I know what you’re all thinking, and I don’t blame you.
Friday night’s season opener against North Oconee wasn’t the start to a new era of Putnam County football that we were all hoping for. It is no doubt concerning to start the season with a 58-21 loss to a team that struggled last season, and it does not paint a good picture for War Eagle fans.
If you’ve seen our annual football section that came out this week, you’ll probably notice right away that I was quite wrong in my assessment that North Oconee could be a good starting point for the Eagles to have a good season. I don’t think anybody, myself included, was expecting the Titans to come into Eatonton and put on THAT good of a performance.
But let’s take a step back; I don’t think it’s time to panic just yet.
Despite the outcome of the game, I could still tell that there were areas in which the Eagles thrived. One play that really stands out to me was Marcus Jefferson’s kickoff return for a touchdown – you couldn’t ask for a more well-executed special teams play than that.
Although the game had already been decided, Jumil Denham and Jacobee Lane also had impressive touchdown plays to keep the Titans’ lead respectable.
Putting aside the game itself, however, there is still something big to consider regarding this War Eagle team: this is a team that just hit the reset button. No matter what the quality of the team is, replacing a majority of your coaching staff and bringing in a slew of new talent is not something you can throw together overnight and expect immediate results.
I’ve been to several of Putnam’s practices and talked to head coach Shaun Pope as well as coordinators Nick Hayes and Derrick Arrington several times, and it is clear to me that they know what they are doing and are taking the program in a good direction.
In the Eagles’ offseason summer workout program, players were required to make 18 of 24 possible opportunities. I was required to do something similar when I played for JMA many years ago, and I know firsthand that holding your team accountable to show up at practice goes a long way.
To back this up, several War Eagles had perfect attendance throughout spring and summer. Clearly, the program’s desire to hold its team accountable and use football to build better men is working as the players with perfect attendance are committed and dedicated to the program and have bought into Pope’s coaching tactics.
To look at some more good news, Putnam hasn’t begun region play yet. Furthermore, several other teams in Region 8-AA are in the same boat after dropping their season openers as well, including Banks County, Oglethorpe County and even Rabun County, which went on to be the state runner-up last season.
Looking ahead to this week, Putnam will be the first game of the season for visiting Temple, meaning that the Eagles will have a leg up on their week two opponents in that they already have a game under their belt. Playing at home at Al Reaves Field is also always a plus.
It’s not what you want to see after week one of a very promising and hopeful season, but it’s not time to have doubts just yet. There’s still a lot of uncharted water for this team, and it is much too early in the season to start questioning whether all the offseason work was for naught.
I still see that promise and hope within this team, and I know that a rocky season opener isn’t a sign that things are over before they even begin.
So, keep your heads up, Putnam County. There’s still a lot of football left to play and the War Eagles still have a chance to fly.