By Anthony Rhoads
Offense sells tickets and defense wins championships but in a football game, winning and losing often comes down to special teams.
Special teams is often overlooked but it's fully one-third of the game. Good coaches know this and emphasize it because if you mess up on special teams, it can come back to haunt you. On the other hand, a big play on special teams can turn the tide of a game, rally the team and electrify the crowd.
At Union Grove, being on the special teams is definitely a badge of honor.
The special teams are referred to as the Militia and the players are given incentives to excel.
If a player makes the Militia squad, he gets a t-shirt and a special Union Grove Militia license plate with his uniform number on it.
The Militia player of the week also gets a free meal at Chick-fil-A.
Special teams also made the difference for Lovejoy last week in its 23-20 overtime victory against Riverdale.
Maetias Ferreira booted a 30-yard field goal to give Lovejoy the win. David McHone also had solid punts and kickoffs, which helped Lovejoy's cause.
A glance at some of the top special teams players in the area this season:
One of the best kickers in the area this year is Jonesboro senior Patrick Saxby.
"Over the course of coaching in the last 18 years, he's one of the best kickers I've ever seen," Jonesboro head coach Larry Mortonson said. "He has tremendous ability as both a kicker and punter; he has a strong leg and a tremendous work ethic."
One of the top punters the last several seasons in the area has been Lovejoy senior David McHone. Last year, he averaged about 40 yards per punt.
One of the most exciting special teams players this year has been Luella's Johnny Belt on kick and punt returns. In the first game of the year against Union Grove, Belt returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown.
Going on to the next level: Several former kickers and punters in the area have been able to parlay their skills into college scholarships.
Three kickers and punters from the area who are currently playing college football are Union Grove's Nick Ellis at Charleston Southern, Eagle's Landing's Jonathan Wright at Tennessee-Chattanooga and Riverdale's Erwin Equihua at Morehouse.
"It's a good way to get a scholarship," McDonald said. "Nick was a good kid and we're really proud of him. Soccer really was his thing but football is paying his way through college."
Girls getting inthe act: Kicking has been a way for girls to get on football teams here in the Southern Crescent.
The most well-known girl kicker was Tonya Butler in the late 1990s. After graduating from Riverdale High School, Butler went to Middle Georgia College and then transferred to West Alabama, where she is listed as a senior.
Last year, both Stockbridge and Jonesboro featured female kickers. Sarah Schroeter kicked for Stockbridge's varsity team and was a second team All-Southern Crescent selection last year.
Kayla Cole kicked on Jonesboro's junior varsity team last year.