Four of those Wildcats — Isaiah Ross, Jon Austin, Quadre Allen and McKenzie Burge — have now put their names to scholarships that will let them continue their athletic careers at the next level.
Ross, the Daily Tribune News’ defensive player of the year, will be attending Point University.
Austin, also a member of the DTN all-county team as an offensive lineman, has drawn a scholarship from Reinhardt University.
Allen, an honorable mention member of the team, will take his considerable speed and athletic skills to Tusculum College in Tennessee.
Burge, the Wildcat who broke his team’s season-long touchdown drought, will attend Kentucky Christian University.
After the Wildcats lost their first six games, head coach Vince DiLorenzo assigned defensive stalwart Ross ball-carrying duties, a move that transformed an anemic offense that had scored just three points in a month and a half into a potent one that closed out its year with 107 points in a month’s time.
The Wildcats also found a way to win all of their final four games, finishing with a 4-6 season.
DiLorenzo told his team at a scholarship signing ceremony at the school that all four of the college-bound athletes are examples of how hard work and patience pay dividends.
“The fact that these guys have an opportunity to go there and take some of the [financial] burden off their parents is so important,” the coach said. “We’re celebrating their efforts.
“We’re also celebrating the fact they’re going on to the next level. Not only do they get to play sports but they get some of their tuition paid for. These four guys are here and there’s no question in my mind that it’s because of hard work.”
He said McKenzie — who transferred to Woodland his senior season from Rockmart — came to the program late.
“Isaiah, Jon and Quadre, these are guys that never missed a workout,” he said. “They never missed a conditioning session. They never took days off.”
He said that determination combined with their talent to provide them a chance to play at the next level.
Ross, a player who made a name for himself defensively in his four years at Woodland, will be attending Point University, a private, four-year liberal arts institution in West Point.
The Skyhawks are getting a virtual tackling machine. The linebacker led the county with 123 tackles, six for losses, during the year.
Ross said although he had some success as a runner at Woodland, he is a three-year starting linebacker who simply had a chance to step up for his team offensively during the season.
“It was very interesting,” he said. “I viewed playing running back as kind of like being a linebacker on the offense. You still deliver the hits.”
He said the extra duty was demanding.
“I had to be in better shape,” Ross said. “But I was willing to do it because I knew my team needed a leader to step up. The coach expected a lot from me but he had a lot of confidence in me, and that just helped me fill that role as a leader on offense and defense.
“I think I did pretty good. I did enough to lead our team, to boost our team. I’m not an all-star running back by any means. I just felt like it was one of those times to get down and dirty and be a little mean and get a couple of yards. I felt like the team expected it of me. I expected it of myself. We all believed I could do it and it kind of helped light a fire under our team and got some sparks flying. That’s the part I loved about it.”
He believes his best chance to play at Point is on the defensive side of the ball.
“The main position [I play] is linebacker,” he added. “If they need me for anything else, I’ll try that, too, [but] linebacking is where it’s at for me.”
Ross said it wasn’t just football that drew him to Point.
“I love the idea I can go there and they have a lot of ministry opportunities around the campus. I love that it’s a small teacher/student ratio. I love the fact I can go there and grow in my ministry and do what God calls me to do.”
Austin, who started at Woodland three years, will be attending Reinhardt University in Waleska.
He played a variety of positions for the Wildcats and believes that could help him earn playing time with the Eagles.
He was a long snapper his sophomore year and a left guard his junior year.
As a senior he played left tackle, where he graded 90 percent or better for 10 games and a scrimmage, delivered 25 pancake blocks and allowed just one sack.
He said playing at Woodland was a great experience and he described winning the Wildcats’ final four games as “the best experience I’ve ever had, I think, playing football. It was the best time of my life, especially when we won the last game [against Rome] in triple overtime. We had to fight through. We could barely walk the next day, you know. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, I think, or one of them.”
Austin said he decided to attend Reinhardt after visiting the school and meeting the coaches and people.
“They have great people,” he said. “It’s a great school. It’s a great place. I can go fishing up there anytime I want. There’s a lake on campus.
“I could have chosen other schools but it clicked there. It just felt right.”
Austin noted Reinhardt, which is in the NAIA, will be in its second year of having a football program.
“One thing I really like is last year was their first year playing, so there’s nobody older than a sophomore on the team,” he said. “That gives me a better chance of making the team and getting more playing time.”
He believes his versatility also will help his cause.
“The best position for me would probably be as center,” Austin said. “I’ve got the body for it. I could play all five positions on the offensive line, if need be. I also could long-snap for punts. That’s another thing that could get me extra playing time.”
Allen, a cornerback and slot receiver, will be attending Tusculum College in Tennessee.
The cornerback, who rushed for 380 yards, caught 21 receptions for 275 yards and scored six touchdowns during his senior year, said he is proud of being part of such a big turnaround at Woodland.
“I think no one pictures his team going 0-6,” he said. “Having confidence in ourselves the last four games of the season, being able to win that first game helped us believe we could do that.”
He said the team also realized there are other goals than making the playoffs that are important.
“[We realized] even though we didn’t have a chance to go to the playoffs, we could still leave our mark here,” he said. “We got a chance to knock Rome out of the playoffs and that was fun.”
He linked the turnaround to the switch in the offensive backfield.
“I think what really got us going was the changeup in what we did as an offense, having three key players in the backfield, me, Isaiah Ross and Mason Robinson. It made us versatile,” Allen said. “Isaiah could run and I could run. They couldn’t key on one player. We all had special abilities. Isaiah had his strength, my speed and Mason being able to throw the ball and run the ball himself. That really gave us momentum to win those games.”
Allen said the turnaround games figured in the highlight film featuring him that was sent to colleges such as Tusculum.
“It seems I was all over the field on the offensive end [against Lithia Springs],” he recalled. “I made some big defensive plays [against Paulding County] to close it out. Also, [I had a good performance in] the Rome game, the last game of the year.”
Allen said his decision to attend Tusculum had a lot to do with old friendships.
“At the end of the season, they came up here and talked to me and a couple of other players,” Allen said. “They seemed really interested. I got one of their recruiters’ cards and I contacted him. We set up dates to discuss my grades and what I was interested in. We set up a date to come up to the school. Once that was taken care of, we started discussing finances. They wanted to offer me to play.
“There were a couple of other schools, but I felt that was the best fit. I know a couple of other players up there. It just seemed natural to go up there.”
He said he also liked the fact Tusculum is a Division II school and he knows he will be challenged.
Allen believes his best chance to play is on defense.
“I’m thinking cornerback is where they’re interested in me, but they haven’t said directly. The coach that recruited me is a defensive coordinator. I’m believing they want me on the defensive side of the ball. But if needed, I will play offense.”
He said playing at Woodland was good for him.
“It’s been an enjoyable experience, being able to play high school football, getting an opportunity some people never have, just being to build bonds with players that will last a lifetime.”
Burge, a wide receiver and defensive back for the Wildcats, will be attending Kentucky Christian University, a NAIA college in Grayson, Ky.
The athlete said he had transferred from Rockmart his senior year to Woodland with hopes he could play at the next level.
He said he was unable to actually play in Woodland’s football games immediately after transferring and he had to work hard to position himself to take advantage when the opportunity came.
“When I first got here, it was practice, practice, practice,” he recalled. “I finally got my eligibility right and I got to play. I started the sixth game of the season.”
In the seventh game of the season — his second as a starter — he scored Woodland’s first touchdown of the season, opening the floodgate for the Wildcats.
Although a new member of the Wildcats’ team, Burge was an experienced player, having played receiver and defensive back at Rockmart.
Soon after the season he saw signs he would be able to play football in college.
“My coach said they were looking at me,” he said. “I went for a visit and I liked it so we went from there.”
He said he liked the Knights and knows the opportunity to play is there with them.
“They said they need both positions that I play,” he said.
Burge said he is hopeful he can stay in the sports field after playing for the Knights.
“I’d like to go into business management,” he said. “I am interested in being a sports agent. I know I want to do something in sports, honestly, either that or sports medicine.
“It would put me around something I love.”
DiLorenzo said Burge was a great example to other Wildcats.
“We didn’t have a more selfless player than McKenzie,” the coach said. “Here he was, coming in new with one year, one shot and I never heard him say, ‘How many times am I going to get the ball?’ or ‘Why aren’t you throwing to me?’ or Why am I not getting my name in the paper?’”