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An upbeat website for a downtown school

the Southerner Online

2005 Grady ‘Dome Team’ recalls historic season

Midtown Athletics
The 2005 “Dome Team” was the only Grady team to go undefeated in the regular season, finishing the regular season 10-0, en route to a 13-1 record. Its postseason was capped by a loss in the GHSA 2AA state semifinals. The players pose for a photo at Grady Stadium prior to their historic season. The team set records that the school is now aspiring to beat.

Thousands packed the Georgia Dome to watch as Grady quarterback Simeon Kelley pitched the ball to running back Dexter Barnett to give the Grey Knights the opening score of the game. The year is 2005, and for the first time in over half a century, the Grady football team is competing in the state semifinals of the GHSA 2AA state playoffs, entering the game 13-0.

“That was an incredible moment; something you can only dream of,” former Grady and University of Alabama at Birmingham running back Barnett said. “After the season we had, to score the first touchdown of a state semifinals game at the Dome, the home of the Atlanta Falcons, as a 16-year-old kid; we were on top of the world.” 

After almost 20 years, the historic 2005 Grady football team gathered for a reunion on Aug. 5. Led by Grady’s Class of 2007 and coach Ronnie Millen, the 2005 Grady “Dome Team” held an undefeated regular season record, while snapping a 51-year playoff win drought the year before. 

“All the schools in the surrounding areas around us were getting knocked out in the first round every year by what we called ‘country schools,’” said Kelley, the team’s quarterback, who played at Ball State after Grady. “So, us making it to the Dome was crazy because we were able to have the entire city behind us, not just Metro Atlanta. Going up that first touchdown was amazing. Looking at the crowd in there, it felt like nobody was against us.” 

Kelley attributes team chemistry and coaching to the team’s dramatic success from years prior.

“All the right pieces to the puzzle really came together those years,” Kelley said. “That doesn’t mean just the main guys, too, the coaches, the parents, but most especially, the role players. We had some guys who may not have had the biggest impact on the field but were really the glue of the team. And all of that really comes from coaching, coach Millen taught us about being a family, and we created some lasting bonds. Really, the culture shift he brought with him was the turning point for us as a team.”  

Millen, the team’s long-time offensive coordinator, took over as head coach in 2001, four years before the team reached the Dome. He said keeping the players disciplined on, but most importantly, off the field was the key to his team’s success. 

“The team was all like one family, and I mean that; they all looked out for each other. When we had our biggest success, it was when they believed in one another,” Millen said. “Education was my biggest thing I tried to install in those guys. We had maybe about 30 of them that went to college on scholarship in that few-year span.”

Miles Gilbreath, the freshman center on the Dome Team, said the games united the Grady community. 

“Friday nights were amazing,” Gilbreath said.” Every game night we had past players, some that even graduated in the 50s, people from all over watching our games. We even had homeless population that would yell at us when we were practicing everyday that would be there at games. I mean there were some nights where we had both sides of [Grady Stadium] completely full, probably around 14,000 people, it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen.” 

At the time of the team’s run, public school football programs were poorly funded. The Knights didn’t have a weight room while many of the schools they played had larger coaching staffs and significantly more resources. However, Millen said the disadvantages helped them strive to work harder.

“Our weight room was the parking lot, ” Millen said. “The playing field definitely wasn’t level; I even had some other coaches that came and saw our facilities that told me they’ll never complain again. But we never made that an excuse. We just put in double the work as those other schools.” 

Kelley feels the 2005 team revolutionized the Grady football program for years to come, inspiring a new generation of athletes years after.

“What we did is let everybody else know that no matter where you’re from you can be successful,” Kelley said.  “We ended up bringing a lot of awareness to Grady football, which allowed players to come in and plug and play in the great foundation that our team set for them. Our exposure allowed people like Caylin Newton, Damian Swann, Chip Reeves, Jabari Fletcher and some great players the opportunity to play at the next level.”   

Now in 2023, still no Midtown team has made it as far as the 2005 Dome Team, the program going into its seventh consecutive year without a winning record on a region schedule, aside from their 2022 season, playing a non-region schedule and finishing 6-4. Millen said with the correct attitude and game plan the team will bounce back. 

“They have to come to work and believe in those coaches, believing in each other is the best thing any team can do,” Millen said. “I know it’s gonna take time to get the team back together, but hopefully, they can get the team to work things in place and get back on their feet.”

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About the Contributor
Sam Silcock
Sam Silcock, Sports Section Editor
Sam is a junior and this is his third year writing for the Southerner. When he is not writing he is playing soccer, going on runs, or hanging out with friends.

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