The Grangers are coming off back-to-back losing seasons, and they haven’t won a playoff game since the 2008 season when they reached the Class AAA semifinals.
“I’ve been here a lot of years, and there were a lot of years where we knew we were going to win, and we had no idea how we were going to win,” LaGrange High head coach Donnie
Branch said. “It was just a belief, to a man, that it was going to get done.”
Branch, who is heading into his second season as the Grangers’ head coach after a nearly two-decade stint as the defensive coordinator for Steve Pardue, is hoping this is the year the
Grangers start to get that swagger back.
“This needs to be the year we pop out of this (losing cycle),” Branch said. “I’m excited to see what we do.”
Before the Grangers kick off what Branch hopes will be a successful season, they’ve got a lot of work left to do.
The Grangers are about a month away from beginning the 2012 season, and this is their first full week of preseason practice.
The Grangers held their annual ironman competition Thursday, Friday and Monday, and they held their first full practice Monday morning.
After two more non-contact practices Tuesday and today, the Grangers were planning on putting on the full pads on Thursday.
Branch said this week is all about installation.
Each day, the players are introduced to another element of the offense or defense
“You have to plan every day to put something in,” Branch said. “We run out of it about the middle of the week before we play our scrimmage game (on Aug. 24). That’s when we’ll quit installing.”
Branch said the key is to not give the players more than they can handle.
“It’s not what we can throw up on the chalkboard, it’s what the kids can go out and execute,” Branch said. “A lot of times, you don’t figure that out.
“You want to have your bread and butter, and you want to be able to execute it.”
Branch said things are running a lot more smoothly this summer. A year ago, Branch was heading into his first year as head coach, and the Grangers were putting in a spread offense after running the Wing T for years.
“We’re light years ahead of where we were last year,” Branch said. “We still do things that amaze me, good and bad. But we’re way ahead of the curve.”
The Grangers’ preparations were hurt a year ago because of their inability to have full-contact practices.
Either because of foul weather or the heat regulations put in place by the Georgia High School Association, the Grangers only had one full-contact practice before their preseason scrimmage, which was held on Aug. 12 a year ago.
This year, the Grangers won’t play their scrimmage until Aug. 24 when they visit Valley (Ala.).
“If we get one practice in full pads (before the scrimmage), we’ll be even with last year,” Branch said. “Last year, we had a lot of obstacles. There wasn’t anything you could do. We had new coaches, new staff, new scheme, and the weather.”
This year, Branch said “we’re a lot further along with every aspect. I feel good with where we’re at.”
The Grangers wrapped up their summer by participating in a seven-on-seven tournament in Carrollton, and they made it to the semifinals before falling.
LaGrange finished with a 6-1-1 record in the tournament, and Branch felt it “was a great way to end our summer stuff.”
“We whipped Newnan, which is good. And we beat some other really good teams,” Branch added. “We had a really good showing up there that let our skill kids know we can compete.”
The Grangers have plenty of weapons on offense, including wide receiver Dee Smith, who’ll be a focal point of what the team does.
LaGrange also has two quarterbacks in Zach Giddens and Wynton Heard who Branch believes have tremendous potential, as well as a handful of gifted running backs.
“Our strength is, we have a lot of speed,” Branch said. “We have some assets at running back and receiver.”
Branch also likes what the Grangers have returning on defense, although he said it’s important to keep everyone on the field because of a lack of depth.
“The biggest problem I see defensively is depth,” Branch said. “We have some depth issues. We’ll have some skill people playing both ways. That’s going to be tough early.”