Sports writer Brian Paglia
At Eagle’s Landing practice Friday evening, fourth-year head coach Joe Teknipp sat back to watch his coaching staff and team go to work.
What he saw had him reliving his first year as a head coach. It was a miraculous collision of freshness and timing. Eagle’s Landing had gone 0-10 the previous season. Teknipp came in and got a senior class with untapped talent to buy into his vision. They went 6-5, making the state playoffs for the second time in school history.
Now, after going 0-10 and 1-9 the past two seasons, Teknipp wonders if another miraculous breakout season is possible.
Of course, it’s unlikely, but it’s possible. The Southern Crescent is full of examples.
Drew head coach Jarrett Laws helped Mt. Zion go from another anonymous 3-7 team to an 8-5 quarterfinalist in 2008 that lost to Marist by one point.
Stockbridge’s Kevin Whitley had the Tigers in the state playoffs for the first time in school history in 2010 a year after going 2-8.
Tim Floyd helped Jonesboro make the leap from 5-5 in 2010 to 9-2 in 2011 with a talented Class of 2013 that has even greater expectations this season.
Here’s a look at four teams that could be poised for a similar breakout season:
Clint Satterfield knows about building football programs. It only took him three years to give Jonesboro, his alma mater, its first state playoff victory ... in school history.
But he didn’t know how long it would take him to turn Locust Grove into a winner when he left Jonesboro to build the Wildcats program from scratch.
Now, after two straight 2-8 seasons, he knows Locust Grove needs to do something more.
Luckily, all the pieces seem to be there for a successful season. A returning starter at quarterback (Keenan Wise), a Division I prospect at wide receiver and safety (Cortez McDowell), a bevy of returning starters elsewhere (18 total) and a schedule that doesn’t include South Georgia’s Coffee or Tift.
Not too far from Locust Grove is a school that can’t wait to get the season started.
The Lions may have benefitted more than any other school from the Georgia High School Association’s latest reclassification. Yes, they move into a region with Class AAAA runner-up Lovejoy. But they say good-bye to perennial playoff contenders East Coweta, M.L. King, Newnan, Stephenson and Westlake.
That was the difference last year. Before Luella played a region foe, it was 3-0. By the end of the season, the Lions were 4-6.
Now, they get a clean slate and a talented team to do it with — Tevin Jones, Jared Hendricks, Aaron Davis, Trae Bonner, Steve Osundu and more.
This team won’t go 2-8 this season.
The Mustangs hit that fourth year that new schools often do — after three years of building an experienced team, the first senior class graduates in a mass exodus. What’s left is a young roster forced to get used to varsity competition quickly.
Ola took those lumps last season. It lost nine straight games — well, eight after Henry County had to forfeit its season-opening win over the Mustangs — before a one-point overtime win against McIntosh in the season finale.
Now, 19 players return, among them three-year starter at running back and wide receiver JoJo Spann, quarterback C.J. Carr, defensive lineman Jimmy Carman and the entire offensive line.
Olten Downs didn’t have to come to Riverdale. Young and energetic, he was defensive coordinator at powerhouse Carver-Columbus, where winning isn’t the question, but how far it advances in the playoffs is.
Instead, he left to take over at Riverdale, a program coming off consecutive 2-8 seasons. Another 2-8 season was the expectation.
The Raiders went 4-6, with four losses by a combined 22 points. They lost by just a touchdown to North Clayton, Banneker and Lovejoy (yes, Lovejoy). They lost by one point in an overtime loss to Jonesboro.
The good thing for Downs? They didn’t lose much talent. He brought some to the recent Clayton County high school football media day. Defensive end Tykeem Bethea, wide receiver Rashad Canty, defensive lineman Jordan Sidney and linebacker Troy Wyche all passed the eye test.
Brian Paglia covers sports for the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald newspapers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter? Follow him @BrianPaglia.