It’s show time.
The LaGrange Grangers are still a week away from their season opener, but they’ll be under the lights on Friday night when they visit the Newnan Cougars for their preseason game.
It’ll be a big night for the Grangers.
The game will give a number of newcomers a chance to get a feel for what big-time varsity football is all about, including a pair of quarterbacks who are looking to nail down the starting job.
Friday’s game will also mark the debut for first-year head coach Dialleo Burks, who is back at the school where he won a state championship as a player in 1991.
As thrilled as Burks is to be in this position, serving as the head coach of the program that means so much to him, he has tried to keep the spotlight away from him.
“Once I feel that it’s about me, I have to stop myself. It’s not about me, it’s about those guys,” Burks said. “And I want them to enjoy the atmosphere. I want them to get the lights, and enjoy the excitement.”
There should be plenty of excitement Friday night.
Even though it isn’t an official game, it still features two programs that have been facing off on the gridiron for more than 100 years.
The rivalry means a lot to the players, and to the fans who also fill up the stands whether the game is at Newnan’s Drake Stadium, or at Callaway Stadium.
Both teams are looking to bounce back from disappointing seasons.
Newnan, which has grown accustomed to competing for state championships, went 6-5 last year and lost in the first round of the state playoffs.
LaGrange, meanwhile, went 3-7 and didn’t make the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
The losing record was also the first for the Grangers since that 1999 season.
LaGrange has a proud football tradition that includes numerous state championships, including the 1991 team Burks was a part of.
More recently, LaGrange won state titles in 2001, 2003 and 2004.
The photos of those teams line the hallway the players walk down every day to get to the locker room.
At some point, the 2014 team photo will be on the wall as well, accompanied by that season’s record.
“I tell these guys, you see these pictures up and down the hallway? What is your picture going to say?,” Burks said. “You’re going to have a lot of people that are going to walk down this hall, and they’re looking. Whatever they see, they’re going to associate it with you.”
There are plenty of changes with the LaGrange football program, beginning with the coaching staff.
The man at the top is new, and there are some new assistant coaches as well.
There are a number of veteran coaches, including Thomas Crocker and Paul Pickett.
Another holdover is coach Davis Russell, who is the new offensive coordinator.
“We’re working together,” Burks said. “We’re still learning. But we all respect each other as men, and as coaches whether we’ve coached 20-something years, or coached only one. The respect level is there.”
On the field there are changes as well, most notably at the quarterback position where sophomore Ahmad Ogletree and junior Jatorri Boykin have been taking the snaps in practice.
The quarterback will benefit from having a veteran offensive line, as well as senior running back Mon Denson, who figures to be a huge part of the offense this season.
“We want to take pressure off of those guys with short passes, and just control the game,” Burks said. “Control the game, and make the right reads. Do that, and we’ll be fine.”
There will be a lot of first-time starters on defense, although there are a handful of veterans, including linebacker Jeremiah Wright, who’ll be a running back as well.
There are also some veterans in the secondary, including seniors Triston Dozier, Emmanuel Swanson, Will Pauley and Drake Childress.
Pauley missed much of the 2013 season with an injury.
LaGrange also has Antonias Fannin back on the defensive line.
As for the defense as a whole, Burks said “we have some pieces in place. We just have to get in game situations and bond together.”
As for Friday’s game, while the Grangers won’t prepare for it like a regular-season game, they’ll be going to Newnan to compete.
“We’re going to treat it like a scrimmage, but we want to go out there and compete and win the game,” Russell said. “We won’t do a ton of game-planning. We’re going to line up and do what we do, the basic stuff.”
OF NOTE: For full preview stories on LaGrange, Callaway and Troup, see the Pigskin Preview that will come out on Aug. 21.