Oconee County High School’s football team hit the practice field for the acclimation period trying to not look back.
The dreaded injury bug swamped a promising start to the 2018 football season for the Warriors. Starters were swept from the field in droves last season. In football, there are few opportunities to make excuses and the OCHS head coach Travis Noland won’t use the injuries as an excuse for the Warriors’ 6-5 record and third place finish in Region 8-4A.
To those with common sense, the Warriors’ team that defeated Jefferson High School in the season opener wasn’t the one that was beaten in the first round of the Class 4A state playoffs in November.
To the players on the field this week in practice, that was last year. Last year is in the past and it’s something that isn’t going to help of hurt them for the upcoming season, though there are lessons to be taken from every experience during a football season.
“We don’t look back,” Noland said. “We won’t bring up last year, if we do, it will be very few times this year. Each team is it’s own team and each journey is it’s own journey. The kids know. They learned from those things. They don’t have to be reminded of being close in this game or being close in that game. We’ve just got to do a better job coaching them to make those plays that we didn’t make.”
The Warriors saw their promise early in the season and had their sights set on the region schedule with high hopes before having them slowly, painstakingly stripped with every passing non-region contest.
Experiencing that type of slow walk to the end of the season has a way of scarring. It leaves a stain on the psyche that demands appreciation of the moment down to the literal step in front of oneself.
Fortunately for the Warriors, that formula has some substance in the process of winning in the game of football. The sport is a cruel, violent and unforgiving metal-tester. Trying to outthink and over look any steps in the process leads to being disappointed by the more prepared team or unforeseen circumstance.
“The lesson that we all learned, including me even after 20 plus years of coaching, from last year is that this really is a one day at a time, one step at a time, one game at a time [process],” Noland said. “When you experience what we had to go through last year, that’s really our approach. There really isn’t another way that we can approach it right now.”
The Warriors have proven to be capable of the approach that Noland proposes for the 2019 season. In 2015 the Warriors won Region 8-3A. The Warriors followed a steady diet of improvement throughout that season on their way to a 9-3 season.
The formula to making a run at the region championship this season could be similar. It will have to be. The Warriors’ most important games come in October and November. They won’t be rewarded for anything done prior to the month of October. Last season, the Warriors played some their best football before the region schedule began. It was the middle portion of the season and the first half of region play that turned the Warriors’ season back into the opposite direction, though Noland felt the Warriors reached their potential as a team by the end of the season despite the injuries.
“We got better every week [in 2015],” Noland said. “That’s what we’ve got to try to do this year. I felt like we played really good football the first four or five weeks last year. Through attrition, it got to where we were improving and getting better to replacing and getting ready. There’s a big difference in that. Hopefully, we’ll have the opportunity to just keep getting better as this season goes along.”