The work officially began in July, when Columbia County's high school athletes reported to football practice.
Hopes were high as the players prepared for the 2003 season - a new slate, a fresh opportunity to make their mark.
Then came the first contact in the opening game. Each win, and even the smaller personal victories, made all the effort worthwhile.
But the Friday-night lights have dimmed, and though some goals were not reached during the recently completed prep campaign, there was joy in the journey.
The cycle will start anew next season, but here's a final send-off for the stars of 2003, as we salute members of the All-Columbia County High School football team.
Quarterback: Brooks Robinson, Greenbrier senior. Robinson threw for more than 1,600 yards and helped lead the Wolfpack to the state playoffs. Among his most impressive numbers - 17 touchdown passes and only five interceptions, with a completion rate of 56 percent.
Backups: Adam McKinney, Augusta Christian senior; Tim Camp, Harlem senior.
Fullback: Carl Burrow, Lakeside junior. Burrow burst on the scene with nearly 200 yards rushing in Lakeside's season opener. He didn't maintain that pace, but he was a key for the Panthers' offense, finishing with 483 yards on 103 carries.
Backup: Tyler Dent, Greenbrier junior.
Running back: Cole Rabun, Augusta Christian senior. Rabun topped 1,300 yards in rushing and notched 17 touchdowns for the Lions. For his career, Rabun is one of the county's all-time leading rushers.
Running back: Philip Sadler, Lakeside senior. Sadler is super quick, and he showed off that speed this season by slipping past tacklers before they knew what hit them. He rushed for nearly 800 yards on just 114 carries, and managed 13 touchdowns.
Backups: Cheng Ho, Evans senior; Tosin Fawibe, Lakeside senior.
Wide receiver: Eugene Rogers, Greenbrier junior. Rogers led the CSRA in catches (47) and touchdowns (10) by a receiver. In the Pack's game against Thomson, Rogers ran roughshod over the Bulldogs.
Backup: Damien Conrad-Davis, Lakeside senior.
Split end: Dan Wiley, Augusta Christian senior. Wiley was solid in the defensive secondary, but he really shined on offense, hauling in 26 passes for more than 300 yards and five scores.
Backup: Michael Newman, Greenbrier senior.
Tight end: Alex Bragg, Lakeside senior. Lakeside didn't throw the ball much, but Bragg contributed key blocking to spark the ground game.
Backup: Edward Curtis, Greenbrier senior.
Center: David Szerlip, Lakeside senior. The Lakeside line was outstanding at times during the season, and Szerlip was a vital cog. He graded out at 90 percent.
Backup: Jordan Whitaker, Harlem senior.
Guard: Bill King, Greenbrier senior. King is a very underrated player, but the Pack's opponents surely noticed his hard-nosed play and strength in the trenches.
Harlem Senior Tim Camp finds running room during the team's midnight practice on July 28.
Photo by Mike Howell
Backup: Robert Jones, Harlem senior.
Guard: Cal Reynolds, Lakeside senior. Reynolds was a four-year letterman for the Panthers. He cleared running room with his physical play.
Backup: William Lyon, Augusta Christian junior.
Tackle: Rashad Dunn, Greenbrier senior. Dunn has been a three-year starter for Greenbrier, and he really came into his own during a stellar senior season.
Backup: Josh Adams, Augusta Christian junior.
Tackle (tie): Robin Jacobs, Evans senior; Josh Gibbs, Evans junior. The leaders of the Knights offensive line share the all-county tackle slot. Jacobs was best at run blocking, while Gibbs used footwork and technique to his advantage.
Backup: Foster Moore, Harlem senior.
Place kicker: Josh Ramp, Lakeside senior. Ramp isn't just considered a soccer player anymore. He really excelled on the gridiron, nailing five field goals and going 20-for-22 on extra-point attempts.
Backups: Andre Field, Augusta Christian senior; Ben Lawson, Greenbrier senior.
Punter: Adam McKinney, Augusta Christian senior. McKinney dominated this position. His average of 42.3 yards per punt is impressive, but McKinney also downed 10 punts inside the opponent's 10-yard line.
Backup: Ryan Crislip, Evans junior.
Kick returns: Eugene Rogers, Greenbrier junior. Averaged 26.7 yards on kickoff returns, and 16.9 on punts, which featured an 86-yard touchdown.
Backup: Andrew Fisher, Augusta Christian senior.
All-around athlete: J.C. Jennings, Greenbrier junior. Jennings has as much ability as any player in the area, and his skills are equally effective at wide receiver or running back. He had more than 600 rushing yards and added 400 more receiving.
Backup: Tim Camp, Harlem senior.
Line: Foster Moore, Harlem senior. Moore had nine sacks and 75 tackles, plus an interception return for a touchdown.
Line: Erik Smith, Greenbrier junior. This talented young player posted good numbers, with 73 tackles, seven sacks and eight tackles for loss.
Line: C.J. Wiltz, Evans senior. Wiltz was one of the top defensive linemen in Region 7-AAAAA, and that's saying something.
Line: Sam Pitts, Augusta Christian senior. It's hard to fathom, but Pitts had 20 tackles behind the line of scrimmage! He capped a great career at AC by totaling 127 tackles in 2003.
Backups: Marshall Sullivan, Evans junior; Chad Cooper, Augusta Christian senior; Robert Jones, Harlem senior; Daniel Landon, Greenbrier junior.
Linebacker: Sam Jasinski, Lakeside senior. The four-year starter went out in style, with over 100 tackles as a senior. But there aren't any numbers quite as impressive as his 1,440 score on the SAT.
Linebacker: Marcus Paschal, Augusta Christian junior. Despite playing through injuries down the stretch, Paschal managed 133 tackles for the season. He should have a monster year as a senior for the Lions.
Linebacker: Reggie Rice, Greenbrier sophomore. Rice paced the Pack with 117 tackles. He plays with a lot of emotion, and that helped inspire his teammates.
Backups: Reggie Porter, Lakeside junior; Kyle Ogletree, Greenbrier senior; Darryl Ketchup, Evans senior; Toby Brown, Augusta Christian junior; Dustin Shirey, Greenbrier senior.
Defensive back: Richard Flake, Lakeside senior. Flake made the transition from quarterback to the secondary, and he didn't miss a beat. He just beat up on the opposing team, with 81 tackles and two interceptions.
Defensive back: Eugene Rogers, Greenbrier junior. Rogers was nearly flawless in the open field, picking up 80 tackles and three interceptions.
Defensive back: Tim Camp, Harlem senior. Camp is a tough runner on offense, but he could become a great defensive back at the college level.
Defensive back (tie): B.B. Brandenburg, Lakeside junior; Chris Drayton, Lakeside sophomore. This duo did a great job for the Panthers. Brandenburg had 54 tackles, while Drayton added 48 tackles and also picked off four passes.
Backups: Allen Ligon, Evans senior; Dwight Banks, Augusta Christian senior; Andrew Fisher, Augusta Christian senior; Gabe Greer, Evans sophomore; Dan Wiley, Augusta Christian senior.
Coach of the Year
Mickey Derrick (Greenbrier) and Randy Hill (Lakeside)
Declaring a tie for Columbia County Coach of the Year may seem like a cop-out, but I really could have also considered Marty Jackson at Evans and Augusta Christian's Bruce Lane for the honor.
But Derrick and Hill get the nod, and the coaching rivals are fit to be tied.
Hill helped Lakeside regroup from a winless season, and his change to a triple-option attack on offense helped the Panthers win four games, which included victories over Greenbrier and Evans.
Although Lakeside earned county bragging rights, Derrick had the last laugh, as his Wolfpack won seven games and advanced to the Class AAAA state playoffs for the first time since 1998.
Player of the Year
Eugene Rogers (Greenbrier)
Early in the 2003 season, it was unclear which player would emerge as the top performer in Columbia County.
Augusta Christian tailback Cole Rabun was the favorite initially, and Greenbrier's J.C. Jennings entered the mix with his strong all-around play.
As the season progressed, it became obvious that one gridiron star was rising above all the rest.
Eugene Rogers started strong for Greenbrier, and he just kept getting better. Each time I saw the Pack play, Rogers was the best athlete on the field, period.
Even in Greenbrier's narrow loss to Thomson, Rogers was amazing. During that Halloween contest at the Brierpatch, Rogers caught seven passes for 115 yards and a touchdown, plus he threw a 50-yard pass for another score.
For the season, Rogers had 47 receptions for more than 700 yards and 10 touchdowns. He added 300 yards and four scores on the ground.
Defensively, Rogers was all over the field, blanketing receivers at his defensive back position. He also showed off on kick returns, which included a 62-yard touchdown run.
As you might have gathered, Rogers rarely left the field, and he was always in the middle of the action. He accounted for more than 1,500 all-purpose yards and averaged an astonishing 14.5 yards every time he touched the ball during his junior season.
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