Game day for Grangers
By KEVIN ECKLEBERRY
It’s game day for the LaGrange Grangers.
LaGrange’s football team will put the finishing touches on spring practice with a scrimmage game against Charles Drew High on Friday at the University of West Georgia, with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
LaGrange head coach Matt Napier wanted to do something special for his players, so with the help of the coaches at West Georgia, he was able to set up a spring game at the school’s football stadium.
“It’s going to be a cool experience for the kids and our community,” said Napier, who graduated from West Georgia. “We’re excited about getting up there, and obviously that stadium is beautiful. You get an opportunity to be in an atmosphere like that, you’re excited.”
LaGrange held its final spring practice on Thursday in preparation for its first game since the 2020 season ended with a loss to Perry in the second round of the Class AAAA state playoffs.
It was a remarkable turnaround season for the Grangers, who went 8-4 after winning six games in the previous four years combined.
LaGrange finished second in Region 2-AAAA to earn a home game in the playoffs, and it beat New Hampstead 30-26 in a thriller before falling to Perry 34-4 the following week.
That the Grangers accomplished what they did was particularly noteworthy because of the challenges they faced during a COVID-19-impacted offseason.
Napier came in as a first-year head coach hoping to enjoy a full offseason, but that plan didn’t come to fruition.
Spring practice was canceled, and the summer program was drastically altered because of the restrictions in place.
While every team was dealing with the same issues, it was especially frustrating at LaGrange with a new coaching staff in place.
Nonetheless, the Grangers persevered, and a group of seniors who had not enjoyed much success were able to have a memorable season.
“For them to do that turnaround was special for them,” Napier said. “It’s a credit to the kids on our team that bought in.”
Flash forward a year, and the situation is a drastically different one for the program.
The Grangers have been able to have an uninterrupted offseason, and that includes a productive spring practice.
“For our football program, we’ve had a full and complete offseason,” Napier said. “Once the season ended we were lifting, and from January on, we’ve been killing the weight room. The kids fully committed to the program we had in place. They worked tremendously hard.”
A year ago, the Grangers were still a few weeks away from holding their first offseason workout, and it was a bit of a struggle when the players got together for the first time in June.
“We were really out of shape (last year),” Napier said. “The kids were coming off quarantine. So we came out for spring this year, and the kids were able to make it through the drills without getting gassed. We were able to practice football, without just getting over the fatigue. It’s a big deal for us just to be in as good of shape as we have been. To have good practices, you have to be in shape.”
Before spring practice began, the players got together at the school for early-season workouts, and Napier was proud of the way everyone embraced that.
“We had three weeks prior to spring where we did our Blue Dawn at six in the morning, and we had more than 100 kids here every day,” Napier said. “That leads up to our spring practice, and the amount of kids we have in our program, and the amount of kids working really, really hard is great, and we have this great facility. It’s been a good spring. It’s been good overall offseason, which we didn’t get at all last year.”
Friday’s spring game will offer everyone on the roster an opportunity to play in a college stadium.
“The first two quarters will be varsity, and we’ll start subbing in the second half,” Napier said. “Our numbers are really high, so we’ll have young guy scrimmage, where it’s us vs. us. We want to make sure everybody gets to play.”
LAGRANGE VS. CHARLES DREW
WHAT: Spring football game
WHEN: Friday, 7 p.m.
WHERE: University Stadium on West Georgia cam