THE JACKSON County boys’ soccer program is enjoying a historic season, but then again, that was the plan from day one from this group.
Under first-year head coach Elie Viviant, the Panthers (7-5-1, 4-1) have clinched a state playoff berth for the first time in the program’s history.
“It’s been our goal since the start of the season,” senior Phillip Burzo said of going to state. “Coach Viviant pretty much instilled it in our mind that we were going to try to make the playoffs. With what we had coming back and some of the transfers we had coming in, we knew we had a real shot.”
Jackson County clinched the playoff berth Thursday night when it beat Elbert County 4-1, getting scores from Luis Caraballo, Burzo, David Vilamil and Jose Regalado.
Viviant is well accustomed to the postseason, having never missed the state playoffs when he was an assistant coach at Gainesville.
So his goal was to go about changing the mindset at Jackson County. In fact, he told the team before the season that it would qualify for state. Now, that preseason declaration has become a reality.
“It’s a good step for the program, but I would like for us to do it every year,” Viviant said. “Not just this year.”
Viviant said he knew that if this team worked hard and was tactically sound, it could win its share of games without factoring skill into the equation.
“But actually yeah, we have some skill, so we are doing pretty well,” Viviant said.
It’s showing up in the win column, too.
With seven victories this season, Jackson County has nearly doubled its win total from last year.
Burzo notes the difference in this year’s Panthers.
“Mindset, and our defense keeps their shape,” he said. “That’s been the real thing. We don’t have teams scoring four and five goals on us. It gives us a chance to win the game when our defense plays well.”
The season is also extra special for Burzo and his fellow seniors who can finally reap the rewards of four years of hard work.
“It’s finally paying dividends,” Burzo said. “All the hard work that all the seniors have put in, not just me, and even the juniors and sophomores — everybody working hard, it’s all paying off this season. Hopefully years from now it will keep paying off.”
Jackson County has two region games left and they’re both tough ones. The Panthers take on intra-county rival East Jackson Friday and Oconee County April 22.
Though Jackson County is no longer undeated in 8-AAA after losing Tuesday night to North Oconee 3-2, it still hopes to somehow slip into one of the top two spots and host a first-round state playoff game.
Burzo pondered that possibility.
“It would be huge to have support from people we know from our school,” he said. “Because we know we’re going to play a team from Region 6. They’re going to be good. So we’re going to need support from our crowd and we’re going to have to play very well to even come out close in that game — hopefully a win.”
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