Cavaliers ready to get started
By Kevin Eckleberry
HOGANSVILLE – A year ago, a victory over the rival LaGrange Grangers served as a springboard to a special season for the Callaway Cavaliers.
The 37-6 victory over LaGrange was the start of a 13-game winning streak that ended with a loss to Benedictine in the semifinals of the Class AA state playoffs.
On Friday, Callaway will look to get things started on a winning note once again when it tangles with LaGrange before what should be a packed house at Callaway Stadium.
“You can see the excitement in the kids with the amount of work that they’ve put in to get you to a Friday night in an atmosphere like Callaway Stadium against LaGrange,” said Pete Wiggins, Callaway’s head coach since 2005. “So it’s going to be special.”
This will be the fourth consecutive year LaGrange and Callaway have opened the season against each other.
Callaway won in 2014 and 2016, while LaGrange had the upper-hand in 2015.
LaGrange leads the all-time series 3-2.
“I know that Friday night there’ll be a huge crowd,” Wiggins said. “The communities know one another, and that’ll be special. But it’s also the next opponent. The kids are focused on what we have to do, and we feel like they work extremely hard to prepare. They’re ready to play.”
The Cavaliers are expected to be one of Class AA’s elite teams, and they’re ranked in the top five of nearly every preseason poll.
It’s a team loaded with talent across the field, and close to 20 of these players will be playing college football down the road.
Three seniors, running back DJ Atkins, defensive lineman Lichon Terrell and defensive back Courtney Williams, have already announced their intentions to sign a football scholarship, and a bunch more will follow.
Leading the team into action will be a coaching staff, led by Wiggins, that knows how to get the most out of every player.
With Wiggins are a handful of coaches that were a part of his first coaching staff in 2005, including offensive coordinator Matt Napier, and defensive coordinator Dusty Hubbard.
The Cavaliers have been in the playoffs every year since 2006, and they’ve won at least one playoff game in eight of the past nine seasons.
Twice during that span Callaway reached the semifinals, and it made it to the quarterfinals once.
Wiggins said the players do a great job of “buying into what we do, and that goes for offense and defense, but also conditioning and weight training and just the routine at practice.
“It’s really special. It brings about a continuity.”
Wiggins gives a lot of credit to the assistant coaches, who he feels are not only exceptional teachers, but top-notch role models as well.
“I feel like our coaches do a great job at their positions, and they’re great men to start with, but they’re also great leaders,” Wiggins said. “That’s important when you get on the grass, and I think that’s all part of being successful.”
Wiggins also knows it doesn’t pay to look too far ahead.
While the potential is obviously there for the Cavaliers to do some special things this fall, Wiggins said the goal is the same as it’s always been, to get better day by day.
“We always take it one week at a time,” Wiggins said. “As far as goals on the season, it’s always let’s get better every day, get better every play, and I feel like the kids do a good job of that. They come to work each day with a purpose, and I think that makes it very special.”
As for today’s game, Wiggins is expecting a big-time challenge, even though LaGrange is coming off a 2-8 season.
“Coach (Dialleo) Burks does a great job with his kids,” Wiggins said. “They work extremely hard, and they’ve got a lot of talent. LaGrange is a big school compared to us. There’ll be a lot of good football players on the field. They’ll be well-coached, and it’ll be an emotional game. We have to go out and minimize our mistakes. And we’ve got a long way to go before we get to where we want to be.”
Callaway tuned up for the season with a preseason game against Northside-Columbus last week in Hogansville.
The Cavaliers won 20-14, but Wiggins felt there was plenty of room for improvement.
“As far as penalties and turnovers, we’ve got to do a better job than we did last week,” Wiggins said.