, said Flowe demanded effort and attendance in weight room sessions. The team had two weeks worth of two-a-day practices, something Francoeur said with a laugh that “you can’t do anymore.”
“We worked hard all summer,” Francoeur said. “In the weight room, stuff like that. Honestly, I like to always say, when the actual game came, all the work had been done. We were prepared, we were ready to go, so it was easy to make that transition.”
But some of the work was fun. Francoeur remembers the annual summer swim party with pick-up basketball games where they would “beat up on” each other. He remembers practice clashes between the number one defense and number one offense, and he said the team was constantly hitting in practice, building competition.
Toward the end of each season, he remembers lights being set up on the field to allow practices to run into the night.
The relentless focus on practice ensured Parkview was a well-oiled machine, effectively blending an embarrassment of riches on the talent side with an old-school discipline that preached efficiency in the pursuit of perfection.
“I knew what was happening. I knew what they were gonna do, it didn’t matter. They beat us every way possible.”— Neal Auer, former Oconee County head coach
That pursuit of perfection yielded plenty of positive returns. In fact, three seasons of them.
From 2000 through 2002, the Panthers were unmatched on the football field, excelling in the state’s largest classification and dominating its opponents.
The 2000 season is the weakest of the three on paper, one could argue, but even that is a stretch.
The team outscored opponents by 231 points, beating Harrison on opening day before a clean sweep of their scheduled Region 5-AAAAA opponents and first four rounds of the state playoffs. In the finals, they met for the second time with the Hoyas, where the Panthers came out on top 19-7.
And 2000 also saw the emergence of Francoeur as one of the state’s most dominant athletes. As a junior, the eventual MLB first-round pick tallied 15 interceptions as a defensive back, helping lead the team to a region and state title.
He only got better. In 2001, his senior season, he finished with more 1,000 yards as a receiver, also helping Parkview’s defense record five shutouts on the other side of the ball.
One of Francoeur’s favorite memories from his senior season came in a home game against Brookwood, Parkview’s rival. In the third quarter, the Panthers were up 17-7 in the third quarter.
“They were at the 8-yard-line and a guy threw an out route,” Francoeur said. “I picked it and took it 92 yards. I remember when I picked it, I was on our sideline and there was this sea of orange standing up and going nuts. I remember thinking ‘I wish this could last forever’ – the feeling of the crowd and everything.”
In the end, the Panthers finished a perfect 15-0, outscoring opponents by nearly 23 points a game. They beat Northside-Warner Robins 12-7, in the state championship to claim a second straight title.
Though Francoeur was drafted before the next football season, the team still rolled on.
For their third straight season, the Panthers went 15-0, seemingly more dominant than the two years prior. They scored 550 points on the season – compared to a mere 74 for their opponents 74 – beating Brookwood twice. In the regular season, Parkview won 17-10, before rolling over the Broncos 28-7 in the state championship.
Neal Auer, a member of Flowe’s coaching staff for a few seasons, left to take the head coaching job at Oconee County High School for the 2002 season. While he remembers the hard work and good times from his tenure at Parkview, he also remembers the 46-0 beating in the seventh game of the Warriors’ season.
“My first year, we didn’t have much of a chance to do anything,” he said. “They beat the brakes off of us. I knew what was happening. I knew what they were gonna do, it didn’t matter. They beat us every way possible.”
In three years, Parkview went a perfect 45-0, along with three region championships and three state titles.
The streak would reach 46 games after a season-opening win in 2003 against Dacula before ending with a tough 35-21 loss to Brookwood. The Panthers finished that season 11-2 and rattled off two more 10-win seasons, Panthers had done something special – helped give Gwinnett football its identity.
“I tend to say Parkview put Gwinnett football on the map,” Francoeur said. “Brookwood had won one before us, and Brookwood was really good and obviously a great program. Buford was an up-and-coming program. But, from the highest level, what we did to win 46 in a row will never be done again at the highest level. It was amazing to go through that.”
“It’s as good as any coaching staff I’ve been on at any level, as far as guys that could coach and relate to players.”– Buster Faulkner, former Parkview quarterback
Continuity, commitment fueled title runs
As the team rolled off wins, the coaches were sure to make sure the streaking team didn’t lose its focus.
“Our coaches did the best job of convincing us that we were going to get beat, to make us work hard and get going, you know,” Francoeur said. “We always laughed that they could make us feel like anyone could upset us, which was good because we practiced hard and worked hard.”
Faulkner, who has coached at Southern Miss, Arkansas State, Middle Tennessee State, Valdosta State, said the staff during those years was special.
“Cecil Flowe hired the best coaching staff,” Faulkner said. “It’s as good as any coaching staff I’ve been on at any level, as far as guys that could coach and relate to players. It was a very lucky and fortunate time for a lot of us.”
Flowe noted the role the togetherness of his staff played in the school’s success.
“We had great cohesiveness on the staff,” Flowe said. “The chemistry of those teams from 1995 to 2006, the chemistry is what made it go. Everyone thinks to win a state championship you have 15 guys that are going to go D1, but it’s not.”
Not only did the coaching staff play a role in the success of the team, but the community did as well. Francoeur said he remembers the effect that parents, school staff and the community had on his time as a player.
“Every Friday we had all the stuff in our lockers, balloons, this and that,” Francoeur said. “It always was fun, even if you knew you were playing a bad team. It still was a big deal and people would pack the stadium. We played in front of packed fields all the time, and I always say we were fortunate that we came through at the time we did.”
Will Hammock, the sports editor of the Gwinnett Daily Post and regional sports editor for Southern Community Newspapers, covered Parkview during its championship run.
“They had the perfect mixture of everything you needed to succeed,” Hammock said. “Back then they had the players, the athletes, they had the community support, they had the coaching. I think it all just came together. There were really no holes in those teams – especially those that won the three state championships in a row.”
“It was a bunch of lunchbox, punch your card in, go-to-work kind of high school kids,” Flowe said.
“I remember thinking ‘I wish this could last forever'” …— Jeff Francoeur, two-time All-American at Parkview
Even though his career took him to the diamond, Francoeur still misses the camaraderie that came with the dynasty and the gridiron.
“Baseball was my number one love, but there’s nothing better than a Friday night football game,” Francoeur said. “Those two and a half hours, it’s one on one, every play matters. That one game that you play on a Friday night, you can’t replicate that feeling.”
And Faulkner, who has won titles as a player and a coach and led the Panthers to their first title during their dynasty, holds significance for the title brought back to Lilburn.
“I’ve been a part of some great teams,” Faulkner said. “They’re all special. When you win, at whatever it is, at the highest level, whatever league you’re in, it’s an incredible feeling. It’s the ultimate high. It’s hard to explain. They’re all special to me in different ways.
“But winning a high school state championship, doing it at home, the first-ever state championship to be won at home in Gwinnett County, it’s pretty great stuff.”