VALDOSTA –– A new chapter has begun for the Colquitt County Packers.

One of the most dominant high school football programs in the state of Georgia is looking to turn the page as they go into the new season.

The offseason saw Rush Propst fired by the Colquitt County school system after an investigation into the 11-year head coach of the Packers.

There have been back-and-forth discussions between those that support Propst and those that don’t.

Propst has submitted statements defending himself and plans to continue contesting the charges.

The Packers hired coach Justin Rogers in April and he’s spent the spring and summer acclimating to the program. Now, the Packers are looking to move forward –– even if Propst doesn’t.

Rogers took part in the recent ITG Next Media Day for local high schools. He spoke on his expectations and experience thus far.

 “I was telling them earlier it feels like I’ve been drinking water out of a fire hydrant,” Rogers said. “It’s been pretty busy. Busy little spring, busy summer, but the boys have been doing phenomenal.

“They’ve worked so hard. They’ve been so open, so receptive—taking every thing in with this change. They’ve made it so easy. Also the coaches that were able to stay on staff with us have made the transition nice and smooth. Transitions are never easy. They’re hard in any kind of line of work. This one has been as smooth as a transition can be given how late it was.”

The Packers are the reigning Region 1-7A champions and state runner-ups after posting a 14-1 record last season. They’re returning senior running back Daijun Edwards and senior quarterback Jaycee Harden. According to Rogers, there will be a few new faces on defense but they’ll be very fast, run sideline to sideline and will be attacking.

The Packers will open the season ranked No. 12 in the nation by High School Football America. They’re a program that has garnered local, state and national attention. With the eyes of the nation fixed on Colquitt, Rogers isn’t buying into the noise.

“I made a commitment to me that when I decided to take this job and move the family down there that I got off of all social media and-or newspapers –– I don’t even read the local Moultrie Observer man,” Rogers said. “Not necessarily that you read into it but when things get in your mind it does create clutter. Whether you buy into it or not it’s there. It can effect your decisions. I just felt like for me personally it’s better off being able to have my own clear mind of what I think is important. I have my own core values of what I think is important and how to run a program and we want to be true to those and not let outside influence really influence your decisions whether consciously or subconsciously.”

Rogers’s coaching experience gives him an advantage coming into this situation. He posted a 45-15 record as head coach of Jones County without ever having a losing season through five years. Before that, he helped Griffin win a state championship as an assistant coach in 2013.

Now, he’s facing his biggest challenge yet, but he’s staying true to himself.

“Age comes wisdom,” Rogers said. “Luckily this is my 17th year coaching. I was able to cut my teeth for five years at Jones. I was at Griffin and there was a very good program there. I think I made some mistakes there and chased some things and did some things that aren’t necessarily my way that I probably tossed and turned more about those decisions than any thing else. So that’s helped me be true to who I am.”

A part of that challenge was getting players to buy into his leadership. Moving from a coach that is well-tenured can disrupt an entire football program. It shakes up players from the highest level senior to the first-year middle schooler who has dreams of playing on Friday nights.

That’s a reality Rogers had to face when he accepted the position and he had to do it soon.

“It’s the elephant in the room. So if you’re going to walk in and ignore the elephant in the room you’ll probably just make more problems than if you admit to what it is,” Rogers said about addressing the outside noise. “In our opening team meeting we just put it out there. We understood what we were going through—I’m a big reader. I’m an avid reader and I compared it to a good book.

“It was an unbelievable chapter in the history of Colquitt County high school. The success that they had was unprecedented and amazing. It’s a chapter that will always cherished and honored in the history of that program. That chapter’s been written and it’s over. There’s a new chapter that we’re writing and continuing in this book. And want it to be just as good and we’ve got to write that path by earning it.”

Another point that Rogers made was about who the players could count on for support. They’ll need it to overcome the adversity that is ahead.

“The people that are pulling for you are right there in Colquitt County,” Rogers said. “It ain’t a lot of people in the state of Georgia pulling for you to succeed right now. They’d like to see the thing crumble and fall down. This is where I compared it to a family. When a family member has cancer. When you have a family member—aunt or uncle—that has a grave accident or something bad. That’s not the time that the family tears apart, that’s the time that the family comes together closer than ever —even if they had some strife.”

As Rogers enters his first season with the Packers and the team moves to a new chapter, they’ll be dependent on each other.

Colquit plays its season opener against North Gwinnett at Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Aug. 24 as apart of the Corky Kell Classic.

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