By Derrick Mahone
If first-year Union Grove coach Paul Burgdorf needed any assurance about his team's dedication level, he got it as the Wolverines held several early morning practices this preseason.
In an attempt to get a jump on the hot, humid weather, Burgdorf held some 5:30 a.m. practices over the last two weeks. Only two players missed the morning session because of transportation problems.
"These guys showed up and had some good practices," said Burgdorf as he leaned forward in his chair.
"We were out there in full pads. It was some lively practices. They showed up and they were ready to go."
Players said they liked the early morning practices.
"It was actually good," senior Ed Wilkins said. "You can get practice out of the way and spend the rest of the day concentrating on your studies. I liked it."
From all indications, Burgdorf has been pleased with his team's effort as they adjust to his coaching style. After spending the last seven years building the Luella program from scratch, Burgdorf took over the Union Grove program after Steven Collins resigned.
After going through spring drills, and now as he prepares for the season opener next week against top-ranked Northside-Warner Robins, Burgdorf said he has now regrets about leaving the program he helped start.
"None at all," he said.
"Those seven years were good for me and Luella. I wasn't looking to move, but this came up. This situation is a little different than when I took over at Luella."
Burgdorf said that both he and the players have seemingly smooth transition.
The biggest change for the Wolverines this season will be on the offensive side of the ball where they will go from an option-oriented team to the I-formation. Running backs T.J. Moon and Jordan Moore are expected to carry a large part of the running game.
Senior Ed Wilkins will be a big part of the passing game as a wide receiver. Wilkins, a senior, has committed to Southern Miss as a cornerback.
He said he is looking forward to the new offensive scheme.
"I've been very impressed with coach," Wilkins said.
"We ran the ball about 85 percent of the time last year. Now, it will probably dropped to 55 percent.
We are going to pass it more."
Burgdorf said his eight-year tenure at Luella will serve him well as he begins his tenure at Union Grove. Building a program from the ground taught him about patience.
Union Grove opened in 2000 and has had five winning season. The Wolverines are 5-6 in postseason play with its best season coming in 2002 when they went 10-3 and reached the quarterfinals.
"I'm familiar with the type of football they play over here," Burgdorf said.
"I inherited a good staff that was a part of the success over here. I don't feel any pressure, but I understand the expectations of this program. We want to win ballgames."
The Wolverines will get tested early as they open the season against Northside, which reached the Class AAAAA finals last season. Northside has put the Wolverines out the playoffs the last two seasons in Warner Robins.
"It is sort of a measuring stick, but to be quite honest, our whole schedule is challenging," Burgdorf said. "Every ballgame is a big game. This game will against Northside will not make or break our season."