MOULTRIE — After nearly five weeks coaching, hiring, planning and studying after taking over the Colquitt County football program following the controversial firing of one of the nation’s most successful coaches, Justin Rogers on Monday finally got down to some other necessary business.
He was packing boxes at his home in Gray, preparing for a Memorial Day weekend move to Colquitt County, when he was contacted by a reporter asking how the transition has been going so far.
“It’s been difficult,” said Rogers, who was hired last month from Jones County to replace Rush Propst, let go after going 119-35 over 11 seasons after an ethics investigation. “But these kids have made it much easier than it could have been.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better group of young men. They’ve been open-minded about the situation and have done a good job of handling it. I really have walked into a great group of kids.”
Rogers also handed out kudos to the five holdover coaches from the Propst staff, Dextra Polite, Troy Hobbs, Mo Dixon, Buck Hanson and David Hill.
“They really have impressed me,” Rogers said.
The 10 crucial days of spring practice ended last Saturday with a modified scrimmage against Meridian (Miss.) High School in the Troy Cable Spring Football Classic in Troy, Ala.
The Wildcats were unable to do much against the Packers, who won 56-0.
It was 28-0 with 2:38 left in the first quarter.
Daijun Edwards scored three of those touchdowns and defensive lineman Nathan Bell picked up a fumble in the end zone for another.
“We did some things well early,” Rogers said. “But by the time it was 21-0, we had kind of broken their spirit.”
Rogers was pleased with several aspects of the offense, which is similar to the one the Packers have operated the last 11 seasons.
He said he liked the substitution patterns, tempo, pace of play and execution.
“All that was good,” Rogers said. “On defense, we kept everything in front of us and we attacked.
“And we didn’t give up any big plays.”
But when the players and full coaching staff — including several assistants that Rogers has hired but have not made it to Moultrie yet — prepare for summer work on June 3, there is plenty more to accomplish.
While most of the starters have been identified, Rogers and his staff still need to make sure players are in the right positions and that depth is being built.
He is especially focused on building depth at safety, linebacker, cornerback and nose on the defense.
Offensively, the players are still getting used to some new terminology, but the philosophy is similar to the one Propst employed during his tenure.
“Our offense is like IHOP,” said Rogers, who is expected to call the plays. “You know at IHOP you can get anything from a steak to scrambled eggs.
“Our offense has everything in it, we just need to adapt it to the skill set of our players.”
The Packers have a number of key offensive performers returning from last year’s 14-1 state runner-up team, including the highly recruited Edwards, who over the last three seasons has rushed for 3,405 yards and 53 touchdowns.
Barring injuries, he is likely to become Colquitt County’s all-time leader in both of those categories next season.
Also back this fall will be starting quarterback Jaycee Harden, who threw for 2,498 yards and 22 touchdowns last year, and Lemeke Brockington, who led the Packers with 30 pass receptions for 604 yards and six touchdowns.
It was clear from the scrimmage against Meridian that tight end Carter Boatwright is poised to take a large role in the offense.
Receiver Tyler Walker, who caught 22 balls last fall, adds speed and depth to the receiving corps.
Rogers said he is likely to give Harden some leeway on play-calling at the line of scrimmage.
“I give quarterbacks a lot of freedom to check things at the line and make decisions,” Rogers said.
The Packers are developing Tucker Pitts and Zane Touchton as the backups to Harden.
Rogers also said the Packers will also prepare rising senior Desmond Davis, who played wide receiver last year, to be able to take some snaps.
Colquitt also is seeking a replacement for All-American kicker Ryan Fitzgerald.
The offense, defense and special teams will have a busy summer as the Packers prepare to meet North Gwinnett on Saturday, August 24, at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in the season-opening Corky Kell Classic.
The summer work will be highlighted by 7-on-7 competitions at Florida State on June 8; at Auburn, on June 13; and in the Corky Kell Classic in Atlanta on June 14.
After the mandatory “dead week” from July 1-5, the Packers will play host to an OTA (organized team activity) on July 17-19 and will go to Cairo for an OTA on July 23-24.
“I believe in a busy summer,” Rogers said. “We’ve got to maximize this summer.
“We have a lot to get done in a short amount of time.”
One thing Rogers apparetly won’t have is a preseason scrimmage game.
The scrimmage, which Propst traditionally scheduled on the Thursday before the season-opener, had not been scheduled when Rogers took over and he has not been able to find an opponent.
“It doesn’t look good,” Rogers said. “And as you know, teams make their most improvement from Game 1 to Game 2.
“It doesn’t look like we will have that.”
While his first Colquitt County preseason preparation may not be exactly as he would have wanted, Rogers said his philosophy is to “control the controllable.”
The Packers will be off the week following the season-opener against North Gwinnett.
The first Rogers-coached Packers team will play on Tom White Field at Mack Tharpe Stadium for the first time on Friday, September 6, when the Thomasville High Bulldogs visit.