Expectations are high for the John Milledge Academy football team in 2020, and with good reason.
The Trojans won the GISA AAA state championship last season with a perfect 13-0 record, and they welcome back arguably the school’s most talented senior class ever with 21 players. They and the rest of the JMA roster will try to repeat last year’s magic, starting with their 2020 opener against Brentwood Friday following what has been a summer of uncertainty.
“I still won’t believe it until the lights come on and we’ve got people in the stands,” John Milledge head coach JT Wall said. “It’s greatly-anticipated, and we’re ready to kick off.”
The matchup will give the Trojans their first opportunity to line up against an opponent since winning the 2019 state title over Valwood last December. Coach Wall had a preseason scrimmage scheduled against Mount De Sales, but the GHSA, of which MDS is a member, said no to scrimmages due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We feel like we’ve been doing a good job of managing the situation and trying to get guys ready,” Wall said of his team’s readiness heading into Friday. “You never know what may happen. No two days are the same right now, so we won’t know for sure until we line up and kick it off. You’re able to work a lot of your kinks out in those scrimmages, but we didn’t have that luxury. We try to simulate as much as we can in practice, but it’s still practice.”
Wall is entering his 10th season heading up his high school alma mater. As the years of his tenure have grown, so has his program. The Trojans are carrying a roster of over 60 players for the first time, and about one-third of them are seniors. It’s that high level of varsity experience that has the JMA coach less anxious about missing out on the preseason scrimmage.
Friday’s opponent is a well-known one to the Trojan faithful as the Brentwood War Eagles of Sandersville enter also looking to start their season on the right foot. They were a GISA AA state semifinalist last year in a game many considered to be the de facto championship between them and eventual champion Gatewood. The Eagles were 10-3 last season after taking two losses to the AA titleholders while the other came against JMA in week 2. That matchup was the closest any team played the Trojans all season by margin of victory as John Milledge won 21-10.
“They’re a very disciplined, hard-nosed football team,” Wall said of Brentwood. “They set the tone for our game last year when we played them over there. If it wasn’t for a fortunate break here or there, we may have been on the losing side of that ballgame. This is a very good test early on in the season.”
JMA holds a definitive edge in the all-time series against the Sandersville school at 30-15-1.
One question mark heading into Friday lies at a position where Wall is not used to having one as seniors Patrick McDonel and Grayson Hopkins both are expected to get snaps at QB. McDonel was the starter last year before breaking his collarbone. Hopkins transferred in from Washington County and quickly took the job, helping lead the Trojans to the state championship. Neither has stood high above the other in preseason practices, so both will see time according to Wall.
“We’re still planning on playing them both,” he said. “They each bring something different to the table and have done their part to earn playing time. We don’t have any set amount reps or series, it’s really going to be a feel thing. If somebody starts performing a lot better than the other one then we’ll stay that route.”
Two 0-0 teams will enter Friday night, but only one can leave 1-0. The Trojans and War Eagles are scheduled to kick off at John Milledge at 7:30 p.m. JMA is asking fans to social distance while inside the stadium and wear masks in areas where distancing is not possible. Families should sit together during the game, and no one is allowed to assemble on the field before or after the game.