In four season at Union County High, coach Brian Allison has an 18-22 record and fell below .500 each of the past two seasons.
But as the Panthers open practice in preparation for the 2012 season, Allison thinks the program is headed in the right direction.
Citing a renewed commitment to hard work and conditioning, Allison said he expects his team to remain competitive week in and week out this season.
Right now, teams around the state are in the midst of a five-day conditioning program before official practice with pads gets started Wednesday. Allison spoke with The Times on Monday to discuss where the program is now and what the future holds in 2012.
Question: You’re going into your fifth season at Union County this year. Your first two were fairly successful, and the last two were losing records. What’s the feeling about the 2012 season as you guys get into practice here?
Answer: We feel good about the direction our program is headed. We played a couple of fairly tough schedules the past two years. To be quite honest with you, we just didn’t do as good of a job as we needed to do to be successful. But I see some changes, and I think we’re going to be competitive this year.
Q: What’s the most improved part of the team?
A: I think depth at receiver is big. I think maybe we’re a little bit more skilled there this year. We’ve got some good depth at the skill positions on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.
Q: What do you feel like still needs a little bit of work?
A: The area that needs the most work, I think, is on the offensive and defensive lines. We’ve got some really good players there that we feel really good about. But it’s the depth that we’re a little worried about. If we can stay healthy, I think we’ll be fine. If we have a few injuries, though, maybe we’ll struggled a little bit.
Q: You played a couple of close games against some pretty decent teams like Dawson County and Lumpkin County last year. How do you turn those close losses into wins this year?
A: We’ve had a really good offseason in the winter and summer. We had about as good a summer as we’ve had here. We’ve just focused on being in better shape and condition better so that we can be ready to win those close games when the opportunity comes.
Q: Tell me about practice so far. I know you guys are in the five-day conditioning program now, but what are the expectations for the team when you hit (Wednesday)?
A: It’s been really good so far. Our kids have really responded well. I expect by Wednesday we’ll come out ready to go. I like this team. I don’t think it’s one of the most athletic teams to ever play, but I like the leadership and it’s just a good team. They work really hard. The question is how good is everyone else and how are we going to compete with them. I really think we’ll be fine. If we have some injuries, obviously that can cause problems. But I think we’ll go out and compete well.
We lost a couple of real good seniors from last season, and that hurts our depth a little bit. It’ll be a challenge, but I think our kids are going to compete well.
Q: There are a couple of new teams to contend with in the region this year. Where do you feel like Union County stacks up against that competition?
A: I’m not sure on some of them. I think some of the teams that we’ve played in the past that we’ll be able to match up with them. But there are a couple of teams that we haven’t played in a few years, so it’s kind of hard to tell. Washington-Wilkes is solid; Jefferson is always good; and I think Rabun will be improved this year. But I think what we’re trying to do is to just be competitive every night.
Q: Anybody on the team stand out to you already, where you can say you expect some real good things from them this year?
A: We’ve got a couple guys on the line that have worked really hard in the weight room, and our quarterback is back after starting 20 games so far. Our fullback is returning, and we think he’ll be a factor. In our skills spots, we’ve got a corner and two safeties returning. But really, I feel pretty good about the direction this team is headed.
Q: No coach is ever willing to make a prediction, but what’s a logical expectation for the team this year?
A: I think that as long as we’re competitive in every game we play, I can’t really set a benchmark. We’re just going to try to be competitive every game. As coaches, we feel like if we prepare them and put them in the best position for 10 games, and then they go out and leave it all out on the field, that’s all we can really ask for. If we win, we win; if we lose, we lose. But we feel like we can go out there and really compete at a high level each week.