Months of preparation have finally seen game week arrive for the Winder-Barrow High School football team.
“We are ready,” new Bulldogg head coach Heath Webb said Sunday afternoon. “It’s been a long offseason with spring practice, summer camps, summer workouts and now preseason practice. We are ready to get into the season and put all we have learned into action.”
The level of excitement is high for a program with only one playoff appearance in almost two decades.
Friday’s game with Jefferson High School will be the team’s lone non-region game and it will not be an easy one. The Dragons, coming off a 50-14 thrashing of Rabun County in their season opener last Friday, are primed for a deep playoff run in Class AAA.
While Jefferson is two classifications smaller than WBHS, the Dragons have had much more success in terms of victories in recent years, winning the Class AA title in 2012.
“Jefferson is going to be very talented,” Webb said. “They are well coached and this game is going to be a great challenge for us. We are going to be playing one of the better teams in the area.”
In breaking down this week’s opponent, Webb said the Bulldoggs will have to stop the run defensively. The WBHS coach said when Jefferson does pass, it is typically off play-action where the Dragons look for the “long ball.”
“We have to play smart and understand the situations we are in,” Webb said.
On offense, the key for WBHS will be to execute. Webb said Jefferson has “good play makers on defense.”
It will also be a challenge for the Bulldoggs to slow down Jefferson’s offense.
“They have talented athletes who play extremely hard,” said first-year WBHS defensive coordinator Brandon Patrum. “Offensively, they will want to run the football and use their running game to set up their passing game. We have to limit their success on first down and work hard to get off the field on third down. Like always, we have to play fast, physical and smart football.”
In terms of strategy on the offensive side of the football, first-year coordinator Naji Lyon said: “We expect Jefferson to be physical on defense and very well-coached. In order to be successful on offense, we need to operate at a fast-tempo. Their outside linebackers are very good and we will need to keep them in mind. We have a good game plan and expect to win.”
The offseason has been one of change for the Bulldogg program. From a rebuilt coaching staff to new offensive and defensive schemes, Webb has spearheaded a renewed level of enthusiasm for the program. That’s easier said than done when it comes to a program which has gone just 3-37 the last four seasons.
“What that shows is that this community is hungry and starved for a winner,” Webb said. “I believe the level of energy our coaches bring is something that people have recognized.”
While Friday’s game is the lone non-region contest for WBHS, Webb said the players and coaches are not looking any further than this week. It doesn’t matter that the Region 8-AAAAA schedule begins Sept. 12 against county rival Apalachee High School.
“We try to focus on playing the game in front of us,” he said. “We believe we have a good chance to do well in our region, but our focus this week is solely on Jefferson. They are too good of a team not to give them your full attention.”