These are high times for the Callaway High football program.
The Cavaliers, fresh off the best season in school history, head into a new season as one of the favorites to win the Class AAA state championship.
The program has reached this point by doing things a certain way, and head coach Pete Wiggins said that isn’t about to change now.
“We tell the kids, pick up your lunch pail and go to work. They do that,” Wiggins said. “We’ve been doing that for a long time. That’s why we’ve been successful. We’ll keep that recipe going.”
That recipe has been a winning one.
Wiggins is heading into his 10th season as the Cavaliers’ head coach, and under his direction the program has taken off.
The Cavaliers have reached double digits in wins in four of the past six seasons, and they have won eight playoff games since 2008.
The Cavaliers had losing records in Wiggins’ first two seasons, although they did make the playoffs in his second year, but they have won at least seven games the past seven years.
“We just go out and work every day,” Wiggins said. “We work hard at practice. We work hard every play, every day, and take it one game at a time. We try to just focus on that. We feel like that’s what has made us successful is doing that.”
Having continuity on the coaching staff helps.
When Wiggins became head coach, he made Matt Napier his offensive coordinator, and Dusty Hubbard his defensive coordinator.
Those two men have remained in those positions since then, and Terry Hayes and Kareem Douhne have also been with Wiggins since the beginning.
Other coaches have joined the staff over the years, and Wiggins said they have blended right in.
“Our coaching staff is like a family,” Wiggins said. “They do a great job. That’s a great group of people.”
Those coaches will lead a veteran and talented team onto the field Friday night for the season opener against LaGrange.
The Cavaliers did lose some key players to graduation from the 2013 team, including quarterback Tez Parks, fullback Devon Rosser, linebacker KeShum Freeman, and offensive lineman Brandon Sutton.
All of those players, and a few other seniors from last year’s team, are now playing college football.
The Cavaliers will not lack for experience this season, though.
There are 18 seniors on the team, and many of them will either be starting, or playing key roles this season.
“We have a great group of senior leaders,” Wiggins said. “They’re doing a great job on and off the field.”
Among those seniors is wide receiver and defensive back Terry Godwin, who is one of the state’s most highly recruited players.
Godwin has been starting since he was a freshman, and he is a true multi-purpose player who has scored numerous touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams as a kick returner.
Another senior is running back and linebacker Eddie Culpepper, who scored 10 rushing touchdowns in last year’s playoff run.
Another key member of the senior class is linebacker LaBronze Zelaya, who will be the leader of a defense that will be breaking in a lot of new starters.
Seniors Josh Williams, Devin Powell and Harley Taber will help anchor a strong offensive line.
There are a handful of other veteran seniors as well, including cornerback and wide receiver Michael Moss, and kicker Hunter Milliman.
Those seniors are part of a program that has won 29 games the past three seasons.
Those players also have experience playing in what’s called the zero week.
While most of the teams in the state will open their season next week, a handful of teams will play games this week.
This is the third straight year Callaway has played in the zero week.
In the previous two years, Callaway opened the season against Heard County.
After losing to Heard County in 2012, the Cavaliers won last year’s game 34-0.
“There’s an adjustment to playing early,” Wiggins said. “You have less time to get ready. Obviously we could practice a lot of things, but at this point, you’re ready to play. The kids have worked hard all summer, and they’re ready to play.”
The Cavaliers looked prepared in last week’s preseason game against Greenville.
Callaway dominated the game in every phase en route to a 39-0 victory.
In the first half, the Cavaliers had the ball six times, and they scored four touchdowns.
The two times the Cavaliers didn’t score, they turned the ball over deep in Greenville territory.
Running back Eddie Culpepper had two touchdown runs, Brandon Boddie had a scoring run, and quarterback Dre Martin also had a touchdown run.
In the second half, quarterback Dylan Johnson had a touchdown run, and he also threw a scoring pass to A.J. Braxton.
Callaway’s defense was just as impressive in shutting down Greenville’s offense.
“We ran to the ball really well on defense. We tackled well,” Wiggins said. “From an offensive standpoint, we had two turnovers in the red zone. But our offensive line did a pretty good job of maintaining blocks, and giving our running backs lanes. They did a good job with that. Our backs ran hard, and I was really proud of both sides of the ball.”
Callaway now turns its attention to a LaGrange team that is making its debut under head coach Dialleo Burks.
It’s the first time Callaway and LaGrange have played since 2003, adding to the anticipation of the game.
“Friday night will be a great atmosphere for both football teams,” Wiggins said. “It’ll be a big night for the kids, and our coaches, and I know both sides have worked extremely hard, and the kids will be excited. It’ll be a big game for the community.”