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Middle-school football kicking off

By Kevin Eckleberry

kevin.eckleberry@lagrangenews.com

The Callaway football program has been a model of consistency over the past decade or so.

Under head coach Pete Wiggins, the Cavaliers have been a playoff team for 12 straight years, and they’ve reached double digits in wins six times since 2008.

Twice during that span, including the 2016 season, the Cavaliers reached the semifinals of the state playoffs.

One of the keys to the success enjoyed by the high-school program is the way the players arrive from Callaway Middle School ready to contribute.

The man in charge of the middle-school program is head coach Kerry Woodard, and Wiggins said his contributions have been invaluable over the years.

“Coach Woodard is a huge part of what we do, he’s a huge part of our success at Callaway High School,” Wiggins said. “He and I have great communication on a daily basis, and he always lets me know who’s coming, their strengths, their weaknesses, and he does a great job at the middle school. Coach is a caring guy. He does a lot for the high-school kids. He goes on the road with them on college trips, and he’s just a big part of Callaway football.”

Woodard said he and Wiggins have developed a close relationship over the years, and that the two are in steady contact during the season.

“Me and coach Wiggins, we talk two times a day every day,” Woodard said. “I came in with coach Wiggins. We started the same year. When he got the head-coaching job, we got on the same page.”

While developing players is important, Woodard said taking care of the players is priority number one.

“We’re loving the kids,” Woodard said. “That’s half the battle is forming the relationship with them.”

Woodard added that “I don’t know what my record is. I know we’ve won a lot more than we’ve lost. But we want them to be good kids. That’s the main thing, is being a good person.”

Callaway Middle School began practicing in July, and it will begin the season on Thursday with a home game.

Woodard said there are 60 players on the seventh-grade and eighth-grade teams combined, which is the most the school as ever had.

At Gardner-Newman, long-time head coach Michael Woodard has retired, and Scooter Weathers has taken over after serving as the defensive coordinator.

Weathers has assembled a coaching staff he has a lot of faith in.

Among the coaches is Qua Huzzie, the former LaGrange High great who left as the school’s all-time leading tackler.

“This staff, they’ve worked great together,” Weathers said. “We’ve got six head coaches out here. I ultimately make the final choice, but we all decided and work on stuff that we think will make us better.”

Weathers said he and LaGrange head coach Dialleo Burks will be working closely together, and that the high-school and middle-school teams will be running the same Wing T offense.

Weathers said the goal is to have a complete, well-rounded team.

“I’ve been preaching to them we want to be outstanding on offense, special teams, and on defense,” Weathers said. “They’re playing hard. They’re doing really, really well.”

At Long Cane Middle School, Torre Pike returns for his second season as head coach.

A year ago, Pike led the Cougars to a special season that ended with a league championship.  Long Cane beat Callaway 36-26 in the title game.

To help prepare for a new season, Pike took his eighth-graders to Camp Viola for an overnight camp.

“It was awesome. We only took the eighth-grade team because of housing reasons,” Pike said. “It was good. We woke them up at 6 a.m. and ran them good before the sun came up, and did good old football-camp stuff, stuff they see on TV. So they loved that.”

Pike said a lot of what he and the other coaches do centers around preparing the players for when they become high-school players at Troup.

With that in mind, Pike said he and Troup head coach Tanner Glisson have a great working relationship. “This is probably the closest that Troup and Long Cane have ever been,” Pike said. “We use all the same terms, the offenses are not the same, but they’re very similar. The defense, we run their base defense.”

Pike said that the middle-school players even go to the high school for offseason workouts.

“Last January, my guys started going to Troup working out,” he said. “It wasn’t about them getting stronger, it was more about them getting comfortable at Troup.”

Today, Callaway Middle, Long Cane and Gardner Newman will participate in a preseason scrimmage at Callaway Stadium.

The scrimmage begins at 9 a.m.