There are just 25 days remaining until the kickoff of the 2020 high school football season. But make no mistake, despite the COVID-19 outbreak, swirling uncertainty since April, and the cancelation of spring practice, preparations for the upcoming campaign have been underway throughout the state since early June. And teams throughout northeast Georgia are in full countdown mode.
With that in mind, we spent the last couple of weeks catching up with programs around our area to get a feel for how the summer is going and what coaches believe the fall will look like. We call the series "Two-a-Days" in honor of those old-school grinding sessions that lead us out of summer and into fall, asking each area coach two key questions about the state of their respective programs.
Over the next two weeks, AccessWDUN's Friday Game Night will get you prepped for the start of gridiron action with responses from coaches throughout northeast Georgia. (Teams run in alphabetical order)...
The Panthers were closer than it appeared to a playoff appearance with a defense that kept them in virtually every game in 2019. They have several key guys from that unit.
But the offense scored more than 17 points just once and was shut out three times. Improvement on that side of the ball may well decide their playoff fate again.
We caught up with coach Rich McWhorter, who said the offense has been a high priority during the summer as they get ready for a jump up to Region 8-5A, a region where six of the eight teams had losing records in 2019 and where wins are certainly there for the taking.
QUESTION: Coach, the offense really struggled last year averaging just 11.5 points a game. Have you made any changes since returning to practice and do you feel the unit is on track to improve?
ANSWER: There is no question we have to be more effective on the offensive side of the ball this season if we are going to take the next step in building this program up. Last year was the first year in a new system, which of course came with a learning curve for our team. We made a few coaching changes within the program with Alex Crawford taking over as offensive coordinator and Sam Buchan taking over the offensive line. We believe we are a much deeper team at the skill positions this year, and the players have each done a great job in owning their specific roles and working to understand what is asked of them on each play. The changes we have made have been focused on simplifying each position and their responsibilities on each play. The reality is, if we do not do the little things better and put ourselves in a better position to score each time we take the field, we will be making it tough on our defense and even tougher to win football games.
QUESTION: You are still trying to build a winning mentality into the Panthers program. Do you feel you are closer to achieving that as you get ready for the 2020 season?
ANSWER: Anytime you are trying to change or shift the mindset of a program, you have to focus on setting realistic and achievable goals. Our saying at Jackson County is "Expect to win". That is not something that can happen overnight, it takes players and coaches buying into the belief that when we step on the field we expect to be on the right side of the scoreboard if we do the things we have been coached to do them with maximum effort. We have a great group of senior leaders, but more importantly, we have a tremendous nucleus of underclassmen that have all taken on leadership roles as well. I have been pleased with how our team has handled these difficult times we have found ourselves in, and firmly believe we can take another step toward achieving our team goals in 2020 with the group of leaders we have.