Grangers doing their best during break

Published 11:56 am Thursday, April 16, 2020

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After spending 15 seasons at Callaway High, Matt Napier took over as LaGrange High’s head football coach in the middle of January, and he had two productive months with the team when everything stopped because of the coronavirus.

Schools in Troup County were closed on March 13, and that meant that all sports activities were immediately suspended.

Governor Brian Kemp later announced the cancellation of the remainder of the school year, and when sports activities will resume remains to be seen.

It’s a challenging situation for Napier, but he understands why this is happening, and he just wants to make sure everyone stays healthy.

“Anytime you miss some work, or you miss out on an opportunity, you can become frustrated, but I think with the circumstances that we’re in, everybody just wants to be safe,” Napier said. “You want to abide by those rules, and those restrictions. Regardless of how bad I want to be up there lifting weights, or be on the field practicing, we want to do what’s right for our community. That always takes precedence over any of those desires that I may have.”

Napier was eager to work closely with the team during the two weeks of spring practice, but obviously that’s not going to happen.

“I was looking forward to finding out about the players in spring practice,” Napier said. “We had two months of really good work, and I was excited about how the kids were working, and I was eager to see how they would perform when we got out there in spring practice. But you’ve got to stay positive in a situation like this, and we are definitely going to do that.”

Napier added that “I would definitely say we were in need of a spring practice with all the changes and a new coaching staff, and me being new. But we’re still excited about the potential, and the future, and when we get back to work we’ll go at it 100 m.p.h.”

Like every other team, LaGrange is doing the best it can under the challenging circumstances.

Every player on the team has received a workout plan that they can follow at home.

“We’ve kind of got a plan that we’ve sent out called the Granger Grind,” Napier said. “Now that spring break’s over and we’ve got a clue that we’re not going to be there for a while, I’ve sent the next two months’ worth of workouts to our kids, and a calendar for them, so they can be as prepared from a physical standpoint as they can be. So we’re doing everything we can.”

Napier is also relying on his assistant coaches to help keep the players on track, both from a physical standpoint and with their school work.

“We’ve met on Zoom, and I’ve split the players up into groups with their coaches,” Napier said. “Each coach is responsible for about eight or nine guys. That’s been a positive.”

While most of the communication is done various electronic means, Napier has been able to see some of his players, from a safe distance.

“I’ve had an opportunity to drive around and drop some Gatorades off to a few players,” Napier said. “It’s good to see those guys in the driveway from a distance, and it feels good to just see people, even though you have to stay at a distance. Just anything we can do within those guidelines is what we’re going to do.”

Napier is grateful that he had some time to work closely with the players before everything came to a halt.

“We had a productive two months,” Napier said. “The kids have an expectation of me, and how I go about coaching, and what I demand of them. We got comfortable with each other over those two months, with me feeling out the players and finding out what they can do from an athletic standpoint. So I’m glad I got those two months in. We got an opportunity to do a lot of the offseason program in that time period, and like everybody, it got stopped right in the middle of it. It was a good feeling-out process for sure.”

Napier also got to work with the coaches that were already on staff at LaGrange.

Those coaches will be a part of a new-look staff that will include Burton Thomas and Matt Neighbors, who worked with Napier at Callaway.

Also, Stephen Tuck, the girls’ basketball coach at LaGrange, is taking over as wide-receivers coach.

“I’ve got a bunch of guys on staff, and they’ll do a great job,” Napier said. “Coach (David) Pleasants and coach (Thomas) Crocker have done a phenomenal job all the way back to LaGrange’s hey-day, so having them here is really good. It’s been good to get to know a lot of the guys. I’ve had an opportunity to get to know coach (Thomas) Cox and coach (Ben) Thrasher, and both of those guys are great guys.”

Napier has taken over the LaGrange program after spending 15 successful seasons as Callaway’s offensive coordinator.

The Cavaliers have been one of the state’s most consistently successful programs, and they’ve advanced to the state semifinals four times since 2013.

The 2019 team, which went 12-2 and lost to Brooks County in the state semifinals, averaged more than 40 points per game.

“They’re familiar with me, and where I’ve been,” Napier said. “They’ve seen my team play, so they know kind of what I do from an offensive standpoint, and they believe in the process. They’ve seen the process I’ve been a part of be successful, so they believe in it, and they jumped right in. I was fortunate to have a bunch of guys who as soon as I came in the door they were eager to work. From my standpoint, there wasn’t any holding back or anything like that. You jump right in and they started working their tails off, so that was really exciting. We’re looking forward to doing some more of that.”

Napier doesn’t know when the team will be able to get together again.

It does help that the new LaGrange indoor practice facility is nearing completion, and that will help the football team during the hot summer days.

“The good thing is, if we come back in July, it’s looking like the facility’s going to be done, so there’s a good chance that we could go to work right away in that brand-new facility, and that’d be unreal,” Napier said.

LaGrange has a preseason game at Harris County on Aug 14, and it opens the regular season on Aug. 21 at Upson-Lee.