He Was An Old School Football Coach

I never knew Robert Davis personally but I certainly knew him. He was a legend in Warner Robins, Georgia where I lived from 1984-2009. Davis was the former coach of the Warner Robins Demons football team. I spent many Friday nights watching the games he coached. He created one of the top high school football teams in Georgia.

He was old school football. He believed in running the ball and playing defense. One look at him and you KNEW he was a football coach. He always reminded me of the high school football Bobby Bowden. At Warner Robins High, Davis led the team to a 253-41-1 record with 18 regional championships, three state championships (1976, 1981, 1988), and two national championships (1976, 1981).Davis won 354 games which has him ranked as the third winningest coach in Georgia High School football history. He never had a losing season. At Warner Robins High, Davis led the team to a 253-41-1 record with 18 regional championships, three state championships (1976, 1981, 1988), and two national championships (1976, 1981).

The first time I met Coach Davis, I was working part-time as a sports writer for a local newspaper. I remember how I was scared to death and nervous that I would ask a dumb question or make a rookie mistake in my first postgame interview with him. On this night, Davis was not happy with my competition from the other newspaper. During the week, the other newspaper had published a story about his football players stealing pizza from a local pizza hangout. When we entered Davis’ office for the interview, Davis ripped the reporter from the other newspaper then turned his back to him. Davis looked at me and said “Go ahead son, I will answer your questions”. I made sure I asked good questions.

After losing a state semifinal playoff game in the Georgia Dome, I once again interviewed him after the game wondering how he would be after a disappointing loss. He was kind and honest about losing the game. He was frustrated that his team couldn’t seem to get past the semifinal round.

In 1997, I was stunned when I heard the news that Davis was leaving Warner Robins to become the head coach of a new school in Macon. I couldn’t believe it. Macon had done the unthinkable in snagging the coach who had owned the other Macon schools rarely losing a game. That was the end of an era at Warner Robins. Davis also built Westside Macon into another strong contender. Davis retired in 2008.

I have read many tributes today from former players, coaches and fans whose lives have been impacted by Davis. It is certain that his legacy will carry on.

History Of My “Demon” Obsession

Later this afternoon, the Warner Robins Demons football team tries to win the school’s fourth state title in their history. They won titles in 1976, 1981, 1988 and 2004. This is their eighth appearance in the state final and third straight time they have made it to the title game. They lost to Rome in 2017 and suffered a heartbreaking loss last year’s game to Bainbridge.

Today, Warner Robins will be trying to adding their fifth title when they play the Buford Wolves at Georgia State Stadium in Atlanta.  Buford is no slouch either.  They have 11 state championship trophies.  This is the first time the two teams have played.  It should be a good one.

I have never attended Warner Robins High School and never played on their football team yet for the past 34 years they have been my team of choice. I know it’s silly but everybody has their thing right? Georgia High School football and the Warner Robins football team has been my thing during football season.

I did actually play high school football – or it would be more accurate to say that I was ON the football team in Villa Rica, Georgia during my freshman and sophomore years. There was never much of a chance that I would have ever been a starter. Before my junior year, my family moved to Savannah, Georgia and I finished my last two years of high school at Tompkins. The school closed in 1989.  When I moved to Warner Robins in 1984, my first game was a Warner Robins-Valdosta playoff game. The next season I attended every Warner Robins home game and I have been a fan ever since. Many years I had season tickets. I rarely missed a game. There was a couple of years when I lived just less than a mile from the stadium and could walk to the games on Friday nights. I loved it. I went through the ups and downs of the various teams through the years. From 1996 until 1999, I worked as a part-time writer for a couple of newspapers and wasn’t able to attend their games; however, I did get the chance to cover a few games for the newspaper. I was both thrilled and extremely nervous the first time I covered a Warner Robins’ game.  My first interview of Warner Robins’ Head Coach Robert Davis was a bit intimidating but it went well.  When those days were over I continued attending Warner Robins’ football games.

I moved away from Warner Robins in 2012 and after two years in Tampa, Florida we moved to Nashville, Tennessee where we currently live. Even with the distance which separated me, I have still tuned into the games or followed the results on Friday nights.

When each season approaches now, I get the notion that I should end this obsession I have with high school football and following Warner Robins but I still end up tuning in or listening to the Georgia High School Football Scoreboard show. I don’t put my life on hold anymore like I used to do. There are times that i will do other things instead of listening to the games but when I get home or finish what I am doing, I immediately go to all of my places to get updates on the games. That’s just how I am and that’s my thing.

I remembered a funny story about the last season that Warner Robins won the state championship in 2004. Before the season began, I had a situation that I wanted to pray about a situation in my life and decided that I would “fast” going to Warner Robins’ football games that season.  Instead of attending or listening to the games, I would pray about the need I was focused on. Wouldn’t you know it – that was the season they won the championship. Was my sacrifice of giving up my season tickets and following the games worth it? Was my prayer answered? Yes, it was. I think it was answered about two months after the season.

Yeah, I do some crazy things sometimes. Try to explain to your church that you support a team with the nickname of “Demons”.

It has been fun. There have been exciting games and heart breakers along the way.

In my first Warner Robins-Northside game in 1985, the Demons won the first overtime game in the series 21-14.  I still have a video recording of that game somewhere in my collection.  Warner Robins went on to get to the 1985 final which was played in Athens against Clarke Central.  I made the trip and sat in sub-freezing temperatures watching the Demons come up short in the game 21-7 and endured a Clarke Central fan yelling in my ear the whole time.

It was also quite cold in 1988 but it didn’t matter when Warner Robins defeated Brookwood 33-7 to win the state championship.

The last game I attended in person was the 2009 Warner Robins-Northside game when the Demons overcame a 20-0 deficit to win on an improbable touchdown pass in the final minutes.

There is not enough space or time for me to tell you all the great games I have seen or listened to over the years.  There have also been many exciting players to watch such as Willie Reid, Jon Perkins, Eric McDowell, Ben Smith and so many others.

I have to admit that I am not as obsessed now but I do still keep track of how the Demons are doing.  I am living in Tennessee now and I haven’t been able to get into high school football up here. It’s just not the same. I live about a mile for a pretty competitive school but I doubt I will ever attend a game. That time has past and i have no desire to follow another team. Warner Robins has – and will always be – my team. I am not their #1 fan but they have been a part of my life for many Friday nights for the past 34 years.

Friday Flashback: Warner Robins vs. Starr’s Mill 2000 Playoff Game

SM_2000Tonight the Warner Robins Demons will play the Starr’s Mill Panthers in the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) Class 5A state semifinals.

The last time they played each other was in the 2000 playoffs and I was there on November 24, 2000 in the rain, watching in disbelief as Warner Robins was upset by this strangely named school.

The lasting memory wasn’t necessarily the game but when I was standing in line the day before to get my ticket for the game. There were some guys talking about the Demons’ opponent.  Here’s how the exchange went:

“Whadda ya know about this team we’re playing this week?”

“They got a bunch of white guys and they’re slow.”

It was quite an ominous moment as I had hoped that the team didn’t fall into the same mindset about their opponent.  It’s a funny thing about jinxes and these guys put the hooey on Warner Robins.

Warner Robins, which was the #1 team in the state at the time, was upset by Starr’s Mill 21-7 in overtime.  The Demons had just come off an impressive 41-0 win in the first round over Colquitt County but they obviously underestimated the Starr’s Mill Panthers.  Starr’s Mill eventually went on to lose in the state semifinals to Harrison that season.  Starr’s Mill had only been in their third year of playing football.  Warner Robins packed it up for the season.

I remembered that rain on the day of the game played a big role in the game as it gave Warner Robins problems. The Demons had Willie Reid who was one of the states top players. He was not able to get on track in the rain and the mud on that night.  However, Starr’s Mill fullback, Jason Laney had the game of his life on that night as he sloshed through the muddy field for 144 yards and two touchdowns.  I watched in anguish as Warner Robins’ defenders could not seem to bring the big man down throughout the game.

I have never forgotten that conversation in the ticket line and remembering how the “slow, white guy” ended the season for Warner Robins.  Today it is 19 years later and I hope that folks remember that game and have the kids ready to play Starr’s Mill.

In tonight’s game, Warner Robins (12-1) is again favored to beat Starr’s Mill (10-3) as they were in 2000.  This season  Starr’s Mill has reeled off eight straight wins since its uncharacteristic three-game losing streak. No. 1 Warner Robins’ lone loss has been to Colquitt County.

Starr’s Mill will try to control the ball on the ground, eat away the clock and improve their odds by keeping the ball away from Warner Robins as they did in the 2000 game. Quarterback Hunter Lawson runs the option attack and 1,000-yard runner Kalen Sims and Ben Bodne. Warner Robin’s QB Jalen Addie has thrown for 2,142 yards and six touchdowns and run for another 536 yards. Marcayll Jones, who set the state receiving a year ago and has 37 catches for 731 yards this year. The Demons have a two-pronged running attack in Jahlen Rutherford (1,246 yards) and James Smith (840).

Football Chatter

wr-romeI was thinking about my football teams today and I’m not sure how this season is going to end.  Let me start with the high school level…

My “adopted” Georgia High School football team, Warner Robins, is playing the Rome Wolves for the third year in a row in the postseason.  Three years ago, Rome demolished Warner Robins 38-0 in the state final.  Last year, Warner Robins got revenge with a 45-28 win in the state semifinals.  This season they are meeting in the second round.  I’m really not sure how this one is going to go.

I live about a mile from Blackman High School in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  I haven’t been to any of the games and I really don’t know much about Tennessee high school football like I do in my history with Georgia but I know this week is a big deal as the Blackman Blaze play cross-town rivals Oakland Patriots in the quarterfinals.  Oakland is the defending state champion.  Blackman hasn’t had a great season from what I have seen but they are on a roll.  I wouldn’t be surprised to see an upset here.

I took a peek at the national high school football rankings and here is the latest top 10 teams in the nation:

  1. Mater Dei (Santa Ana, CA)
  2. St. Thomas Aquinas (Ft. Lauderdale, FL)
  3. Duncanville (Duncanville, TX)
  4. St. John Bosco (Bellflower, CA)
  5. St. Frances Academy (Baltimore, MD)
  6. Saint Louis (Honolulu, HI)
  7. Katy (Katy, TX)
  8. De La Salle (Concord, CA)
  9. Allen (Allen, TX)
  10. Lakeland (Lakeland, FL)

In college football, the Georgia Bulldogs are ranked fourth in the College Football Playoff rankings but they have struggled on offense in recent weeks.  I know that worries folks but a win is still a win.  A one-point win is still as good as a 30-point win.  This week the Bulldogs play Texas A&M.  The Aggies are 7-3 so they won’t be a pushover for the Bulldogs and will probably play them tough.   Texas A&M leads the series with a 3-2 record but have lost the last two games in the series.

I attempted to go to a Middle Tennessee State University football game this year but the Saturday I had tickets for a game, I had a flat tire and spent the day dealing with that.  I haven’t tried since but maybe it’s a good thing since the Blue Raiders are having a down year.  They lost to a previously winless Rice University last week.  They play their last home game this Saturday when Old Dominion comes to town.  Old Dominion is 1-9 on the season so who knows which Blue Raider team will show up?  MTSU is 3-7 on the season so there are no bowl games possible this season.

The Tennessee Titans are 5-5 and coming off a bye-week after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs two weeks ago.  They host the Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday in an AFC South battle.  The Titans have a golden opportunity to make things happen as they play AFC South teams in four of their last six games.  I’m still not sure how far the team can go with Ryan Tanneyhill at quarterback and the pass defense still scares me.

The Atlanta Falcons have won two games in a row since their bye week as they have actually played solid defense in their two wins over the Saints and Panthers not allowing a touchdown in those games.  Whatever they have done has worked and a few more wins could possibly save Dan Quinn’s job.   Don’t get excited and start thinking playoff possibilities because I’m not sure a 9-7 finish would get them in.

That’s all of my thoughts on football this week.

 

 

 

 

Monday Morning Quaterback

Here are some of my thoughts about football games that were played over the weekend:

Warner Robins broke open a close game against Thomas County Central on Friday Night for a 45-10 win to remain unbeaten in Region 1-AAAAA. The Demons will travel to Bainbridge this week in a rematch of last year’s AAAAA state championship game. Yeah, that one is still difficult to think about.

The Northside Eagles were shutout by the Lee County Trojans 35-0 in their game. Losing to Lee County wasn’t too much of a surprise but the fact that Northside has been shutout for the third straight week is the bigger story. The Eagles have not been held scoreless in three consecutive games since 1971. At 3-5 they are also close to missing the playoffs for the first time since 1991.

After a surprising win over Campbell in their season opener, the wheels have come off of Villa Rica‘s season. They lost 41-3 to Hiram on Friday. The Wildcats are still looking for their first region win.

On Saturday, Georgia beat Kentucky 21-0 in a rainy, sloppy game. I don’t think the win helped the Bulldogs much in the national rankings. The stat from the game that caught my attention was that Jake Fromm was 9-of-12 for just 35 yards passing. I know that the weather had a lot to do with it but I think Fromm has become one of those quarterbacks who is said can “manage” a game which means his passing isn’t going to beat you. The Bulldogs now prepare to play Florida in two weeks which will be a huge game in the SEC East.

The Tennessee Titans held on to beat the Los Angeles Chargers 23-20 Sunday. It took 10 minutes to play the final 39 seconds of the game after three video reviews which reversed the Chargers scoring the game winning touchdown. On the final one, the Chargers’ Melvin Gordon was stripped of the ball before breaking the plane of the goal line. Well, honestly the Titans should have never been in that position had they not went for it on 4th down just past midfield. That was a dumb call.

The Atlanta Falcons were routed 37-10 by the Los Angeles Rams at home to fall to 1-6 on the season. QB Matt Ryan left with an ankle injury. Matt Shaub came in and played well but the Falcons have a horrible defense. Falcons’ Owner Arthur Blank still says he has confidence in Dan Quinn as coach but I don’t know how much confidence you can have in someone who was supposed to be a defensive guru. I’m thinking the confidence is a little shaky right now.

The Rivalry

wr-nsWhen I arrived to Warner Robins, Georgia in 1984 I had heard everyone talk about the annual Warner Robins-Northside game and how big it was.  Some called it the biggest rivalry in the state.  I had my doubts.  I had missed the 1984 game by a couple of weeks but heard it was a classic.  When the 1985 season arrived, I started attending football games and on November 8, 1985 my first experience of the big game had arrived.  At the advice of others, I bought my ticket in advance and arrived early.  I was amazed at the crowd that was already there when I had arrived.  At kickoff I looked around in awe at the enormous crowd.  At that time it was easily the biggest crowd I had seen at high school football game.  The game was also the first one in the series that needed overtime to be settled.  Warner Robins prevailed that night 21-14 and went on to lose in the state championship game to Clarke Central.

There have been many classic games played between the two teams over the years I was living in Warner Robins and attended the game.  Another memorable one was in 1989.  Warner Robins entered the game as the #1 team in the nation according to USA Today.  Northside wasn’t given much a chance but when the Demons missed an extra point late in the game, the Eagles pulled out a shocking 7-6 upset.  People still talk about that game.  No one really cares that Warner Robins won the rematch two weeks later in the region championship 20-6.

I attended my last game in 2009 in a game where Warner Robins trailed 20-0 going into the fourth quarter. Jonathan Jackson caught a 47-yard touchdown heave from quarterback Maurice Dudley on fourth down, and Kyle Floyd kicked a 35-yard extra point as Warner Robins rallied for a stunning 21-20 win.

The Demons scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to beat Northside for the first time since 2004.

Warner Robins leads the all-time series with 36 wins and 25 losses but Northside has won 16 of the last 23 games.

How good are these two teams?  The both played in the state championship game in their classifications last season.  They also have seven state titles between the two schools.  Warner Robins has four (1976, 1981, 1988 and 2004) and Northside has three (2006, 2007, 2014)

They used to call the game the “city championship” until Houston County opened in 1991.

For most of the years I attended, the games were scheduled as the final regular season game.  As the schools changed in size and moved to different classifications, the game was moved as a non-region game played earlier in the schedule.

Since moving from Warner Robins I have always kept an eye on the scoreboard or listened to the game online but it’s never the same as attending the game in person.  I’m sure there are biggest rivalries but this one has been special over the years.

 

 

When Your Team Loses

sad-sports-fan-609x419I am sitting here at my computer on another Friday night.  Tonight there are no high school football games for me to stream.  The season is over.  It came to a bitter end on Tuesday night when my team lost the state championship game in overtime 47-41 after rallying from a 35-7 deficit in the third quarter.

I hate to admit it but I take these losses hard.  I know I shouldn’t take it so personally but that’s just how I am.  It’s never fun when your team loses.  Believe me, I have endured many painful losses from the teams I have supported over the years.  Winning is fun.  Losing is not.

After my team lost Tuesday night, I was physically and emotionally spent.  I was in a fog for a couple of days.  It’s silly, I know, but a person feels what they feel.  Since Tuesday, I have reflected on some of the most bitter loses from my sports teams.

  1. (Football) Super Bowl LI:  New England Patriots 34, Atlanta Falcons 28 – Up to this game I had been a Falcons’ fan most of my life.  The Falcons blew a 28-3 lead in this game.  I have not really recovered from this game and have not followed the Falcons much since then.   I can’t remember taking a loss as bad as this one.  This one hurt BAD.
  2. (Baseball) 1991 World Series:  Minnesota Twins defeated Atlanta Braves 4 games to 3 – Georgia had some serious Braves’ fever and we all endured the late nights and close games during Atlanta’s incredible run.  Game 7 of the 1991 World Series when Gene Larkin’s single in the 10th inning still remains etched into my pain.
  3. (Football) 2018 College Football National Championship Game:  Alabama Crimson Tide 26, Georgia Bulldogs 23 – This one is still difficult to talk about.  Georgia finally made it the championship game and led the game at halftime 13-0 but I think we all knew that it wasn’t over.  Alabama came back and won it in overtime.
  4. (Hockey) 2017 Stanley Cup Final:  Pittsburgh Penguins defeated Nashville Predators 4 games to 2 – The city of Nashville was rocking as the Predators’ treated us to an incredible run as the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoffs and took us on a ride to the Stanley Cup final.  Game six was a scoreless tie until Patric Hornqvist scored with 1:35 left in the game. Nashville challenged for goaltender interference, but the on-ice ruling was upheld. Carl Hagelin added an empty net goal with 15 seconds remaining.
  5. (Hockey) 2018 Western Conference Second Round:  Winnipeg Jets defeated Nashville Predators 4 games to 3 – The Predators had the best regular season in the NHL and was poised to bring the Cup to the Music City but were dispatched by the Winnipeg Jets.  My wife and I watched every game of the season.  I didn’t want to hear about winning the “President’s Trophy” or division championship.  It didn’t mean much without winning the Cup.  I have just now been able to get back into the Predators.
  6. (Football) 1999 Georgia High School Association State Football Semifinal:  Lowndes Vikings 31, Northside Warner Robins Eagles 28 – Although Northside was the rival of my team, we were all supporting them in their hopes to win their first state championship.  In the state semifinals which were played at the Georgia Dome, the Eagles jumped out and dominated Lowndes 28-3 in the first half.  The Vikings rallied and handed Northside a bitter defeat.  I think we were all in shock.
  7. (Football) November 10, 1989:  Northside Warner Robins 7, Warner Robins 6 – Warner Robins was ranked #1 in the nation when they played their cross-town rivals in the regular season finale.  Warner Robins scored late but missed the extra point which could have tied the game.  I was at this game and remember rolling around on the ground in disbelief when the extra point went awry.

I could give you three more but it’s too painful.  Let’s just leave it at these.  These are the ones which stick out in my mind and still stir up that bile in my stomach when I recall those memories.  These were truly the agonies of defeat for a sports fan.  Yes, these did hurt and it took me a few days to recover but life goes on and I always seem to find myself back to following them again (except for the Falcons, sorry but that just pushed me over the edge).

Of course none of these bitter losses really affected my life much.  Even when they have won championships the thrill and excitement doesn’t last either.  It usually isn’t long before it’s time for another season to begin and you’re right back where you were before.  I know people who are the fair-weathered fans who support their teams when they are winning.  I’m always amazed at how many Dallas Cowboys fans are around when they are winning and seemingly hard to find when they are having losing seasons.  No, I’m not going to be one to only jump on the bandwagons of winning teams.  That’s no fun either.

Tuesday night is added to my list of being disappointed by my teams but last night I was in Bridgestone Arena watching the Nashville Predators once again and was back into feeling it again.  The energy and excitement is addictive.  It’s hard to give up.  My wife reminded me that sports is a distraction that we need sometimes.  A break from work and daily routines of our lives.

Which fans have suffered the most seasons without a championship?

  1. Arizona Cardinals (70 seasons)
  2. Cleveland Indians (70 seasons)
  3. Sacramento Kings (67 seasons)
  4. Detroit Lions (60 seasons)
  5. Atlanta Hawks (60 seasons)
  6. Texas Rangers (57 seasons)
  7. Minnesota Vikings (56 seasons)
  8. Tennessee Titans (56 seasons)
  9. Los Angeles Chargers (54 seasons)
  10. Cleveland Browns (53 seasons)
  11. Buffalo Bills (52 seasons)
  12. Atlanta Falcons (52 seasons)
  13. Toronto Maple Leafs (51 seasons)
  14. St. Louis Blues (51 seasons)
  15. Phoenix Suns (50 seasons)
  16. Cincinnati Bengals (50 seasons)

There’s always next season…..

 

GHSA State Championship Games: It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

santaToday is an exciting day for me.

No need to panic and check your calendar.  It isn’t Christmas Day yet.

Today is the day of the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) football state championship games.  After the games were delayed due to the Atlanta United Major League Soccer (MLS) team hosting (and winning) the MLS Cup on Saturday, the state football championships will finally kickoff today at the Mercedes Benz Dome.

There are three teams playing today that I have an interest in.  The first one is Warner Robins who will be playing Bainbridge for the Class 5A title, Clinch County will play Irwin County for the Class 1A Public School championship and Northside Warner Robins facing Lee County for the Class 6A crown.  (Of all seasons for both Warner Robins and Northside to play for the title and they are in different classifications!  If you’ve ever attended a Warner Robins-Northside game, you would know what that would be like.)

I know to most people out there this doesn’t mean much to you but for anyone that knows me, this is a pretty big deal.  I am a huge Georgia high school football fan.  Even though I live in Nashville, Tennessee now, thanks to modern technology I can still keep connected to my teams through the SportsMic Radio website/app, Score Atlanta website, Georgia High School Football Daily emails as well as the legendary Tommy Palmer with his podcasts and high school football scoreboard show on Friday nights.

So why Georgia high school football?  How did this obsession get started for me?

My dad was a graduate of Clinch County High School and had played football for the Panthers during his day.  On November 11, 1975 he took me to my first football game at Waycross Memorial Stadium in Waycross, Georgia where Clinch County played Charlton County for the Region 2B title.  It was a cold night but shivering in the cold I was excited as I watched Charlton County edge Clinch County 6-0 in a defensive battle.   During the 1976 season we attended a few more games including the last regular season game when Clinch County played Jeff Davis.  Jeff Davis scored early to take a 6-0 lead and held onto that lead most of the game until the Panthers scored late in the game and made the extra point to win an exciting 7-6 game.

High school football was about the only entertainment I was allowed to participate in since my dad was a preacher and our church had some ridiculous rules against attending professional ball games.  I’m not sure why we never attended any college games but I was okay with being able to go to high school games.

When I started high school in Villa Rica, Georgia, dad would drop me off at the game and pick me up when the game was over.  I loved going to those games.  I remember the night that the football team beat Darlington 20-14 in overtime and then won the next two games to make the playoffs and dethroned the two-time defending state champions East Rome Gladiators in the playoffs.  I tried to play for the football team but my physical abilities were limited so when we moved before my junior year to Savannah, Georgia, I decided to stick to being a fan.  I finished my high school at Tompkins High School in Savannah, Georgia.  I never attended any of their games in person but I would listen on the radio on Friday nights.  Tompkins did pretty well in 1980 (my junior year) with Coach Joseph Turner who was a legend and coaching in his last season.  The team upset heavily favored Coffee County 24-21 in the region playoffs.  During my senior season, Tompkins wasn’t so good.  With a new coach, they dropped to last place.  I began tuning into Savannah Christian games on the radio.  The Raiders played in a strange private school league called the SEAIS which I believe was Southeastern Association of Independent Schools.  The most exciting game was when Savannah Christian scored on the last play of the game against Pinewood Christian and later went on to win the championship over Southland Academy.

My Georgia high school football was put on hold when I joined the United States Air Force (USAF).  In my first season without high school football, I was stationed in Abilene, Texas.  I attended my only game in the home opener for Cooper High School.  Although high school football is huge in Texas, it just wasn’t the same for me.  I had Georgia high school football flowing through my veins.  I spent the next season shivering in the cold at Thule AB, Greenland with my next assignment to be Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Georgia.  A co-worker had been stationed at Robins and told me all about the Warner Robins football team winning national championships in 1976 and 1981 so I was looking forward to getting back to Georgia in 1984.

On November 30, 1984 I finally returned to attend my first football game when Warner Robins hosted the Valdosta Wildcats in the state quarterfinals.  Valdosta shutout Warner Robins that rainy night 28-0 but I was back.  From 1985 to 1991 I attended most of the Warner Robins’ home games and even had season tickets during many of those seasons.  When I got a job with the Macon Telegraph, I had to “work” on Friday nights at other games.  I had a chance to report on a variety of teams in our area although I have to admit that I had a hard time getting into the private school games.  I was excited when I was assigned a Warner Robins game, although I couldn’t show it.  I will tell you that I was scared to death to have to interview Warner Robins’ Coach Robert Davis but he was always nice to me and gave me some good quotes.  When the balance of power shifted to Northside, I would support them in the playoffs when Warner Robins was eliminated.  They had some exciting games too and it was good to see them finally win their first state title in 2006 after so many heartbreaking losses.

clinch_dad

Dad and I watching the 2010 State Championship Game

My dad was the reason I have followed these games over the years.  He passed away last month and before he passed we talked about his Clinch County Panthers and who they were playing in the playoffs.  It is special to me that the last game we attended together was the 2010 State Championship game at the Georgia Dome on December 12, 2010 when the Panthers defeated Savannah Christian 24-14.  That was a special memory and the last Georgia high school football game I attended in person.

Yes, it’s “just” high school football and the players are 16-17 years old playing a game but it has been a large part of my life.  On Friday nights I head back to my room to open my SportsMic app and play on my Bluetooth speakers.  That’s my thing.  Always has been.

Today, it will be a little different.  I will be at work but I will tune into the games and shoo off anyone that wants to bother me.  If the technology works right, I’ll watch the games online from Georgia Public Broadcasting and then turn the volume down to listen to Warner Robins and Northside on SportsMic.

I have come a long way since that first football game on a cold night keeping warm with my tiny hands wrapped around my hot chocolate in Waycross in 1975 but in many ways I haven’t.  I still love the excitement of the game.   Thanks dad for passing this on to me.

Friday Flashback: Coldest Ever High School Football Game

Tonight in the Georgia High School Association (GHSA) state quarterfinals, The Warner Robins Demons will host the Clarke Central Gladiators.  This matchup takes me back to the 1985 State Championship game which was played between these two teams in Athens, Georgia.  In fact, I start shivering immediately when I think about it.  It was the coldest high school football game I have ever attended.  I had to pull up the weather history to find the exact temperature which was 29 degrees at kickoff.  That was cold.

The 1985 season was my first full season of attending Warner Robins football games.  The team finished the regular season undefeated at 10-0 which was capped with a thrilling 21-14 overtime win over crosstown rivals Northside.  Warner Robins defeated Southwest Macon 40-14 and then Northside again 27-0 in the region playoffs.  Warner Robins edged Lowndes 8-7 in penetration in the first round and then beat Bradwell Institute 28-14 in the semifinals.

I decided to make the two-hour trip to Athens for the game.  At the time I was a single 21-year-old man in the Air Force and I was able to convince a date to go with me to the game.  More on that later.  When I arrived at the game I had general admission tickets and the only seats I could find were the front row of bleacher seats in one of the end zones.  I had a blanket and attempted to keep warm but the cold weather made the blanket as stiff as a sheet of plywood.  The bleachers were also full of some Clarke Central fans – one of which would purposely yell in my frozen ear every time his team made a big play.  I might have moved had I not been frozen to the bleacher.  I think every part of my body was cold that night.  I certainly wasn’t a whimp to the cold weather since I had just been transferred to Robins Air Force Base from Thule, Greenland and it was a painfully freezing reminder of Greenland.

Although the game was statistically close, Clarke Central recovered three Warner Robins fumbles, turning the first two into a pair of field goals (31 and 41 yards) by John Kasay, who also put four of five kickoffs deep into the end zone to help keep the Warner Robins offense backed up. Additionally both Gladiator touchdowns were big plays, the first a 53-yard pass from Robbie Kamerschen to Tommy Stewart on the Gladiators’ first possession of the second quarter and the second a 54-yard run by tailback Richard Jewel on Clarke’s first possession of the third period.

In comparison, the Gladiators committed only one turnover, a fumble at their own 42 late in the second quarter. After recovering, the Demons moved to a first down on the 4-yard line, but the Clarke Central defense held on three straight running plays inside the 2 and took over on downs, preserving a 13-7 halftime lead.

Kamerschen and Jewel accounted for the majority of Clarke’s 291 yards total offense, as the senior quarterback completed four of eight passes for 122 yards while the senior tailback rushed 14 times for 108 yards.

Warner Robins, which totaled 245 yards offense and led 14-13 in first downs, got 101 rushing yards on 16 carries from junior Jeff Thompson. But 98 of those came in the first half. Warner Robins totaled just 53 yards and two first downs after intermission.

The game was a disappointment. I had to drive the long trip back home.  The only consolation was that my car had heat and I would be able to thaw out on the drive.  I also had my date with me.

About that.

On the drive back I got that “You’re a nice guy but I just want to be friends” line.  Ouch.  My football team and my dating suffered a bitter defeat that night. That night was cold on so many levels.

But, as they say, it all worked out for the best.  As for Warner Robins, it took three seasons before they captured the state title and demolished Brookwood in 1988.

No high school game was colder than that night in Athens.

Georgia High School Football Kickoff Weekend

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Warner Robins, Villa Rica and Clinch County kick off new season

It’s is hard to believe that the 2018 Georgia High School Football season kicks off this weekend.  I’m not sure I have fully recovered from last year’s Class 5A championship game but I have to shake it off and turn the page to a new season.  For the past two seasons I have had a weekly feature on Georgia High School football.  I’m going to do it a little differently this year but I’m defintely going to be tuned in to high school football games on Friday nights again this fall; however, I will have a few weeks that I will miss here in the early part of the season due to personal reasons.

With each season there are three teams I always follow.  They are Warner Robins, Villa Rica and Clinch County.  Why these three teams?

I’ll start with the first one in my personal timeline – Clinch County.  My father used to play football for the Panthers.  The first football game he took me too was a Clinch County game and that’s something special to me.  Homerville is that typical small, rural Georgia town where they close down the town on Friday Nights to go to the football games.  It is a great atmosphere.  When I started high school, I attended Villa Rica High School where I attempted to play on the football team.  (There may be a blog about this later)   Then, years later, I ended up in Warner Robins and from 1984 – 2010 I spent many Friday nights in the fall at International City (now McConnell-Talbert) Stadium in Warner Robins.  I adopted Warner Robins as my team and I still follow them today.

So, here’s a little preview of the three teams I follow:

Warner Robins Demons

The Demons’ were my surprise team last season as they rebounded from a 3-8 season in 2016 to 14-1 and an appearance in the Class 5A State Championship game.  Warner Robins returns experienced quarterback Dylan Fromm (Yes, his older brother is Jake).  Dylan made his own mark on the high school field last season with a school record 3,505 yards and 35 touchdowns.  His favorite target is his brother – Tyler Fromm – who had 43 receptions for 529 yards and five touchdowns.  The only question mark for the Demons is how they will replace seven starters on defense.  The schedule is going to be interesting as well.  The Demons open tonight against Tift County as well as Colquitt County on September 14.  My gut tells me that the Demons might go 7-3 this season.

Villa Rica Wildcats

The Wildcats finished 5-5 last season and if not for two Paulding County schools (East Paulding and Paulding County), they would have made the playoffs.  In fact, the Wildcats started 4-1 but the second half was brutal with losses to Carrollton, Kell and Rome.  Villa Rica opens the season tonight at Campbell and they still have Carrollton, Rome and Kell to contend with.  Friday Night Football magazine lists Villa Rica as a team on the rise in Class 5A.  I’d like to agree with that but this is a tough region.  I’m thinking a 6-4 record for the ‘cats in 2018.

Clinch County Panthers

The Panthers are looking to repeat as Class A Public school champions this season and they have a pretty good shot at it with All-State Trezmen Marshall in his senior season.  Marshall is the first Clinch County player to be named Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Preseason Super 11.  The Georgia commit can do it all – kickoff specialist, inside linebacker, nose guard, punter, quarterback and tailback.  The Panthers finished second in the region but defeated region champion Irwin County for the state title last season.  The Panthers open at home tonight against Hebron Christian Academy before a challenging three weeks with games against Brooks County, Dooly County and Irwin County but playing these heavyweights at home will help.  I’m expecting the Panthers to roll to a 10-0 record.

As we embark on another high school football season, let me share with you some of my resources I use throughout the season:

  • Georgia High School Football Historians Assocation
    • This is absolutely the best-ever resource for team records, histories and statistical information
  • Georgia High School Football Daily
    • This has been an amazing resource of information.  It is produced and owned by Todd Holcomb and Chip Saye.  I’m not sure what’s going on with it this year as it hasn’t been updated since August 1st.
  • Score Atlanta
    • Another good source of information and stories as well as game reports.  I am usually constantly checking the High School Scoreboard on Friday nights.
  • Tommy Palmer Media Group
    • Tommy Palmer is a legend and I consider him THE expert in Georgia High School football.  He does the Georgia High School Scoreboard Radio Show starting around 10 pm on Friday nights.  Palmer also does a couple of other podcasts such as “This Week’s Top Ten” and “This Week’s Top Games”.
  • GPB Football App
    • Georgia Public Broadcasting has improved this app over the years and it is a good place to go.
  • Sportsmic App
    • This is another app on my iPhone and one I use to listen to Warner Robins broadcasts.

So here are my preseason picks to win state titles in 2018:

  • Class 7A:  McEachern
  • Class 6A: Tucker
  • Class 5A:  Rome
  • Class 4A:  Cairo
  • Class 3A: Peach County
  • Class 2A: Thomasville
  • Class 1A (Private): Eagle’s Landing Christian
  • Class 1A (Public):  Clinch County