MOULTRIE, Ga. – These Colquitt County High football Packers – as well as their first-year head coach Justin Rogers – are heading into unchartered territory. It’s a stretch of time that is sure to test several aspects of this team that’s either the best or second-best of Class 7A depending on which poll is in front of you.
When the 1-0 Packers line up to face the 0-2 Thomasville High Bulldogs Friday on Tom White Field at Mack Tharpe Stadium, it will be for the first of nine straight games over the next nine Friday nights. Following the Aug. 24 17-6 victory over North Gwinnett in the Corky Kell Classic, Colquitt County had a bye-week. It’s been a two-week stretch featuring junior varsity football action, the Labor Day holiday weekend and the tracking of Hurricane Dorian as it approached the Florida coast.
The opening of the 2019 season for Thomasville has all been about neighboring rivalries, and the Bulldogs ended up with no bragging rights so far. They lost 45-21 to Cairo High and 31-17 to their No. 1 enemy, Thomas County-Central. Under the leadership of former Colquitt County defensive coordinator Zach Grage, Thomasville’s gone from one of its best seasons ever, 12-1 in 2017 with the 12 wins all in a row, to a 7-5 mark last season that included the 50-3 pasting the Packers put on them in Moultrie.
The prospects for the 2019 season took a serious hit, however, when freshman quarterback Chad Mascoe transferred to IMG Academy in Florida. Last year he completed 156 passes for 2,253 yards and 21 touchdowns to go with 312 rushing yards and six more scores.
"They gave up some big plays that kind of cost them," said Rogers. "They are still a solid football team, a good looking linebacking corp. They do a good job on offense of being balanced.
"They will come in here, and it's a local game again. They will come in high as a kite trying to knock us off. We expect them to come in and really give a great effort."
Riley Baker transferred in from Cairo and is how the Bulldog starting quarterback as a junior. Rogers said he's the dual threat type running and throwing the football. The coach said it's up to the Packer defense to keep him contained in the pocket because of that rushing ability.
"They are well coached and they play hard," said Rogers. "That's always a testament to the coaching staff. I don't know (Grage) real well, but it looks like he does a really good job.
"The biggest thing is we have to focus on us. We can't let Packers beat Packers. (At North Gwinnett) we gave up plays that it was simply us not lining up right or maybe we got a call wrong in the coverage. Offensively, it was us missing on a block here and there, missing on a ball being a little bit high. The biggest matchup is Colquitt vs. Colquitt, making sure we're looking sharp, no wasted movements or plays."
From the day Rogers became Colquitt County's head coach, he's anticipated the first home game at the Hawg Pen. His time in Moultrie's been running a lot of practices, then there's a break. You get things going in the summer, and then there's a Dead Week. After the July 4 holiday, it's more workouts up to acclimation and the first day of school. Finally, there was a scrimmage game one weekend and a real game the next … and then another long spell of just practice.
"The biggest thing was the hurricane, hoping (it did not affect the southwest part of Georgia)," said Rogers about the last two weeks. "Thank God it didn't. Last week, we treated it like a camp week. We were able to get back to some fundamental stuff, working on our pad level and technique. It's so early in the year having an open week; you're not really healing up from a long season or a couple of games like you normally do during an open week. We've played one game. So we focused on us almost like camp mode; this week we were back in game week preparations.
"The biggest thing is understanding the little things that matter. Our big picture is getting there, our terminology, our alignment, our assignment. Now we have to get better on our pad level, our hands, little things in route running. We talked about how the enemy of 'great' is 'good.' We think we're pretty good, but if we get complacent with good, we're never going to be great."
And no, neither in playing or coaching has Rogers had nine games in nine weekends straight. Like many other new experiences in being the leader of the Packers, Rogers calls it more on-the-job training.
"Not necessarily looking forward to it," he said. "You have the No. 1 rated schedule in the state of Georgia. And on top of that you are playing nine straight. As we get into it, into game 4 or 5 in this stretch, we are going to have to try to manage it. We'll have to do some things different at the midway point. You are going to have the culmination of a bunch of weeks of really hard football on you. We will have to be smart when we get to that point.
"This whole job has been a learning curve. Back when I was in school, it was OJT, on-the-job-training. Playing nine straight is just another on-the-job-training. We'll have to figure it out."