Photo by Brian Paglia / Locust Grove football coach Clint Satterfield brings back a Wildcats team coming off their first winning season in school history.
LOCUST GROVE — Locust Grove rising senior Cortez McDowell wasn’t able to participate in much of the Wildcats’ spring practice the past two weeks. The Wildcats’ returning star watched, confined to sauntering around the practice field with a fragile hamstring tossing a football in his hands.
But McDowell liked what he saw.
“We got a lot of swagger,” McDowell said.
Locust Grove may be feeling the symptoms of its first winning season in school history. The Wildcats went 6-4 this past season, had a five-game winning streak and came within one game of reaching the state playoffs.
The season dwarfed Locust Grove’s expectations the previous two seasons. The Wildcats went 2-8 in 2010 and 2011 under the weight of a non-region schedule filled with South Georgia programs and a brutal region schedule filled with perennial state playoff contenders. All Locust Grove could offer a community excited about the arrival of high school football in 2009 were growing pains.
So last season was a dramatic turnaround for Locust Grove in almost every way imaginable. It started the season 5-1. Four of the Wildcats’ victories came by a touchdown or less. One of those victories was a 31-point comeback. Another came on a last-second fumble recovery near the opponent’s goal-line. Locust Grove had a chance in its season finale to make the state playoffs but lost 20-10 at home to Riverdale.
All of which has helped the Wildcats this spring.
“They’re a lot more confident,” Locust Grove head coach Clint Satterfield said.
They’re also breaking in for seven new starters on defense and four on offense, including Tyler Sellers who replaces Keenan Wise at quarterback.
Sellers, a rising junior, will have to replace 2,014 yards of offense and 24 touchdowns. But Satterfield likes what he’s seen out of Sellers, who was also a standout pitcher for Locust Grove state quarterfinalist baseball team.
“He’s sneaky fast,” Satterfield said. “His 40 [-meter dash] time is probably the same as Keenan’s. Maybe not as many moves. But he’s fast. Very calm. Very poised. He brings a lot of things to the table.”
And, of course, he’ll have McDowell to throw to. He’s a top 10 prospect in Georgia at safety with 22 scholarship offers but had almost 900 receiving yards last season.
Sellers and McDowell aren’t an unfamiliar duo. In an effort to be creative on offense last season, Locust Grove would sporadically put Wise at wide receiver and bring in Sellers at quarterback.
“It’ll be fine,” McDowell said. “He had some reps last year and he threw well. Just got to work together and get on the same page together.”
In some ways, the whole offense is still trying to get on the same page with new offensive coordinator Rodney Satterfield, Clint’s brother. Rodney returns to Henry County after several seasons at Chattahoochee. He was an assistant coach with the Warhawks from 1990-96. The brothers coached together at Henry County from 1995-96.
With Rodney comes the transition from the triple option to the zone option. It’s been one of the biggest transitions for Locust Grove this spring.
“We’ve spent a lot of time using his verbage,” Clint said. “It’s not totally new, but there are more wrinkles.”