Exhilarating wins and painful losses were endured last season by high school football teams throughout the region, but coaches are telling their players in spring practice to look forward and not to dwell on the past.
That message may be easier to get some players to buy into than others.
Glynn Academy’s team (9-4 overall and 3-1 in region play) was poised to make it to the Class 6A state championship game last season when they ran into a Lee County team in the semifinal game that overcame a 31-6 deficit late in the first half to beat the Red Terrors in heartbreaking fashion.
“I think, if nothing else, it shows nothing is guaranteed,” Terrors coach Rocky Hidalgo said. “I’m forward thinking.”
He has his players focused on the upcoming football season in three months and what they need to do to beat Brunswick High, win a region title and earn a trip to the state championship game.
The team loses key players to graduation, with offensive line, quarterback and cornerback starting jobs still undetermined.
“All the starting positions are up for grabs,” he said.
While teams change from year to year due to graduation and a new class of freshmen coming in, Hidalgo said he will take his closest look at players who didn’t get on the field much last year.
By design, Hidalgo said he scheduled tough non-region games to prepare his team for a run at another Region 2-6A title. The Terrors open at home against Fort Dorchester, from South Carolina.
“I like to open the season against a good football team,” he said.
Each game in the regular season is important, but the region games are the most important on the team’s schedule.
“They’re all big. They all count,” Hidalgo said.
The Terrors hold their final scrimmage of the spring practice 7 p.m. Friday at Glynn County Stadium.
Brunswick High (7-3 overall and 3-1 in region play last season) will be undergoing a rebuild this season with the loss of many starters to graduation.
“We’re a very, very young football team,” coach Sean Pender said. “We will have more sophomores than seniors. This year, we’re trying to do an evaluation of these kids.”
Pender, in his second year as head coach for the Pirates, said the schedule was already set when he took over the job last season. This year, Pender said he scheduled some tough teams to start the season to prepare his players for region play, including Coffee, the team that lost the 6A state title game in overtime to Lee County.
“Coffee will be a great measuring stick for us,” he said.
Pender said it was challenging to find non-region teams to play in the non-conference schedule.
“Because we did well last year, it was hard for us to get six non-region games,” he said.
The offensive line has three seniors and a junior who saw lots of playing time last year. Two players, sophomore KJ Lee and Glynn Academy transfer Anthony Mountain, a junior, will compete for the starting quarterback’s job.
Pender said the focus of spring practice has been to evaluate talent and teach game fundamentals.
“We’ve had lots of one-on-ones,” he said. “We have a good off-season program.”
The team may struggle early on, but Pender said he expects a marked improvement by the end of the season.
“They’re young but they’re very coachable,” he said. “Our work is definitely cut out for us getting these young men to grow up fast.”
The Pirates play their spring game 7 p.m. Friday at Ware County High School. Admission is $5.
Another second-year coach, Bob Sphire, said he is pleased with the progression of his Camden High team (3-7 overall and 0-3 in region play last year).
He said the team’s first offseason program has gone well, and he is seeing an improvement in the players’ conditioning. Last year. Sphire said he only had one player who could bench 300 pounds. This year, a dozen players are capable of lifting that much weight.
“The numbers have improved steadily,” he said. “I’m not looking for a quick fix. I feel like it will take two full offseasons to get the team in the condition I’d like.”
There were too many games last season when Camden struggled in the final six minutes of the first half and the fourth quarter, he said.
Sphire said this season will be a true test, with nine games against teams that advanced to the playoffs last year.
After opening against West Forsyth at home, the Wildcats will play Wren High School from South Carolina at Mercer University on Aug. 24. Wren has one of the top high school quarterbacks in the nation, so it will be a true test for his defense.
The team returns 10 starters on offense and defense, meaning lots of starting jobs are up for grabs. Some of those starters from last year will play different positions this season.
“Hopefully, it will be a good competition this spring,” he said. “I think there are lots of intangibles. I want to see how our kids compete and handle the moment.”
The team has struggled the last two seasons in what is considered the toughest 7A region in the state. Sphire said he expects his team to be more competitive but the goal is to see continued improvement.
“You cannot measure progress sometimes in wins and losses,” he said. “I want us to do this thing right and I believe we are.”
Sphire said he is also focused on recruiting players in the county, including incoming freshmen who sometimes choose not to play high school football after playing in middle school. Last year, Sphire said he had about 30 incoming freshmen on the team. This year, he said 65 freshmen will be on the team.
“Our No. 1 focus with recruiting is with incoming ninth-grade players,” he said. “We were losing kids out of middle school.”
Sphire said he met with athletes and their parents to explain the benefits of high school football. Football players have better grades and attendance, and they can be part of the winning program Sphire said he is building at Camden High.
“They know what our expectations are,” he said. “No question, there is a learning curve. There is no short-term fix.”
Camden faces Charlton County at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Chris Gilman Stadium in its spring game. Admission is $5.