Good luck finding a tougher schedule.
Such is the case for Veterans. First there’s Northside, an away game to start the season Aug. 21. Then there’s West Laurens Aug. 28 and Jones County Sept. 4. Those are both home games.
Following that is a road trip to Perry Sept. 11 and one to Oconee County Sept. 25. Then it’s a home game against Houston County Oct. 2 and one against Wayne County Oct. 9.
Region 1-AAAAA competition follows. That will see the Warhawks play two away games, one at Coffee Oct. 23 and one at Ware County Oct. 30, before finishing off the regular season against Warner Robins, at home Nov. 6.
All told those opponents represent an 80-36 overall record, and 14 of those losses were handed to two teams (the Eagles and Bears).
Among them there are two state runner-ups: Warner Robins (13-2) in AAAAA and Oconee County (13-2) in AAAA. One made it to the semifinals: Jones County (12-2) in AAAAA. Three made it to the Elite Eight: Coffee (9-4) in AAAAAA, Houston County (7-7) in AAAAAA and Coffee County (9-4) in AAAAAA. Two more made it to the Sweet 16: Wayne County (8-3) in AAAAA and Perry (7-5) in AAAA.
In fact, of them all, only Northside didn’t make it into the playoffs. However, Warhawks Head Coach Milan Turner is quick to point out: “They’re Northside. You take away one year and you still have all of the rest.”
At this point and time those who’ve probably never made a schedule in their life might be asking: What was “he” thinking? Well, “It’s exciting if you love the game of football and want to see great football,” he said, adding along the way fans will also get to see great coaches and great players at work.
On the other hand, even he admitted it was a bit more than he had hoped.
“(We’re) a little bit of a victim of our own success,” he said. He added it took a long time to “nail it down and that he even tried to buy out a couple of teams. “Honestly it was surprising. I called some teams we’d played in the region before. Some we’d played before, non-region. I thought based on the proximity and the competitiveness, the financial gain (for both of us) it was a ‘no brainer.’ But they said, ‘no’.
“It was really difficult to try to get non-region games. Really difficult to get people to play us. So we did end up with a really, really tough gauntlet of a non-region schedule. And of course we are still in 1-AAAAA.”
The good new is Milan, now entering his third year as head coach – Veterans coming off a Sweet 16 appearance itself – said he felt the team was in a really “great place” before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Even then, thanks to Zoom meetings, he said the team has actually been able to make maybe even better progress in some areas – i.e. schemes – than what would have been expected.
“The work ethic has been tremendous,” he said – this a couple of months back. “I feel very confident that the vast majority of our guys are doing what they’re supposed to do … I’d rather us be together. I’d rather us be working out, but I feel confident. I think a lot of that is just from the carryover of what we’ve built (buy-in, family, etc), so I feel good about our guys being in a good place. Doing a good job. I don’t think this will mess that up.”
It also won’t hurt that the Warhawks have “seven or eight” players returning on offense. That includes “most of” the offensive line, Turner said, as well as quarterbacks Blake Ethridge and Kedrek Smith.
“That gives us the ‘Wildcat’ package that’s been really good for us,” he said. One of Veterans’ top rushers from this past year will also be back, Lebron Fields. (They lost another standout to graduation, Julian Barnes. They will also have to replace some coaches: also a product of their success – he supports, he said, those who seek opportunities that will help their families or them professionally.) The Warhawks also have a healthy receiving crew returning, Turner said.
Defense on the other hand. “(It) took a huge hit. Three of our starting defensive linemen are gone. They were really good players for us.”
On the other hand: “We do have a couple of young guys who had some real good playing time. So, they gained experience, they just didn’t have as many games under their belt.”
Also, “We lost pretty much our whole linebacking crew. (As a result) the backbone of the defense will be the secondary.
“We feel really good about those guys, but there’s obviously some holes to fill, so it’s going to take a lot of work really fast. Not having a spring and not having the on-the-field opportunities.”
The kicking game is also a plus. Especially when you have “one of the best in the state” in Daniel Gibbs. “A lot of those guys (on special teams) are going to be back,” he said. “And with Daniel, it’s definitely going to be a game-changer for us.”
Which is obviously what they’ll need week-in and week-out given the competition.