The long wait is over and today, the Friday night lights will flip on again for Bartow County football teams.
Woodland head coach Tony Plott is fired up for it.
“There’s nothing else like a Friday night, and I’m excited,” Plott said. “I think I’m getting a little more anxious for it than some of the kids are, so I’m ready.”
Plott’s Woodland Wildcats will scrimmage county rival Adairsville Friday at Tiger Stadium, and the game will be the first chance for either team to see what they have for the 2017 season.
Both teams are looking for a bounceback from disappointing 2016 campaigns, with the Tigers missing out on the state playoffs and the Wildcats not winning a single game.
The good news is that both teams are much more experienced this year, meaning that today’s game could be a matchup of two teams on the upswing.
“We’re at kind of the other end of the spectrum from this time last season,” Adairsville coach Eric Bishop said. “This time last year, we only returned three players on each side of the ball, and we were very interested in seeing a lot of kids under the lights for the first time on Friday night. This year, we return seven players on each side of the ball, the other players saw some time last year. It is a big time, but for us this year, we’re mainly looking to answer the question of how we put the pieces of the puzzle together.”
The biggest puzzle piece that the Tigers need to place is at the quarterback position, where Mason Boswell and Bryce Burgess are each taking reps.
Both players are also big contributors at other positions, too, meaning that they might keep sharing time during the regular season.
Bishop was coy on whether the scrimmage would help sort out that battle.
“The quarterback competition is ongoing,” Bishop said. “Both quarterbacks have strengths and weaknesses that they both need to work on. We’ll just see how that plays out.”
The Tigers will have plenty of questions at other positions too, in part due to a short run-up to the season this year.
“In my 25 years of experience in high school football, this will be the first time that we’ve went went into a scrimmage or a game-type setting with only nine days of padded practice,” Bishop said. “There’s certainly been a sense of urgancy to get things in and be sure we’re ready for that scrimmage. The big thing that we will be looking for, and I think anybody’s looking for out of a scrimmage, is to answer from questions from a personnel standpoint.”
Plott’s Wildcats have questions of their own.
Woodland’s massive junior class is starting to come into its own and take over most of the positions in the starting lineup, led by Titus Jones at free safety.
The Wildcats are also adding most of Woodland’s basketball team, and two of those players—Dustin Ivie and R.J. Beaubrun—will start next to Jones in the secondary at cornerback.
All told, they’re young, but thanks to the team’s struggles last year, most of the Wildcats already have game experience, and are looking to put the bad memories of last year behind them and lead the team into a new era.
“Our kids have shown over the course of the summer at all these different camps that they like to compete, and this one here is actually one that other people get to see,” Plott said. “I want to see us out there and I want to see us play at a high level. The product on the field should be a lot better, and I want to see us play football the way it’s supposed to be. Football is a very intense sport and we have to play with a quiet intensity about us also.”
That intensity might be helped Friday by the intracounty rivalry, which both coaches are excited for.
With the teams playing in different classes, a non-region game, or a scrimmage like Friday’s, is the only time the teams can play each other for county pride.
“It’s always fun to play a county team, a county rival,” Plott said. “It’s even better when you have a good relationship with the other school and the other coaching staff, so it’ll be fun. It’s still competitive, they want to win, we want to win, but there’s also that level of respect that we have for them that makes it more fun also.”
Regardless of the opposition, though, the first scrimmage is mostly notable because it’s the start of a new season and, as the bands play on Friday and fans of both teams hold on to their hopes for the season, both teams are eager to get down to business.
“When it all comes down to it, it’s going to be alignment and assignment and blocking and tackling,” Bishop said. “That’s really where our answers are going to come from. Are the players getting lined up correctly, are they carrying out their assignment, and then we’ll kind of go from there.”