By Brian Paglia
Locust Grove and Drew high schools are two counties apart in strikingly different landscapes. Charles R. Drew High sits next to a hospital and the bustle of Clayton County. Locust Grove sits virtually alone, surrounded by the bucolic tranquility of Henry County.
But as both schools meet tonight at Locust Grove at 7:30 p.m., they find themselves confronting similiar challenges and encouragements in the first year of building a high school football program.
They are playing non-region schedules, competing against other first-year programs or junior varsity teams. They are playing with rosters primarily made up of freshmen and sophomores, providing coaches with frustrating moments of mistakes, but also moments to see young players grow and develop.
"Each week is an adventure," Locust Grove coach Clint Satterfield said.
"It's sort of bittersweet," Drew assistant head coach James Davis said. "Yes, we lose, but we see so much, because it's all about looking at the future. ...You have to be patient at this moment right now, and we are."
According to coaches, the development of the program ebbs and flows from week to week, sometimes day to day, even play to play. The biggest challenge is managing the emotions and expectations of freshmen and sophomores.
"The guys are young," Davis said, "so we have a lot of young mistakes, but they're working hard. They're trying to be the best they can be, and that's all we can ask of them.
"Of course it's like a wave. It ebbs and flows. Sometimes you're up. Sometimes you're down. They get it some days; some days they don't get it. It's a lot of teaching and learning going on right now."
Drew and Locust Grove began their programs on different notes. Drew lost 21-0 to Marion County, a fourth-year program in Buena Vista. But the Titans quickly responded by defeating Forest Park's JV team 48-0 last Wednesday.
It was a big moment. Playing on its practice field, Drew had its first chance to play in front of a home crowd.
"It was awesome to see how the community came out," Davis said. "Man, it was packed. It was nice to see so many people."
Locust Grove won its first game in school history, defeating another first-year program in Arabia Mountain 14-6.
"That's something they can't ever take away from you," Satterfield said. "Won the first game in school history, so it was a monumental win."
But there is also the matter of two coaching staffs all too familiar with each other. Just a year ago, Drew head coach Jarrett Laws was at Mt. Zion along with other members of his current staff. Satterfield was coaching Jonesboro along with several members of his Locust Grove staff.
In two games coaching against each other, Satterfield and Laws are tied. Laws won't be attending the game tonight due to a family emergency. But the storyline seems to add to the intrigue for two growing programs.
"It'll be fun to play against Laws," Satterfield said. "It's kind of ironic that both of us left from being about six miles to each others. ...That just makes it interesting when you're playing somebody you know and somebody you have respect for."