Editor's note: Now that the Georgia High School Association is allowing players to participate in preseason workouts, the prospect of a football season in the fall has improved greatly. As a result, area players are currently hard at work in the weight room and on the practice field preparing for the new year. Each week during the summer, The Walton Tribune will take an in depth look at the state of each local football program heading into the 2020 season.
WALNUT GROVE – The 2019 season was of a similar vein as the entire history of the Walnut Grove High School football program.
Since the inception of the program, the Warriors have struggled to gain their footing. There are a variety of reasons ranging from the typical challenges of a start-up program, tough region and non-region schedules year-in and year-out as well as several head coaches in a relatively short amount of time.
Walnut Grove went 0-10 last fall following a 2-8 campaign in 2018. For coach Robert Andrews, however, season three is showing signs there can be progress based in part on the attitude of all involved in the program.
“We have a great group of kids,” Andrews said. “They are focused on the process and are starting to understand what we want to do. Our players are doing the necessary things in order to be successful.”
Like other Georgia High School Association programs, the Warriors returned to work on June 8 although in a limited role. Still, Andrews said it is good to be able to do something – anything – as a team again.
“It’s great to be back and just be able to see them,” said Andrews. “The past couple of months has been unlike anything any of us have experienced as coaches. We had several players who had access to equipment so they were able to work out. However, we also had some who did not have access, so being back together means we can start working on that foundation we need for the upcoming season.”
Andrews said he knows it sounds like an old coaching adage, but 2019 saw his team ravaged by injuries, even before the first game or first week of practice were complete.
“We had an injury plague, not the injury bug,” the coach said. “Before the middle of the first quarter of our first game we lost two linebackers. We also lost one of our linemen with a knee injury. I am not sure we had the same group of linemen start back-to-back games.”
Those injuries offset what a large senior class in terms of numbers. Going into the 2020 season, Andrews said the program has numerous football players who have the potential to be a very good.
“We have had good senior leadership even though this year’s class is smaller,” Andrews said. “We also have some good young players who will get the chance to contribute.”
The coach praised the rising seniors for sticking with the program and with him through some difficult and lean times.
Andrews said Walnut Grove is the smallest school enrollment-wise in Class AAAAA.
“When the list came out we were the last school on the list,” the coach said.
The Warriors will compete in Region 8-AAAAA this fall along with Apalachee, Clarke Central, Eastside, Greenbrier, Jackson County, Johnson-Gainesville and Loganville. Andrews likes the makeup of the region and the closeness in location of the members. In addition, there are some natural rivalries with some teams including fellow county school Loganville.
Non-region foes include home games with Miller Grove and Monroe Area and a road trip to Social Circle. The longest road trip for the Warriors in 2020 will be to Johnson-Gainesville.
One of the immediate goals for coaches is to keep the players safe as they continue to follow safety guidelines concerning COVID-19.
“The kids are starting to understand the whole process of being successful,” Andrews said. “It’s carrying over into how we are approaching our work now. We want leaders to develop in each class, not just our seniors. We say ‘we want a leader in every locker.’ We want our players to hold their teammates accountable as well to be there to encourage each other. We want to see that from our freshmen all the way through our seniors.”