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Locust Grove believes it's time to take the next step

Locust Grove coach Clint Satterfield is hoping that his team can challenge for a playoff spot in Region 4-AAA, includes defending state champion Sandy Creek. This is the team’s second full varsity season.

Locust Grove coach Clint Satterfield is hoping that his team can challenge for a playoff spot in Region 4-AAA, includes defending state champion Sandy Creek. This is the team’s second full varsity season.

Locust Grove reminds Clint Satterfield of Macon County, where he began his coaching career in 1993 working with the defensive line under C.B. Cornett, where the Bulldogs went four years without losing a regular-season game, where the community of Montezuma was united behind its team.

Satterfield's new digs at Locust Grove are a little too new to have all those things just yet. The community unity thing seems to be there, even for a program that has played two varsity seasons — one against other fledgling schools, the other against established teams. All that other stuff, he believes, can come when they grow up.

That’s what this season is about for the Wildcats. Even before the team suffered the excruciating tragedy of Forest Jones' death by heatstroke, and the dedicating of the season to him, the Wildcats were focusing on taking the next step.

Building a program from scratch “intrigued” Satterfield, who had just gotten through leading Jonesboro to its only playoff victory in school history in 2008 before deciding, “I wanted to do something different.”

That brought him to Locust Grove, which had the small-town feel and the big-time challenge all rolled into one. And as the Wildcats embark upon their third varsity season, Satterfield believes it's time for the program to grow up a little bit.

“Everything's new, everything's got my stamp on it and it has been fun,” Satterfield said Tuesday. “But eventually, you can't call yourselves new. Building time is over. It's time to establish ourselves as a program.”

So it might sound like the Wildcats are shooting for the moon when Satterfield says he'd like to see them compete for Region 4-AAA's fourth playoff berth — especially after a 2-8 season and in a region that includes defending state champion Sandy Creek, loaded Henry County, Eastside and Stockbridge.

Satterfield doesn’t mind that at all. “I think the future looks bright,” he said. “I know what it takes, but it takes a while to get there. Last year, when we scrimmaged Ola, Ola could've picked the score against us. This year, we were competitive with them and they beat us only 10-7. There's improvement. . . . Turning the corner's not going to be easy — it'll take some upsets — but I’m not going to sell us short.”

To avoid coming up short against long odds, the Wildcats will need solid seasons out of receiver Cortez McDowell, fullback Garrett Wallace and Arlanzo Simpson, a trio of sophomores, and junior quarterback Keenan Wise. McDowell was an honorable mention All-Southern Crescent selecti on last season as a freshman

“We’re going to bank on a lot of young players,” Satterfield said, “but they've been battle-tested and started as freshmen. Cortez had a big pick-six (an interception returned for a touchdown) against Sandy Creek.”

Hunter Mitchum has a dependable leg and will handle most of the kicking duties, giving the Wildcats an advantage in the battle of field position.

The Wildcats don't have much depth, but for Satterfield it’s a quality vs. quantity thing.

“I’ve got a group of young men, about 50, and you very rarely have people missing practice, very rarely hear them complaining and that’s really helped me through the hard times,” Satterfield said. “Their character is the No. 1 thing.”

Character could help them improve on last year's 2-8 mark.

“We were picked to finish last and we finished ahead of Drew and Eagle's Landing,” Satterfield said. “If we can pick up an extra win it will be progress. I said when I came here that by the fourth year, I really want to try to get in the playoffs. Of course, we're going to try this year, but this is the third season.”

Wildcats at a glance

2010: 2-8

Coach: Clint Satterfield (9-11 at Locust Grove, 21-31 overall)

Returning offensive starters: 7

Moving the ball: The Wildcats will run their flexbone/Wing-T, which resembles a lot of the same things that Georgia Tech and the service academies do with their offenses. They will count on Slater Eckert and Cortez McDowell on offense, and return a good chunk of their line with Patrick Hicks, Deion Coleman and Lucas Hughes anchoring things.

Returning defensive starters: 6

Making the stops: Locust Grove comes out in a 3-5-3 stack, which means it better have some linebackers who can play. Satterfield believes in that unit, with Donavan George, Demetrius Rogers and Blayne Christian leading the way. Eckert will play on both sides of the ball, as an outside linebacker here. McDowell will see action at safety

It will be a good year if: They can double last year's win total. Two of those games are against Class AAAAA's Tift County and Coffee, and once the bills are paid with those games, there will be eight left

Playoff chances: Murky. They need to walk before they can run, but next season, they might be ready to get in the starting blocks against playoff contenders.