MOULTRIE – Finally, some familiarity in the football schedule for first-year Colquitt County High head coach Justin Rogers … at least somewhat. It’s 3-0 Warner Robins High against the 2-1 Packers at 8 p.m. on Tom White Field at Mack Tharpe Stadium.
When Rogers became a high school head coach for the first time at Jones County High, he was in a big region that contained three Warner Robins schools. After two seasons, the Greyhounds found themselves in a Class 5A region that required numerous trips to Clayton and Henry counties.
Last year, Jones was the first victim in the amazing run Bainbridge High made to the 5A finals, where the Bearcats outlasted the Warner Robins Demons in overtime.
That was the second year in a row Warner Robins made it all the way to the finals, a distinction shared by Rogers’ new employers, Colquitt County, in Class 7A. As Rogers accepted the move south from middle Georgia, Mike Chastain departed Warner Robins after three seasons and filled the void Rogers left at Jones County. So Warner Robins also had a move to make, and it promoted defensive coordinator Marquis Westbrook – quite a player from his Crisp County High days – as a rookie head coach.
“We did a lot of camps with them in the summertime and throwing leagues,” said Rogers about his history with WRHS. “It’s a good program, a lot of tradition very much like Colquitt County. A lot of people in their community have a lot of pride to be a Demon. It’s a real staple there in middle Georgia.”
The Demon football program had its ups and downs under the long tenure of former head coach Bryan Way, who led the program to its last state championship in 2004. Way stepped aside after the 2015 season and Chastain was hired from the Houston County High staff, where his primary responsibility was coaching quarterback Jake Fromm. Jake’s two twin brothers, Dylan and Tyler, transferred to Warner Robins and were a major part of the consecutive seasons of reaching the state finals.
“They know how to win,” said Rogers about this current make-up. “They’ve been in big games. Those kids have been around a lot of really good football. They understand the atmospheres. They will be able to handle that. A lot of teams get in big-time moments, if they haven’t been in it a lot they don’t respond well.”
Some would say last year’s Demons didn’t respond well to how the game against Colquitt County began at McConnell-Talbert Stadium. Mistakes early piled up on Warner Robins and the Packers cruised to a win 41-14. But then again, Colquitt had its share of miscues last weekend at Valdosta High and fell 50-49.
“There hasn’t been much changed,” said Rogers about Westbrook’s regime. “Defensively, nothing’s changed. They are where they’re supposed to be, and you can tell they play extremely hard. Offensively, they hired the OC from Cairo (Jeremy Edwards), a spread guy. They are going to try to throw screens on us a bunch. Big vertical passing team. They are going to take shots and test our DBs deep.”
The Fromm brothers are gone, and replacing Dylan at quarterback is Jalen Addie. In three games, he’s completed 40 passes for 613 yards and eight touchdowns to three interceptions. But Rogers pointed out the big difference is Addie’s athleticism, for he already has 30 rushes for 141 yards and one score.
“We’re going to have to do a good job of containing him,” said Rogers. “He is going to scramble and try to extend plays. They have a lot of designed runs for him.”
The Demons do bring back playmakers with experience. Senior slot receiver Marcayell Jones leads the team so far with 14 receptions, but last year he had six games with 150 yards receiving or more (234 vs. Thomas County-Central) to amass 2,046 on 115 catches.
“He was one of the top receivers in the nation last year in yards,” said Rogers. “He’s amazing. His biggest thing is yards after catch. He’s shifty, much like (Montavious Ponder) for us. He’s a shifty guy you have to make sure you take good leverage on. They have a couple of other real quick, shifty receivers and a big bruiser running back with a good O-line. They are a good offense.”
Warner Robins already took care of one 7A foe this season opening the whole campaign topping Tift County in Tifton 24-10.
“Offensively, they are going to try to stretch us vertically and get the quarterback running,” said Rogers. “We are going to have to limit that. They’ll mix in some stuff (defensively). They bounce back and forth between even and odd looks to keep you guessing. They will definitely mix their coverages up. They have a lot of coverages. We will have to be smart on pre-snap reads where they’re trying to confuse us.”
As emotionally draining, not to mention as physically taxing, as the one-point loss to Valdosta was, the Packers still had to get back in the film room and practice field for another battle with a top-5 caliber foe.
“The kids have been great,” said Rogers about the work ethic coming back this week. “We’ve had a really good week of practice.”
But the biggest difference: new faces. Injuries took its toll on the Packers, who had two starters sitting out before boarding the buses. As the game wore on, more starters had to come out, including one scary moment involving linebacker Jordan Calhoun.
“We are so beat up and banged up on the defensive side of the ball that there are a lot of new faces getting reps,” said Rogers. “And there are same faces in new places. Our outside linebackers are going to play inside linebacker. We are going to be without four starters. But our kids have responded amazingly. We just have guys inexperienced who are going to have to step up.”
For Calhoun, Rogers said it was a bad stinger. Though Calhoun had to be examined at a hospital, the coach said he was back at Bazemore-Hyder before the game ended. This week’s been about rehabbing, so he is one of the four out, but Rogers expects him to return before season’s end.
“It’s not good when both your inside linebackers and safeties are going to be new,” the coach said about facing the Demon attack under these circumstances. With Biron Silas moving inside, Rogers said Gamal Wallace will get the start outside. “They’ve done a good job accepting that this is life. Things happen. You have to be willing to make an adjustment.”
As humble as Packer senior running back Daijun Edwards is, one would think he wants a special night of setting school records to be secondary to winning the game. Rogers said, if he doesn’t become Colquitt’s all-time career leading rusher and touchdown scorer, they probably aren’t going to win.
“It will be hard for us to win if he doesn’t break (the rushing) record,” said Rogers. “Forty-five yards. (One touchdown to tie, two to break) I feel good on that. We’re excited about him. He is such a humble young man. Anything he gets in life he richly deserves.”
Rogers remains confident in the kicking game despite Jason Gallardo’s missed 41-yard attempt to win the game in the final 20 seconds.
“Jason’s extremely talented,” he said. “He missed one. Those things happen no different than with others. I promise he feels bad about it, and he’s been working.”