Callaway football program flying high

Published 12:23 am Friday, November 9, 2018


Daily News

When Pete Wiggins became Callaway’s head coach in 2005, he inherited a program that had enjoyed mild success through its first nine years of existence.

The Cavaliers had four winning seasons in those first nine years, and they made five playoff appearances.

Callaway’s most successful season during those early days came in 2001 when, under head coach Sonny Cummings, it went 8-3 and lost a close one to Cartersville in the first round of the state playoffs.

When head coach Claude Giddens stepped down following the 2004 season, a man who had been on the staff the previous two years was tabbed as his replacement.

Considering Wiggins is still the head coach, and that he oversees one of the state’s most consistently successful programs, that decision was the correct one.

Callaway is in the state playoffs for the 13th consecutive year, and it will host Elbert County in the opening round today at 7:30 p.m.

Callaway (8-2) is the number two seed from Region 5-AA, while Elbert County (7-3) finished third in Region 8-AA.

The winner advances to the second round next week, most likely to play defending state-champion Hapeville-Charter.

Callaway has won at least one playoff game every year but one since 2008.

Twice since 2008 Callaway advanced to the semifinals, and it reached the quarterfinals on two other occasions.

While Callaway is still looking to break through and win a state championship, the program has been remarkably consistent for more than a decade.

“I remember the early days of let’s build this foundation, and let’s get this started, and we’ve got to do it right to get where we need to be,” Wiggins said. “There’s a lot of work that went into that, and a lot of kids over the years that have paid a large price to get us where we’re at as far as the work in the weight room, and at practice, and then on the field. I’m extremely proud of the successes we’ve had. Again, it doesn’t come easy. It’s all about hard work.”

Wiggins added that that there are “no secrets to it.”

“It’s in the weight room, lifting when you don’t want to lift, and lifting when it’s hot, or something hurts,” Wiggins said. “It’s the same way on the field. We’re going to practice, and we’re going to practice hard and fast. Ultimately, those things pay off.”

The Cavaliers were 4-6 in Wiggins’ first season as head coach in 2005, and they went 5-6 a year later and lost in the first round of the playoffs.

The Cavaliers went 8-3 in 2007, beginning a stretch of 13 straight years where they won at least seven games.

The Cavaliers broke through for their first-ever playoff win in 2008, and they made their first quarterfinal appearance in 2009.

The Cavaliers advanced to the semifinals in 2013 and 2016, and they reached the quarterfinals last year.

Overall since 2007, the Cavaliers are 114-33, and since 2008, they’re 15-10 in the playoffs.

“I think the consistency with our coaching staff has been very instrumental,” said Wiggins, who has had the same offensive coordinator (Matt Napier) and defensive coordinator (Dusty Hubbard) since 2005. “I think that again, having good players over the years, and it’s not only having good players, it’s having good players that work. There are so many things that go into being successful. Little things. Again, I’m really proud of all of those who have been a part, a piece of putting Callaway football where it is.”

The Cavaliers have had some of their most successful playoff runs in recent years.

In 2013, Callaway made it to the semifinals before losing to a powerful Buford team 24-14.

In 2016, Callaway returned to the semifinals, this time losing to a Benedictine team that went on to capture the state title.

A year ago, Callaway made it to the quarterfinals before losing to Brooks County.

“Obviously when you get into the playoffs, the stakes are a lot higher,” Wiggins said. “If you don’t win, well it’s over. The stakes are a lot higher, and usually when you get into the playoffs, the pool of teams you play, they’re narrower. So the teams are better each week.”

For Wiggins, this is the best time of the year.

“You can’t ever replace the rivalries you have during the season,” he said. “Those are always special, but playoff games, and the cooler temperatures, that’s what it’s all about, and getting to that time, and playing your best ball at the right time.”