August 15, 2013

Chris Whitfield: As real as it gets (for now)

— It is not “for real.” Nothing that happens on the scoreboard tonight or Friday night for local high school football teams will have a direct impact on region standings or playoff implications once the regular season kicks off.

But these scrimmages will go a long way toward settling position battles, establishing a tone for the season and letting coaches know who they can have confidence in when more than just a snap in practice is riding on the line.

And no matter what is on the scoreboard after those practice games, the action on the field will give a really good indication of whether this season is going to be a success.

Dalton will travel to Adairsville tonight for a 7 p.m. scrimmage, while North Murray will be at Christian Heritage at 7:30. On Friday, Southeast Whitfield is at Murray County at 7 p.m. In addition, Northwest Whitfield will host Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe and Heritage-Catoosa will be at Coahulla Creek, with both of those kicking off at 7:30 p.m.

Area coaches had the same things to say about tonight’s scrimmages. That would probably be true for most coaches across the state. The preseason coachspeak is very predictable.

“We actually have a book that they send out when you become a head coach so we can answer all of these questions the same way in the preseason,” North Murray coach David Gann joked.

The coaches stay on script for the most part.

Christian Heritage coach Preston Poag: “You are just ready to hit somebody wearing a different jersey.”

Dalton coach Matt Land: “You can’t really tell how players are going to react until they are hit by someone wearing a different-colored jersey.”

Southeast coach Sean Gray: “We are really excited to see what we can do against someone in another jersey.”

Gray gets points off for using “another” as opposed to “different.”

In the world of high school football, someone in a “different-colored jersey” is equivalent to the old Soviet Union — a faceless antagonist around which the Big Red Nation or the Bruin Nation or the Raider Nation can rally. And at this point, no one cares about what the other team is going to be doing.

“We are just concerned about us right now. We want to see where we are and how we measure up,” is another fairly standard quote this time of the year.

When talking to coaches about scrimmages, they all say the same things at the end of them as well. Sometimes you have to wonder if Georgia High School Association executive director Ralph Swearngin is sending out talking points for all coaches.

“We saw some good things tonight.”

“We found some players who have really stepped forward.”

“There are still areas we need to work on, but we are getting there.”

“I feel really good about where we are at right now.”

None of them will say, “We looked horrible. Absolutely horrible. Our line was just getting whipped on every play, our running backs are slow, their waterboys were out-hustling ours and their tuba player was much better than ours.”

Now is the time for optimism and hope, but it is also the time to get real.

Land has said throughout the summer that football doesn’t begin until you actually have pads on and start hitting people. He has a major point.

Even in a football world consumed with 40-yard dash times, recruiting lists, seven-on-seven competitions and computer rankings in the offseason, you can’t tell how good a receiver is going to be on Friday night until he has a free safety ready to unbuckle his shoulder pads when he comes across the middle on a crossing route. Seven-on-seven can’t prepare you for that.

Coaches will tell you that positions won’t be won or lost this week. The Catamounts play their opening game of the season next Friday against Ringgold — the rest of the teams in Murray and Whitfield counties kick off Aug. 30 — but Land said the races for starting positions will never end. If someone is pushing for a starting role, the lineup could change on a week-by-week basis.

That may be true in some cases, but a starting position can be won for at least one week with a devastating hit, a perfectly executed trap block or a diving grab of a floater into the end zone. Coaches remember things like that.

Positions can also be lost. Quickly. And there are plenty of positions that need to be filled this year.

With the exception of Coahulla Creek and Christian Heritage, area schools graduated substantial senior classes in the offseason. Northwest Whitfield lost just about every skill player on offense. North Murray seemingly lost its entire starting roster. Dalton is replacing huge gaps in its defensive and offensive lines as well as trying to find new starters on the offensive perimeter. Five of the seven schools in Whitfield and Murray counties will have first-year starters at quarterback.

“We are trying to two-platoon our team, and we have six or eight kids that have question marks,” Gann said. “That is what we are looking at right now, trying to build some depth and find out who is ready for Friday night.”

That is what fans will see tonight and Friday — new numbers on the field and coaches trying to find the right combinations. Some of those numbers will have fans reaching for the program to get a name to go with that great block on the corner. Some fans will be excited tonight after what they see. Some will be concerned.

But football — real football — is finally almost here, and that will make everyone happy.

Chris Whitfield is a sports writer for The Daily Citizen. His weekly high school pigskin prognostications return next week and will appear in each Friday edition of the paper until the end of the season. You can write to him at