Talk about jumping into a season with a bang.
The LaGrange Grangers will open their season against the Callaway Cavaliers Friday night, and it will be the first time those two teams have faced off in more than 10 years.
Next week, LaGrange will be back at Callaway Stadium for another huge game when it plays its biggest rival, the Troup Tigers.
LaGrange head coach Dialleo Burks said there is always some added pressure when you’re playing a team from the same county, and the Grangers will have to deal with that pressure the next two weeks.
“You have to see each other every day. It’s your hometown. That’s pressure,” Burks said. “That’s pressure compared to playing a team who you won’t see for another year. You’re playing against your peers and family members.”
First up will be Friday’s opener against Callaway, and it will be a big-time challenge.
The Cavaliers, coming off a 12-2 season that ended in the semifinals of the state playoffs, are ranked second in Class AAA in the preseason Associated Press poll.
The Grangers, meanwhile, went 3-7 a year ago and missed the state playoffs for the first time since 1999.
Burks said what happened a year ago will have no impact on what occurs Friday night, though.
“Of course we were 3-7 last year, and they were 12-2,” Burks said. “But last year was last year. It’s a different mentality. We want to focus on now, and moving forward.”
Burks said he has “a lot of respect” for Callaway head coach Pete Wiggins.
“He helped me out a lot when I was down in Lafayette (as head coach last season),” Burks said. “A lot of the guys over there I know. Parents, I went to school with. It’s going to be big for our program, but even more so, it’s going to be big for the city.”
LaGrange played Newnan in a preseason game last week, and it fell behind 23-0 at the half on the way to a 23-7 loss.
The Grangers moved the ball well, but they turned it over three times in the first half.
Those turnovers not only kept the Grangers from scoring, but they put the defense in tough positions.
“We have to take care of the ball,” Burks said.
Burks also said it will be important for his players to be able to make adjustments as the game goes along.
“We have to make sure that we’re able to adjust,” Burks said. “They’re going to do some things that we haven’t seen, that we haven’t prepared for. Football is a game of adjustments. How well do you adjust?”
Burks said it will also be critical for the players to keep their cool in what should be an emotionally-charged atmosphere.
“My guys will play this game with class, and the way that it should be played,” Burks said. “I don’t believe in dirty play. I believe in hard play, from whistle to whistle. You go back in the huddle, and you come back for the next play and try to compete again. To do all that extra stuff after the whistle, if you have enough energy to do that after the play, that means you didn’t do what you were supposed to do during the play.”
The Grangers are a veteran team at a number of positions, most notably on the offensive line and at running back, but there are also a lot of players who’ll be on the field Friday night who haven’t been in that situation before.
One of those players will be the quarterback.
In the Newnan game, junior Jatori Boykin started and played the entire first half.
While LaGrange didn’t score, the offense moved the ball well with Boykin at the helm.
In the second half, sophomore quarterback Amad Ogletree took most of the snaps, and he led the Grangers on their only scoring drive, with Kimani Barnes scoring on a touchdown run.
“They both did well,” Burks said of the two quarterbacks.
Burks said Boykin suffered a knee injury in the game, and he’s not sure what his status is for Friday.
Whoever plays quarterback will likely be handing the ball off to Mon Denson quite a bit.
Denson is a senior running who has verbally committed to South Carolina, and he figures to be a key member of the offense this season.
Denson and the other backs will be running behind an offensive line that was very effective against Newnan.
LaGrange doesn’t have many veterans on the defensive side, and the newcomers to the starting lineup were able to get a feel for Friday-night football against Newnan.
The defense gave up some big plays in the first half, but it didn’t allow any points in the second half, and Newnan’s starters were in the game in the third quarter.
“They didn’t score in the second half,” Burks said. “We were kind of finding our way a little bit.”
Burks doesn’t know what’s going to happen Friday night, but he likes what he saw from the players mentally in the Newnan game after a lot of things went wrong.
“That’s when I really look at the guys’ eyes to see, OK, what are going to do? Are you going to drop your head? It’s still a long game,” Burks said. “Overall, a lot of them stood up and said OK, we’re going to come back. We’re going to come back and do what we have to do.”