Grangers fought to the end

Published 10:26 pm Monday, October 30, 2017

By Kevin Eckleberry

LAGRANGE – Those who choose to enter the sports arena as a player or a coach do so in large part because they are competitors.

It’s not just about winning, obviously, but that’s got a lot to do with it.

You put in the time, the work, and the effort in the hope that when game day rolls around, you’ll reap the fruits of that labor.

The LaGrange Grangers are no different.

Having been around these men so much over the past four months, there’s no question the commitment was there among the coaches, and the team members.

They wanted to improve, they strived to be the best they could be, and they desperately wanted to win.

Unfortunately for the Grangers, it didn’t happen.

LaGrange’s final opportunity to get that elusive win came last week against Chapel Hill.

It was there for the taking.

For the first time all season, the Grangers had a second-half lead, and they were one defensive stop away from celebrating a win.

Chapel Hill got the ball for the final time with minutes remaining, and it drove down for the winning touchdown with less than 20 seconds left.

The final score: Chapel Hill 25, LaGrange 18

It was a painful way to close an unfortunate chapter in the history of LaGrange High football.

The Grangers played 10 games this season, and they lost them all.

The reality, and I know this is enormously simplistic, is that every time LaGrange took the field this season, it was over-matched.

The scores told that story.

The Grangers were beaten by at least 26 points in nine of their 10 games, and they were shut out six times.

Those are the numbers, and they don’t lie.

Yet if you watched this team, as I did often this season, you never saw any issues with effort.

I never saw guys arguing on the sidelines, and the coaches remained optimistic and positive even as the losses mounted.

That includes the head coach, Dialleo Burks, who is as disappointed as anyone at how the season played out.

Yet Burks and his staff, and the players, should be congratulated for the way they dealt with some difficult circumstances this season.

“I’ve seen some winless teams that have had problems,” Burks said before the Chapel Hill game. “It can really be a mess. And we haven’t had that.”

Friday’s loss was particularly painful.

It would have meant so much to those players to be able to, just once, see the work they’ve put in pay off with a victory.

Sports can be a cruel business, though, and it was the Panthers finding the end zone late to steal one away from the Grangers.

So now it’s all about looking forward.

Part of the issue with this year’s team was the inexperience.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that so many players who, on more veteran teams would have been would have simply been watching, got an opportunity to get significant time on the field.

The experience that these players gained will be invaluable.

LaGrange’s junior-varsity team also had a successful season, so those players will bring an idea of what it takes to win to the varsity squad next year.

The program is obviously at a low point.

Now, it’s time to start building things back up.

Burks believes, despite the lack of wins, that the foundation is a solid one.

“I was watching a documentary, a motivational-type documentary, and it talked about where you hit rock bottom,” Burks said. “It’s like a house being built. If a house is built on sand, whatever test comes, your house is going to go away. If it’s on a solid foundation, a house is going to be able to withstand a lot of things. That’s what these guys are growing though. It’s been very rocky. But we’re being built with the strength to handle a lot of things.”

As for the seniors, kudos to them as well for hanging in there, for sticking with it until the end.

It wasn’t how they envisioned their final season playing out, but reality is what it is.

“I’m very proud of my teammates,” said Trez Delaney, one of those seniors. “The outsiders, all they see are the wins and losses, but each week we come together as a brotherhood.”

Delaney said the lessons learned this season will be of tremendous value as they prepare for life after high school.

“Coach Burks and the other coaches, they’re teaching us a lot about life,” Delaney said. “So we’re taking this, and it’s helping us for the future.”

While LaGrange will take stock of what went wrong and look to get things moving in the right direction, life is just fine for the Callaway and Troup football programs.

Both of those teams will take 8-1 records into their regular-season finales this week, and they’ll be in the playoffs the following week.

At Callaway, what a job head coach Pete Wiggins has done building a program that can now stand alongside the best in the state.

If Callaway beats Jordan on Thursday, it will be the sixth time since 2008 that it finished a regular season with a 9-1 record.

A year ago, Callaway went 10-0 for the first perfect regular season in school history.

The Cavaliers had losing records in Wiggins’ first two seasons in 2005 and 2006, but they’ve known nothing but success since.

Callaway hasn’t won fewer than seven games since 2007, and it has reached double digits in victories six times since 2008.

The success hasn’t ended in the regular season.

Callaway has won at least one playoff game in eight of the past nine years, and there’s little reason to think that trend won’t continue this season.

Last year, the Cavaliers reached the semifinals for the second time since 2013, and this team appears poised to make another championship run.

At Troup, Tanner Glisson took over the program in 2015, and that team didn’t win a game until the final week of the season.

The Tigers have lost a total of four games the past two years, and they’re playing for a region championship for the second straight season.

Even during the difficult 1-9 season, Glisson’s good spirits never wavered, and he was steadfast in the belief that the program was on the verge of a major turnaround.

He was right.

The Tigers went 8-3 a year ago, and they’re 8-1 this season and boast one of the state’s most dynamic and high-scoring offenses.

Regardless of what happens on Friday against the powerful Cartersville Purple Hurricanes, Troup will be a difficult out when playoff time rolls around.

Kudos to Wiggins and Glisson, and everyone involved with those programs, for everything they’ve accomplished, and good times are ahead.