By Brian Paglia
Of all the storylines that appear forthcoming in Woodland's fourth season of football -- the jump in classification from AAA to AAAA, the influx of games against county rivals, the familiarity Wolfpack coach Scott Schmitt has with his team's new region opponents -- the most intriguing may be how the Wolfpack build off their most successful season in school history.
The Wolfpack went 7-4 in 2009 and made its first playoff appearance in just its third year of existence, a feat accomplished by only one other program (Union Grove) ever in Henry County. In the process, Woodland produced 11 seniors who signed to play in college, the most in the county.
With the loss of key contributors at several premium positions, Woodland has spent spring practice finding out who can fill its voids and help it avoid taking a step back in 2010.
"Year four is always good," Schmitt said. "It's not a rebuilding year. It's just a different mindset: 'Where is someone going to fit in?'"
That question is has been at the heart of Woodland's quest during spring practice, which culminates with its Red-White spring game tonight.
Woodland returns eight starters on offense, including quarterback David Williams. But the Wolfpack must replace its leading receiver, Tre Butler (Georgia Southern), and top two running backs, Josh Tookes and Kevin Wynn.
"Tre will be tough" to replace, Schmitt said.
To replace Butler, Schmitt is looking to Merlon Jones and Alex James, the team's second and third leaving receivers, respectively, from a year ago. To replace Tookes and Wynn, Schmitt is looking to Josh's younger brother, Ray, and John Leonard to lead a running back-by-committee.
But most of the voids are on the defensive side. Six starters are gone, including three All-Region linebackers.
"We had to find some spots to fill," Schmitt said, "but a lot of guys have been stepping up. I'm excited to see that I feel like we won't drop a whole lot."
This season may be the first that tests Woodland's depth of talent.
Last season, when Butler went down with an ankle injury for part of the season, panic set in amongst some players. When All-Region defensive end and Georgia State signee Alex Findura left the Wolfpack's first round state tournament game against Cairo with an injury, Schmitt said many players all but surrendered.
"I'm trying to get that mentality down that they don't think it's all lost if someone gets hurt," Schmitt said. "I tell them it's like the Pez candy.
You take one out and the next one gets jacked up, the next guy is ready to go."
Indeed, Woodland must be ready to go from the season's outset.
With its new classification and region, Woodland will face five opponents that were playoff teams last season, including perennial state title contenders Carrollton and Griffin.
They are programs revered for their sustainability, to replace old players with new ones and remain successful.
They subscribe to the thought process that has been on Schmitt's mind all spring.
"The thought process that comes to mind is that tradition never graduates," he said.