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Chris Gay: A bright year for high school football, but more can be done

Posted: November 8, 2017 - 2:50am

Step back a second and think about this: It's a been a historic year for Columbia County high school football.

Evans and Grovetown each have home playoff games this week. Have two county public schools ever had first-round home playoff games in the same year? Also, Harlem is back in the state playoffs for the first time since 2001, while Lakeside is also in postseason play.

A banged-up Augusta Prep squad lost in the first round of the GISA playoffs last month.

In total, five of the seven Columbia County high schools qualified for postseason play. That has to be a first, because - as all of you know - Columbia County is known mainly for its spring sports. Yet, the county has been doing pretty well of late in its fall sports, especially in softball and volleyball.

In football, Greenbrier didn't make the playoffs. Still, the Wolfpack went 6-4 for their second consecutive winning season. The school won six games combined the four previous years.

This is my 20th season covering high school football. I can tell football has gotten better in the county. In saying that, the programs here still aren't close to competing for a state championship. That's not an indictment of any of the coaches. Most all of these guys are doing a fantastic job. There's just a Grand Canyon-sized gap between making postseason play and making a deep playoff run.

Columbia County football is trending in the right direction. Still, all the high school programs need more support on many levels. I was pleased to see Harlem fans fill the stands when the Bulldogs traveled to Greenbrier early in the season. On the flip side, Greenbrier filled maybe 75 percent of the away bleachers at Evans a few weeks ago. Even last week, Evans had a good crowd for its region championship win over Heritage. Still, I spotted several empty seats.

This is quite different than what you'll find at places like Burke County or Screven County or Jefferson County or Thomson. Friday nights in those places are meant for one thing: football. When Laney was competing on a high level, Wildcats fans came out in droves to support their team. I once covered a Josey at Laney homecoming game on a Saturday afternoon and had to park down the street. The parking lot was jam-packed. That place was rockin' and rollin'.

Maybe if Columbia County teams keep winning they'll get to that level. It'd also help if the school system would go all in and build new stadiums for Evans, Greenbrier, Harlem and Lakeside. You'd think Columbia County, of all places, would have the money to do just that. These stadiums are old and outdated. Lakeside should've gotten a new stadium when officials decided to build a new complex. Instead, there'll be a new baseball field, softball field and track. In the meantime, the school's football, lacrosse and soccer players will still have to use the same field that doesn't drain well.

The stadium issue isn't just a concern of mine, though. These stadiums don't conform to Georgia High School Association rules. If a Class AAAAAA football team were to hold a state semifinal game at home, the stadiums are required to have a seating capacity of 6,000. And that's not all. The press box has to be 50 linear feet. The press boxes at Evans, Greenbrier and Lakeside do not meet that requirement.

That would be embarrassing if one of our local schools makes it to the semifinals and the school can't hold a home playoff game at its place. It reminds me of 2008 when the USC Aiken men's basketball team was ranked No. 1 in the region, but the Pacers couldn't hold the Division II regional (first three rounds of the NCAA tournament) at its place. Why? Global Spectrum had already booked an event by the World Famous Lipizzaner Stallions. So the regional shifted to Augusta and the Jaguars won the regional. USC Aiken officials didn't make that mistake again.

Columbia County is known for its top-notch educational system, which will continue to grow in the coming years. Football will continue to improve as well. How much will depend on the support teams in this county receive.

Now is the perfect time to start talking about upgrading old facilities and giving athletics a major boost. The kids, and the coaches, deserve that.

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STILL NOT WORKING: The older I get, the less I understand why right-handed quarterbacks roll to the left and throw on the run against their bodies. That might be the most wasted play in the playbook. What's the success rate of that? Five percent? Four?

Coaches need to teach their quarterbacks to stop and plant their front foot before throwing instead of tossing the ball wildly on the run. But maybe it's just me.

SOMETHING ELSE: With all the talented running backs in Columbia County, I still haven't seen any play-action passes this season. Some of these teams are certainly well-equipped to run that play, which would seem to work perfectly against opposing defenses. But maybe it's just me.

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ONE MORE THING: As of 2:30 Monday afternoon, the Atlanta Falcons had not fired first-year offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Why not? He inherited the top offense in the NFL in 2016 and has flown it into the ground like he's piloting the Hindenburg.

The Falcons are 4-4 at the midway point of the season. I have zero confidence in the coaching staff and less in general manager Thomas Dimitroff. Maybe owner Arthur Blank thinks those guys are doing a superb job, but I'm not impressed. But maybe it's just me.

 

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