WARNER ROBINS, Ga. -- In his nine years as the head coach of the Houston County varsity baseball team, Jason Brett led the program to statewide acclaim, capturing two state titles in 2014 and 2016.
This season, someone other than Brett is leading the Bears for the first time since 2010 -- his pitching coach for the last nine seasons, Matt Hopkins.
"It is a big responsibility to make sure we keep that mantle where it's been," Hopkins said. "I knew that going in, that we were going to have major growing pains."
Houston County's record might indicate those growing pains have been worse than they have actually been. While the Bears have just regained a .500 record at 6-6, they've played an incredibly difficult schedule to start the 2019 campaign, featuring plenty of top teams from all over the southeast.
"Every week, you're just really testing what you're made of," Hopkins said. "We've been having freshmen and sophomores facing multiple DI hitters. When we get into later in the season, what have you seen that's more impressive than what you've seen in the past?"
Brett and Hopkins joined the baseball staff at Houston County around the same time, and were both instrumental in the Bears rise to prominence in Georgia. Now Hopkins has the chance to take over at the place where his coaching career started.
"I've never taught or coached anywhere but at Houston County," Hopkins said. "So to be able to take a program that I've seen grow, it's just been a huge honor."
While Hopkins is paying close attention to the wins and losses, he says his biggest goal as head coach is to make sure his players grow more off the field than on it, an initiative that isn't lost on any members of the team.
"We have a big memo of 'Disciple', and leading by example," senior Cameron Jones said. "Seniors like to stay back in the dugout and make sure there's no trash, cleaning up the locker room, things like that."
The first chapter of the Matt Hopkins era at Houston County is still being written, but he's hoping there will be a very long book by the time he hangs it up at Hoco.
"I have no intention of leaving here. You never know what will happen, but I want to retire at Houston County High School," Hopkins said. "I think we're still molding and gelling into what we want to be, but I think we're really close."