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Written by: Dave Fegley on Saturday, February 6th, 2021
A week removed from his football program being named MaxPreps Small School Football National Champions, a third consecutive national title overall including two previous from HSFA, Southern Columbia head coach Jim Roth has been selected as the 2020 MaxPreps Small School National Football Coach of the Year.
“Any success that we have had, I look at it as a program achievement. We don’t focus on individual accolades, but rather we consider our success a group effort,” said the 37-year head football coach of the Tigers. “Our players and coaches are grateful to receive different honors after the season when they are given, but our main goal is getting our team to Hershey each year to play for the PIAA Championship.”
Roth’s Tigers won the program’s 11th PIAA Championship this past November which is nearly twice as many as the next best in Pennsylvania history. In addition to capping off another undefeated season, Roth’s team extended their District IV record by winning a 28th district title in the past 30 seasons.
For as much success as Roth has had since taking over the program in 1984, including now being the state’s all-time leader in career wins at 456, the Elysburg resident makes it known that he has had a devoted staff along the successful journey.
“I have been blessed to have a group of assistant coaches that have the same vision as I do for the program. Over the years of building the continuity, we know what each other is thinking. Andy (Mills) calls our defense and I call the offense, but all of the other assistant coaches have been integral parts of our success. I have appreciated how dedicated they have been, and the majority of them have been assisting me for about 30 years or more,” Roth said.
For as appreciative Roth is of his supporting cast of coaches, the feeling is the same for his players both past and present. During his nearly four decade run at Southern Columbia, Roth’s teams have never had a losing record. In fact, maybe the wildest stat of them all to sum up Roth’s career with the Tigers is comparing his total championships to his program’s defeats.
If you add up the National, State, Eastern, District, and Conference Championships that Southern has won under the tutelage of Roth, the total has now reached a remarkable 90 in total. The trophy case, which isn’t nearly spacious enough to hold all the hardware earned on the gridiron, outperforms the total number of games that Roth has lost in his Tiger coaching career (63).
“Ultimately, it comes down to the players wanting to put in the time and work to play at a high level each season. As a coach, you can only do so much and then it is up to the players. I couldn’t ask for anything more than what we have had over the years in terms of effort from the past players, and it is a big part of the current players wanting to emulate it. A key to our success is using the past championships as a motivator for the current team in wanting to reach the highest level,” said Roth.
In addition to Roth earning the top coaching award for small schools in the United States, his junior star Gavin Garcia landed a spot on the 2020 MaxPreps Small School Football All-America Team. Garcia was selected as a second team running back as one of just four running backs in total to make the first or second team. Last season, Garcia’s former teammate Julian Fleming was selected as the MaxPreps Football Player of the Year.
On this year’s squad, the two first team running backs were seniors that will be playing major Division 1 football in the fall. This year’s Player of the Year, Jonathon Brooks tied a Texas state record as the running back scored 70 touchdowns. He has committed to stay in-state with the Longhorns. The other first team selection was Corey Kiner out of Ohio, and he is LSU-bound.
Joining Garcia as a second team running back is senior Trevion Sneed, also out of Texas, and he has accepted a scholarship to SMU to play for the Mustangs. The only other Pennsylvania product that was selected by MaxPreps as an All-American was Steel-High’s Mehki Flowers. The junior, who has already chosen Penn State as his next landing spot, was picked as a second team wide receiver.
Garcia, who was picked as the PIAA Class 2A Player of the Year, rushed for 1,921 yards and 30 touchdowns on an astounding 17 yards per carry during the championship run. He added two receiving touchdowns and had three return scores. Most of Garcia’s damage was done in the first half of games as he often was a spectator after halftime in Mercy Rule wins. Garcia has five scholarship offers which include Bowling Green, Columbia, Penn, Princeton, and Yale.
“Hopefully by the end of the summer I will decide on my future, however I’m in no rush. COVID has made it miserable. If not for the pandemic, I would have gotten to go see the teams play in person and been on campus to meet the coaching staffs. Without having that opportunity, a decision is very hard. Hopefully, I will be able to go on some trips to see a few campuses this summer,” Garcia said.
The Tigers will enter Garcia’s senior campaign riding the nation’s second longest winning streak which is currently at 60 consecutive wins. SCA could also break Clairton’s state record by the middle of the regular season which would add to Southern’s already state record of 88 consecutive regular season victories dating back to late in the 2011 season.
Flowers, like Garcia, was picked as a POTY as he earned the honor in Class 1A as the Rollers defeated Jeannette to win the third PIAA title in program history. In just 10 games, the junior racked up 60 receptions for 1,006 yards and 15 receiving touchdowns. The future Nittany Lion added two return touchdowns as well as five interceptions on defense.
The biggest play that Flowers made during their title run came against Old Forge in the state playoffs. With no time remaining, he caught a touchdown pass with no time reminaing to keep the season alive for the Rollers. He also made a highlight reel play to score the first touchdown for Steel-High in the Class 1A final.
A week prior, two Pennsylvania products landed on the overall MaxPreps Football All-America Team. Warwick senior lineman Nolan Rucci was picked on the offensive side of the ball. The five-star product has accepted an offer to play in the Big Ten at Wisconsin.
On defense, Jeremiah Trotter Jr. out of St. Joseph’s Prep was a no-brainer selection at linebacker. The son of a former Philadelphia Eagles star, and Clemson commit, helped to lead the Hawks to the Class 6A State Championship. SJP’s third consecutive state title moved them into a tie for the second most PIAA crowns in the Keystone State’s history with six. They trail just Southern Columbia.
In MaxPreps National Composite Top 25 Final Rankings, St. Joe’s finished ranked third in the country. Pine-Richland also landed a spot on the list as they finished ranked 24th. In the MaxPreps Small School Football Final Rankings, Southern Columbia took home the national title. Wilmington (42), Beaver Falls (45), and Steel-High (48) were the other three Pennsylvania teams to crack the top 50 in the final national standings.
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