I hopped out of my car in early August expecting to hear a bunch of, well, football practice noise. I pulled around the Oconee County High School fieldhouse still yawning from the early morning trek I’d made into Watkinsville.
I was to take a few photos for our preview magazine as well as that Thursday’s paper that was set to feature photos of football practices from all around the county.
As I skirted the edges of Warrior Stadium I began to see the 2019 edition of the OCHS Warriors. I began to hear the noises I expected to hear from a football practice.
Pads popped, OCHS Travis Noland and an assortment of other coaches could be heard blowing the occasional whistle to put an end to each practice rep.
That was all you could hear.
I’ve been around high school football a long time. Football practice is rarely just football practice by way of the sound waves emitting from whichever practice field you’re attending.
I could hear the crickets because it was the settling of an early morning’s brisk bite of the heated summer day it was set to be.
The Warriors had been on the field since around 6 a.m. I showed up at around 7 a.m. Maybe the quiet came from the teenagers’ lack of sleep and the early morning rise.
The last few weeks have proven otherwise. If I learned anything from that quietly toiling pack that morning, it was that this season’s OCHS football team was going to be a focused group. They were obviously hungry.
The Warriors have had the talent to be in contention for a region championship every year that I have been at The Oconee Enterprise.
Injuries just ravaged entire position groups and seasons for the Warriors the last few years. I’ve seen them stay in games that they couldn’t possibly have had a fair shot at winning with the number of starters standing on the sidelines on crutches or other injury protection equipment. They fought anyway. They made the playoffs anyway. They built the character anyway. It’s why waking up to play football wasn’t hard for them. Many of them have seen how fickle the opportunity to go out on Friday nights in front of your hometown folks can be. It doesn’t last forever. It can be here one play and gone the next.
I sat and watched the Warriors practice that day and looked around at some of the young men they had returning to the field. I also took notice of the growth, physically and mentally that some of the young faces that were forced into action had undergone.
I listened to Noland. I rarely heard a complaint. The Warriors briskly went through their practice. The sidelines were quiet. The attention was paid to what was going on in between the lines at all times. The side conversations, though few, pertained to football. It was the first inkling I had of the success that was to come for the Warriors. I was convinced this year’s Warriors were going to have some sort of success.
Here we are nearly four months later and the Warriors are on the doorstep of something special. I know we all have heard the noise the Warriors have made since, but it all started with that quiet Monday morning practice in August.
Jeremy Johnson is the sports editor for The Oconee Enterprise. Opinions expressed are those of the writer.