By Brian Paglia
When Jason Galt was an assistant coach at Clarke Central in the late 90s, he would tell his players they were not playing only for themselves, but for those that came before them. For Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson and the other 97 all-state players from Clarke Central. For the seven players that made it to the NFL. For the three state championship teams.
When Galt was an assistant coach at Carrollton in the late 2000s, he told his players they were not playing for individual acclaim alone, but for a place in history. For a place among former Georgia wide receiver Reggie Brown. For a place among the 159 all-state players from Carrollton. For a place among the 27 region title teams. For a place among the seven state championship teams.
"The unique dynamic is the tradition," Galt said. "You're not just playing for that year's team. You're playing for all the teams that played before you."
Tradition is not yet a motivator for Galt in his fourth season at Dutchtown. He has the Bulldogs undefeated going into tonight's game against No. 5 Griffin (7-0, 4-0 Region 3A-AAAA), but not the tradition that the Bears exist with each season.
"There is no tradition here," Galt said. "We're trying to build tradition. That's what we're doing now. Every senior class, we talk about being the foundation. You've done this, and the next senior class has done this. We're trying to build up to what some of those other programs have."
A match-up against Griffin presents Dutchtown with an unprecedented opportunity. Defining moments in the seventh-year program's history are few. Perhaps securing its first non-losing season (2008). Perhaps its first victory against a ranked opponent (a 15-14 victory over North Clayton last season).
But never has Dutchtown found itself undefeated this late in a season against another undefeated opponent with a reputation throughout Georgia.
"We're very excited," Dutchtown senior defensive back Kellan Holiday said. "This is a great opportunity for us. We're a young school and everybody looks at the tradition of Griffin and they already have given them the game won just because of their tradition. But we're trying to prove something to the whole state of Georgia -- that we can play with the big dogs."
"There's definitely playoff implications," Dutchtown senior defensive lineman Keneal Petgrave said. "It's going to be the biggest game of our year."
"A whole lot of people are talking about this game," Dutchtown senior running back Mychael Brown said. "Everybody that's related to this team keeps talking about this game, keeps hyping it up like it is a playoff game, like it might even be the semifinals of the state playoffs."
That's not uncommon for Griffin. With 457 wins, with two state championships (1942, 1978), with 11 region titles, with 40 weeks ranked as the No. 1 team, the Bears' reputation as an elite program is well-established.
Upon Griffin's back is a target it cannot remove.
"We face it every week," Griffin coach Steve Devoursney said. "Everybody's gunning for us. We just hope our kids come ready to play. Hopefully they understand the magnitude of this ballgame."
Dutchtown's players do.
The winner essentially secures first place in Region 3A-AAAA and a home game in the first round of the playoffs.
But Dutchtown players insist there's even more at stake.
"You always want to play against the best in your region," Dutchtown junior defensive lineman Darian Smalls said. "In order to be the man, you've got to beat the man."
The Bears operate under these conditions often.
"You're 'Games of the Week' and you get on TV," Devoursney said. "All the colleges coaches are at your games. All that stuff you don't have any control over, but you get to experience just because of being a top 10 program."
Galt said when he first arrived, his team was undeterred by Griffin's tradition. As a new school, Galt said his players didn't even know about Griffin, and it showed. The Bulldogs narrowly lost to the Bears, 27-22, in their first meeting in 2008.
That was Dutchtown's first non-losing season in school history. The Bulldogs finished 5-5, a three-game improvement from 2-8 in Galt's first season in 2007. Dutchtown won a school-record seven games last season, but missed the playoffs.
And that, according to Galt, is the defining trait of a program with tradition. That is what separates Griffin from Dutchtown. Griffin expects to be in the playoffs. Dutchtown has never made it.
But Galt hopes that changes soon.
"We're hoping this year it's going to be the year we make the playoffs," Galt said. "If we're lucky enough to make the playoffs this year, then we've started down that road of having some tradition."