A new era begins: LaGrange College prepares for a Saturday night showdown with Berry

Published 8:55 am Friday, September 8, 2023

A new era of LaGrange College football truly begins on Saturday when the team hosts Berry for their 2023 season opener. First-year head coach Wes Dodson will take charge of his first game in charge of the Panthers and his first game as a head coach.

“It is exciting, but I can’t let my emotions take over and let them control me because then the players start feeding off that,” Dodson said. “Right now, it just feels like another game.”

Dodson is rebuilding the Panther program with brick and mortar from the ground up. Berry will present a great challenge as the team is a truly established program.

Berry has not had a losing season since 2014, its second year with a team.

“They are an established program with an established culture, and it is going to be a big challenge this weekend,” Dodson said. “They will have had an extra week of practice and a game while we have just been practicing with no scrimmage and no games.”

The Vikings came into the game after a dominant 67-34 win over Huntingdon in their season opener, while the Panthers had their opening game against Florida A&M canceled.

“Special teams played a big factor in their season opener win,” Dodson said. “They blocked three punts and returned a punt for a touchdown.

“They are extremely aggressive in all three phases of the game. Our goal this week is to stop the run. Huntingdon could not tackle Berry’s running back, so that has been our top priority going into this game.”

LaGrange College comes into the game as an unknown. Dodson and his coaching staff have been working with the players for just a month heading into Saturday’s game.

“There are a lot of unknowns going into the game,” Dodson said. “We didn’t even do anything live this preseason because we picked up some injuries and decided we better not do it.”

The team has had to come together fast. 

“We’ve made progress,” Dodson said. “We are still understanding how things work and a lot of these guys are still learning how to play football. 

“We have to keep trusting the process and working through the difficult times.”

Year one will have some growing pains. 

“We have to play with a lot of energy and effort and understand that not everything is going to go your way,” Dodson said. “When things go bad, we can’t let that wreck everything.

“I want to see good effort for all four quarters regardless of what the score is.”

The team will not have much depth going into week one, but that does not mean there are not players ready to make an impact. 

The offensive line in particular has caught the eye of Dodson.

“We have had a couple of young guys that have stood out like Aaron Hunter, a freshman, that is going to be playing tackle for us and Alvin Rodgers, another freshman, that has shown a lot of promise,” Dodson said. “We don’t have a lot of guys on our offensive line, but we have some guys that can really play there.”

One position where Dodson feels comfortable with his depth is wide receiver.

“Our receiving core is deep,” Dodson said. “There is not a big drop from our top guys to our bottom guys which is not very common in Division III.”

Dodson has a defensive background, so his offense will be run by former Point University head coach Mike McCarty.

“Mike has coached football for a really long time,” Dodson said. He hasn’t coached since 2017, but he wanted to get back into coaching, and it just made sense as a fit.”

Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. and will be a rare evening game for the Panthers at Callaway Stadium.

“I want the community to come out and support us, and with it being an evening game it will be a little better weather for early September than 1 o’clock,” Dodson said with a laugh. “It would be great to have the community come out and support, and hopefully we can put out something that they can be proud of.”