By Anthony Rhoads
Last season, the Union Grove Wolverines enjoyed an unprecedented year on the gridiron.
They won the Region 5-AA championship, qualified for the Class AA state playoffs and advanced all the way to the quarterfinals before losing to perennial state power Americus.
By season's end, the Wolverines racked up a 10-3 record?the best season ever by a team in Henry County.
But as spring practices concluded, Union Grove head coach Scott Mason makes no bones about the condition of the team this year.
"We're slap-dab terrible," he said. "Right now, we're a j.v.-quality squad. We knew we were going to be hurting in our skill positions but we're missing senior leadership. They've kind of relied on our out-going group of seniors to lead but we need our rising seniors to step up. They'll be okay."
Mason is losing about a dozen seniors from 2002, most notably the backfield duo of quarterback Joey Waters and tailback Antonio High. Other graduating seniors include wide receiver Ryan Chambers, tight end/linebacker Ryan Fawbush and kicker/punter Nick Ellis.
This spring, Mason has some folks who can step into those roles include Tory Newsome and Michael Lawrence at running back and Bradley Kessler and Cedar Grove transfer Travis Burks at quarterback.
Burks is a just a rising sophomore but Mason is already giving him high marks.
"He's a heck of an athlete," Mason said.
The 2003 version of the Wolverines might be a little different than previous Union Grove teams. In the past, the Wolverines mixed it up offensively with an effective passing game led by Waters and a stellar rushing attack led by High.
Next season, Union Grove could be a more run-oriented offense based out of the option.
"Right now, we're working on our running game and we're going to work on adding the option," Mason said.
One thing Mason is encouraged about this spring is numbers. About 90 players came out for spring practice with more than 50 rising freshmen.
"We've got good numbers," Mason said. "If there's a bright spot it's the up-and-coming ninth graders. It's a good class."