Despite where he is now and where his football team will play Friday, Mark Farriba still says the decision to leave his alma mater was a tough one.
The 56-year-old will lead his Prince Avenue Christian team onto the field at the Georgia Dome Friday afternoon, a win over Eagle’s Landing Christian away from claiming the first-ever GHSA Class A private school state championship. Farriba is no stranger to championship games. He led FPD to a GISA title in 1985 and then coached Stratford to a thrilling overtime win over FPD to win the 2004 GISA Class AAA championship. Farriba has played or coached in a state championship game 12 times, according to the Athens Banner-Herald.
Farriba has done an incredible a job at Prince Avenue, taking a school just starting varsity football to the state championship game in six years. But even though he has delivered the school to the biggest stage of Georgia high school football, Farriba talked about the difficulty of leaving his alma mater Stratford back in 2007.
“It’s always hard to leave home, especially when you have so many good feeling and like the people you work with,” Farriba told me Wednesday. “It was the right thing to do. We kind of stepped out in faith. It’s been a great ride, but not an easy one.”
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I was pretty shocked when I received the phone call in May 2007 that Farriba was leaving Stratford. I was sitting in a junky hotel in Albany for the GHSA state track and field meet when I reached Farriba, and he talked about his excitement for the challenge ahead. Farriba loved Macon, but he also had an affinity for the Athens area. He was a standout baseball player and punter at Stratford, and he would go on to play football at Georgia. He was familiar with the area and also with some of the decision-makers at Prince Avenue.
He left a very safe situation at Stratford – where he probably could have coached until he retired – for a foreign one at Prince Avenue. I’m not sure many people – including those on the Prince Avenue campus – would have guessed then that he would lead the Wolverines to the semifinals in year five and to the championship game in year six. The school has surpassed the more area's established private-school powers Athens Christian and Athens Academy. The Wolverines have defeated Athens Academy in three of the past four meetings, including two weeks ago in the quarterfinals.
“It’s really been sort of a dream come true,” Farriba said. “Everybody wants to get a chance to play for a title at the Georgia Dome. It’s just a great feeling. The kids have worked extremely hard. It’s just nice to see everyone enjoy the fruits of their labor. A lot of things had to go right to get to this point.”
Farriba’s squad will be a decisive underdog Friday against a powerhouse Eagle’s Landing Christian team led by former FPD assistant coach Jonathan Gess. But the odds have been stacked against Farriba since the moment he arrived in Bogart.