BUFORD — Buford High football coach Jess Simpson is taking the approach that building a champion in 2009 is going to have to start from ground zero.
The Class AA state title rings the Wolves earned in 2007 and 2008 came primarily as a result of the accomplishments of a group of players that have now graduated from the program.
Still, Simpson doesn’t mind having a bunch of young players that have no other frame of reference than that of being winners at Buford.
"I heard (University of Florida) coach Urban Meyer give a great quote about that last year after they won the national championship when he said, ‘All these guys woke up on third base and didn’t even hit the triple.’"
Simpson is going to be the last person that is going to declare that his team is a state title front runners based solely on what is happening in conditioning this summer.
His main concern right now is rallying the latest group of Buford players together and building toughness that will carry over to practice when it begins in August.
Summer conditioning for the Wolves entails about four hours of strength work in the weight room each week, speed work, fitness testing and passing work so the offense can start to get in sync.
One of Simpson’s favorite tools this offseason is a video camera. Every snap, drill and formation is caught on tape for players to watch to see what needs to be corrected before the lights come on in the fall.
"Hopefully, we’ll be able to build some toughness over the summer and prepare the team to win the tough, close games during the regular season," Simpson added.
At this point, the Wolves coach has his radar geared more toward gauging effort and a willingness to learn, rather than simply how many pounds his players can put up on the bench press.
"They aren’t going to bring out a bench press to the 50-yard line during the game," Simpson said.
And while Simpson has a lot of youth on the team with only 16 seniors — and only a pair of returning starters on each side of the ball — he’s encouraged by what he’s seen.
"Our kids are making strides, but we’re just moving at a snail’s pace right now," Simpson said. "We’re taking two steps forward and one step back.
"But that’s a lot better than the other way around."
Despite the low numbers of returning starters and seniors, Buford isn’t starting from scratch, as many of its key players earned valuable playing time last season. Most of the Wolves’ wins in 2008 — especially in the regular season — were wildly lopsided, most notably four consecutive blowouts in Region 6-AA play.
"Those games gave us chances to get our No. 2’s and No. 3’s reps," Simpson said.
As usual for Buford, there are future Division-I football players suiting up for the Wolves, led this year by Auburn commit Jessel Curry and Georgia commit Kolton Houston.
Buford opens the season against first-year program Grovetown on Aug. 21, then after a bye week visits North Hall on Sept. 4.