Putnam County High School football coach Sean Pope started his discussion with the Eatonton Kiwanis club by summarizing a quote from the great Rev. Billy Graham, “A coach can touch more lives than anyone else in America because of the young people they come in contact with.”
The 21-year veteran coach said that over the years he learned some things that are right to do and some things that are not.
“I’ve walked into some that are really good and started some from scratch.” Pope said. “The consistent ones put the young men in the program first, so we use football to help mold young men.”
He said football players see a lot of diversity in that program,
“They can’t go inside and turn the air conditioner on all the time,” Pope said. “I love those other sports, but I’m biased to football because you can’t control the conditions and fighting through it teaches them about life skills.”
A former coach at Dublin, Waycross and Wayne County schools, the coach said the children in Putnam County have the same advantages and disadvantages as kids in other systems.
“Getting to a young man’s heart, there’s nothing like it,” he said. “Our purpose is to coach that young man into how to be a responsible adult, tell him we love him and teach him to show love between his teammates.”
Pope said PC football had a successful summer, with 24 opportunities during summer practice.
“We had 57 kids to get at least 18 of those opportunities,” he said. “And we had 10 kids other than that who missed less than three.”
The coach told Kiwanians that PCHS has 26 players on its team right now that had perfect attendance, not only for the summer, but for spring practice as well.
“I told them, I’m going to put your name on the back of your jersey and I’m going to get your cleats if you have perfect attendance through spring and summer,” Pope said. “I had no idea I was going to have 26 with perfect attendance.”
The community has been a great help to the players. Because of financial support from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, the team was able to attend a West Georgia FCA camp.
Pope said on the morning after they arrived, the players faced North Gwinnett, who is defending 7A state champions.
“For 28 plays, our kids fought them tooth and nail and they scored twice and we scored once,” Pope said, noting he was impressed with the commitment of the guys who showed up.
As soon as Stokes took the position in Putnam County, he noticed the students were lacking accountability and a strong commitment level.
“It was show up when you want to or not show up on time,” he said, “So we locked the doors at 6:15.”
The coach said more than 65 guys still showed up every morning, and out of those, the coaches have 57 players that are still with them.
Georgia High School allows the students to attend padded camps where they wear helmets and shoulder pads.
The team went to a couple of those over the summer, and although it was tremendously hot, the children kept going and fighting through it.
“That kind of thing is what’s going to get us over the hump as far as the scoreboard,” Pope said. “I can’t predict a win, but what I want to do is look at every play, of every day of every week of every game and see did we maximize our efforts. If we maximize our efforts more times than not, that scoreboard is going to take care of itself.”