I’ve used this space before to discuss what I call “the dumbest month in sports,” which comes each December when college football makes fans wait a whole month from conference championship weekend until the College Football Playoff.
While I won’t call it dumb, I will say that the window we’re in currently is one of the most agonizing every year. And go figure, it still has to do with football. High school football teams across the state took the field for practice July 25, but they won’t take the field for the real thing until at least Aug. 23. I’m all for more preparation because it honestly puts a better product on the field once the regular season kicks up, but a fast forward button would come in real handy right about now. Here are a few reasons why I’m so excited about high school football in Milledgeville and Baldwin County in 2019.
The Baldwin Braves finished last season 7-6, which is only slightly above average, but anyone who followed them closely knows how special 2018 was. After opening the year with a five-game losing streak head coach Jesse Hicks’ crew turned the ship around and finished the regular season with five straight wins, earning the team the region championship and a top seed entering the playoffs. The postseason saw the Braves assert themselves as one of the top eight programs in the state after losing out in the quarterfinals. Baldwin faces a mirrored schedule this year, taking on the same teams but in the opposite location from a year ago with the season opener serving as the only exception. Did Coach Hicks lose some big playmakers to graduation? Absolutely. Does the program have athletes that can step up and fill those roles? I believe so. The team is entering a third consecutive year playing with the same offensive system and still has many difference-makers from last season. With the first half of the schedule set wholly against quality opponents (all five teams made the playoffs in 2018), I wouldn’t be surprised if the Braves’ record through five games isn’t all that dazzling. But most of this year’s same players were in that position a season ago, and they should know not to give up before you ever line up for a region contest. Fans, don’t quit on Baldwin if the team’s record isn’t where you want it to be come October.
Over on the private school side, the best way to describe John Milledge Academy’s football program under head coach J.T. Wall would be machine-like. The Trojans have finished each of the last seven seasons with double-digit wins, including one state championship, one runner-up finish, and many more state semifinal appearances. Wall’s team only has 10 losses in the same seven-season stretch, an average of less than two per year for those of you weak in math. GISA football is not what it was before the Macon schools left, but there’s still plenty of competition for teams who get deep into the playoffs as the Trojans have in recent years. With that said, there isn’t much competition at the region level to speak of. The two teams in JMA’s region went a combined 3-16 last season, but throughout the regular season the team will get its tests when it faces the defending GISA AA champion (Gatewood), the GICAA champion (Community Christian), and the schedule fates have also given us a rematch of last year’s AAA state championship as the Frederica Knights are scheduled to come to Milledgeville Nov. 1. What do I expect out of John Milledge football in 2019? Simply put, more of the same. No pressure, guys.
Back over to GHSA football, I can’t in good faith give too many opinions on GMC Prep having not seen them in action yet under new head coach Lee Coleman. I can report, however, that Coleman is saying all the right things as his team gets ready to take the field. He’s working to change the culture of a program that has not had a winning record since 2011 when it was playing a non-region schedule. The Bulldogs are entering their second year returning to region competition. A year ago they went 3-0 in non-region play but finished the season winless against Region 7-A opponents, keeping them out of the playoff picture. Coach Coleman’s Bulldogs have two preseason scrimmages to get their legs under them before they open the season against Glascock Aug. 23. They’ll travel to Gatewood tomorrow night then welcome Mount De Sales to historic Davenport Field for a final dress rehearsal.
Regular season countdown: 15 days. Preseason scrimmage countdown: one day. See you on the sidelines.