Flowery Branch coach Chris Griffin laughed when asked recently how much more he knew about his football team since the full pads were put on.
“I wish you would have asked what we don’t know until we get the pads on,” he said. “That’s football, when we go in pads, you can really tell who you can count on.”
Coaches have had since Aug. 1 — as per the new Georgia High School Association rules — to truly evaluate their players and prepare for the season. It’s a time that both coaches and players anticipate long in advance.
“When the pads get on the intensity picks up,” said Dawson County senior quarterback Tyler Dominy. “You’re playing football now, you know you’re going to start playing games.”
The Riverside Academy football players and coaches are still waiting for that moment.
The players attending the military boarding school won’t even have their first practice until Saturday, just after they return to school. Meaning that new head coach Scott Downs and his staff have to work even more efficiently to put together the next Eagles team.
“We’re getting the coaches to be more efficient so on Saturday we hit the ground running,” Downs said. “It is a short time to get that work done.”
Downs, a former running back for the Atlanta Falcons, had around 30 players working with him over the summer during Riverside’s official summer school, and he’s expecting 45 total to show up for preseason practice. Meaning that while Downs has some idea of what he will have to work with, much is still left up in the air, including what system the team will use.
Regardless, the numbers are a good sign for a team that ended last season with just 23 players.
“It starts with numbers,” Downs said. “If you don’t have any kids you can’t do a lot; kids are the most valuable resource.”
Time isn’t far behind, and in that regard Riverside has a little breathing room; the Eagles have a bye the first week of the season, meaning they’ll hit the field for the first time in a regular season game on Sept. 7 at home against Whitefield Academy.
New Johnson head coach Jason Roquemore, hired in June after the departure of former coach Paul Friel, has also been using every ounce of time available.
When the scrimmage with Riverside was cancelled recently, Roquemore, who joined the Knights from North Cobb Christian, saw it as a benefit.
“I see it as a positive, an extra week to continue to tweak and finalize personnel,” added the first-time head coach, whose team actually starts the regular season a week early, on Aug. 24 at home against West Hall in the annual Battle of Oakwood.
And now that Roquemore, who was hired after spring practice, has finally had a week to see his team in full pads, he can see his team come together.
“Everybody looks good in helmets and shorts,” he said. “Since we’ve put on the pads the kids we thought would have a physical presence have really solidified themselves in that role.”