If Buford football coach Jess Simpson has the look of someone who has been there before, it’s because he has.
This will be Simpson’s first trip as the head coach, but he and the Wolves are no stranger to the Georgia Dome, where they will be playing in the Class AA state semifinals against Dublin at 9 a.m. Saturday. Before losing to Charlton County in the quarterfinals in the last two seasons, Buford had been to the Georgia Dome in five consecutive seasons. Simpson was an assistant on coach Dexter Wood’s staff for all five of those trips.
Now, after beating Charlton County on the road last Friday, the Wolves are preparing for a return to Atlanta. But the Dome wasn’t even on the list of the Wolves’ goals.
Times sports reporter Jeff Cochran sat down with Simpson on Thursday to talk about the build up before the game, finally playing in close games and the expectations of the Buford football program.
Question: With such a big game coming up, how much anticipation has been building this week?
Answer: I don’t think I’m feeling any of that. It’s just all logistics and details and being sure you’re weekly plan fits your kids and what they need. The different details and travel arrangements can take your mind off of coaching. Luckily for us, we’ve been there before. Hopefully, that’s not going to be too much of an issue for us.
Q: Since the game is on Saturday, you have an extra day to prepare. How are you using that extra day?
A: We feel like we stole the day early in the week. We worked Saturday and Sunday. We really treated Monday like the extra day. Our kids, after the long trip to Charlton (last Friday), that’s six hours away and they got home at 4 in the morning. They were still tired. It’s been a blessing for us this week. If we had to play (today), I think there would have been a little bit of a difference just from a fatigue standpoint.
Q: How big of a hurdle was beating Charlton County last week after struggling with them in the past?
A: I think it may do a lot for us. That’s one of those unknowns that you hope, as a coach, winning a game like that, a four-quarter, tough game against a traditional state power, it would translate to us playing with more confidence and being a good football team the next week.
Q: How long is the drive from Buford to the Georgia Dome?
A: It’s about 45 minutes. And I’ll tell you, those six hours coming home (from Charlton County) went by real fast. We didn’t mind that ride at all. That was a fun ride home.
Q: After a fairly smooth regular season, your team has been in some tough games in the playoffs. How has the team responded to closer games like that?
A: If last Friday was any indication, they responded great. This is what we’ve been talking about for a year and this is what our program is about every year. These teams are judged by what they do in November and December. When the seniors wrote down their goals for the season, they didn’t have a lot on the piece of paper. It was about one thing. It wasn’t about going undefeated or winning the region or going to the Dome. They wanted to win a state championship. Fortunately by winning Friday night, that goal is still alive. I think they are excited about playing in the Dome, but that isn’t the state championship for them.
Q: What led to such high expectations for the Buford football program?
A: I think it’s where you’ve been and it’s all perspective. We have been so spoiled, played in the Dome five years in a row and not getting there the past two. It was a bitter pill to swallow. I think they are excited, but they aren’t treating it like ‘Boy, we’ve arrived.’ That might be the best way to say it.
Q: After such a long season, how is your team’s health?
A: Knock on wood, for this time of year, we are about as healthy as we can hope for. We’ve lost a few along the way, but they haven’t been kids that we’ve lost here lately. For the most part, we are pretty healthy. We’ve got some nicks and bumps and bruises. I don’t think it’s going to hold anybody out of Saturday’s game.
Q: Your opponent, Dublin, is another traditional state powerhouse. What are you expecting to see from them?
A: I told our kids Monday that it’s not everyday you get to beat the defending state champ two weeks in a row (Dublin and Charlton County tied in the Class AA final last year). Dublin is a great program first of all. You know when you turn on a tape of a program team, you can watch them a year ago or watch them five years ago and they don’t look all that different. They’re running the same offense and defense. They are well-coached in the kicking game. They are big kids, strong kids, fast kids. It’s a final four game and it looks like a final four team to me.
Q: By beating Dublin and Charlton County, your team will have ousted both of last year’s champs. What would that do for your team’s confidence heading into a potential state title game?
A: Any time you win, it builds confidence. I just know that you are playing someone good every week. A win Saturday just means we get the opportunity to accomplish our goal. That’s it. Our kids have never been in to rankings and that has been going on for eight years. It just doesn’t mean much.