By Anthony Rhoads
What do you do for an encore?
Last year, the Union Grove Wolverines captured the Region 5-AA championship, finished the regular season at 8-2 and then advanced to the third round of the state playoffs.
No other team from Henry County and advanced that far into the playoffs and no other team in county history won as many games.
This season, head coach Scott Mason's squad faces an up-hill battle to repeat last year's success.
Only seven starters return from last year's squad. The Wolverines were hit particularly hard in the backfield as quarterback Joey Waters and running back Antonio graduated.
Waters' favorite target, wide receiver Ryan Chambers, is also gone.
The only offensive starters who return will be three linemen including Justin Smith, Jerrit Wilkenson and Josh Bass.
Last season, Union Grove was a surprise and was able to sneak up on people but this year, the Wolverines will be the ones who will be hunted.
"We won it last year," Mason said. "I think everybody will be shooting for us. Now people are aiming for us."
Mason expects Region 5-AA to be tough this season with Blessed Trinity, Grady and Decatur challenging to knock Union Grove from the top spot.
"The region is very strong," Mason said.
"I was surprised with the speed and athleticism last year. Every team that we played had more speed than us. It's going to be tough in football, real tough."
Union Grove's non-region slate features Henry County, Jackson, Martin Luther King, Tri-Cities and Pike County.
The home game against Tri-Cities should be an interesting one. Last year, Tri-Cities walloped the Wolverines 45-10 in East Point. It was Union Grove's largest margin of defeat in the 2002 regular season.
"Our non-region games will be to see where we are this season and to see where will be next season because we have so many young players," Mason said. "We want to have a good year and get our younger kids ready to step up and play 5A"
In the 2004 season, Union Grove will move up to Class AAAAA and will be in Region 4 with East Coweta, Fayette County, Lovejoy, Mundy's Mill, Newnan and Starr's Mill.
In the 2002-03 season, Union Grove drew many complaints from parents, fans and other athletic departments because the school allegedly submitted false enrollment projections.
But according the Georgia High School Association information director Steve Figueroa, Union Grove did nothing wrong in the process.
According to GHSA rules, Union Grove had to submit projections based on the 2000-01 school year, the school's inaugural year.
During that school year, Union Grove had approximately 800 students and the school had to submit those numbers for the reclassification.
During the 2002-03 school year, Union Grove was branded by some as a ?cheater,' which had intentionally lied to the GHSA.
Mason said he isn't worried about the accusations.
"We don't have time to worry about what other people think; we have to take care of our own business," Mason said.