On the Football Fridays in Georgia podcast, hosts Hannah Goodin and Jon Nelson dive into the playoff picture with Todd Holcomb of the Georgia High School Football Daily newsletter. This jam-packed show continues with Thomasville Bulldogs head football coach, Zach Grage. He looks at his match-up with Westside-Augusta, the Class AA bracket across the board, and what Football Fridays mean to Thomasville.
Jon Nelson: Welcome to another round of the Football Fridays in Georgia podcast here at Georgia Public Broadcasting. Thanks for accessing us, however you are doing so, large device or small: GBP, GBP.org, the GPB Sports app, your favorite podcatchers. Save, like, whatever the kids do with their podcatchers. It’s like — you like it, you save it, you sit there, you hit the button to make sure that when we have the new one they know the instant that it happens when it’s posted by our irreplaceable producer, Sean Powers.
Hannah Goodin: Happy playoff week, Jon.
Jon Nelson: Happy playoff week. It is the playoffs. And we are now down to what is it? So 32 times 8?
Hannah Goodin: Oh, no. Here he goes again with math.
Jon Nelson: 24… 240…. 256 teams are left. And now the magic starts between now and the week after Christmas at Georgia State. And we got some folks to help us out this week
Hannah Goodin: Filled your brackets out? How did that compare to what you had?
Jon Nelson: Oh, I had the pen bracket and I had the pencil bracket and I had — you saw me on the broadcast. I actually had —
Hannah Goodin: An inch-thick stack of notes. You and notes. It’s an oxymoron.
Jon Nelson: This time you need ’em. This time of year, you need them, and you need to be right. And all of the combinations, permutations, what could be what happens if somebody wins loses math region tiebreakers. Is it rock, paper, scissors? Is it common points with common opponents? Those kinds of things you need to know — all those tiebreakers, all that kind of stuff. That’s — this is when, the last six weeks of the football season is when you need your notes.
Hannah Goodin: Yeah.
Jon Nelson: I mean, you know — you know your notes for the first nine games of the season, but you’ve got to make sure that everything’s in line for the last week of the regular season and on the run into the championships. And so, yes, that’s when I showed that I have an inch-thick stack of notes last week at Norcross for the Norcross game, the Norcross win against Archer in their region championship game that we had on GPB.
Hannah Goodin: Well, for our first week of playoffs, we have an awesome show for you. We got two great guests. Todd Holcomb at GHSF Daily. Yep. And Zach Grage, head coach at Thomasville. He’ll be on the show later.
Jon Nelson: Yeah.
Hannah Goodin: Excited about them.
Jon Nelson: Yeah. And so we’re just going to go ahead and send it to our interview with Todd Holcomb from the Georgia High School Football Daily. And the first question that I asked, Todd, is a question that a lot of folks have had around the state: Did you think that we’d get this far?
Todd Holcomb: I think we would get this far, but I think we played more games than I would have expected. I think the average number of games played — I kind of did the math over the weekend. It was something like 8.9 and most teams did not play ten, but about maybe 40% of them did. And I think most of them played nine or 10. So I think it went better than most people would have thought in terms of just getting the season in and getting in a lot of games.
Hannah Goodin: Todd, you reported that all AAAA and AA playoff games will be moved to Saturday because of not enough officials. How will that affect things?
Todd Holcomb: Well, I think people are so happy to be in the playoffs, they’ll just adjust. So I don’t think it’ll be — I don’t think it’ll be a big difference for most people. You know, you’re competing against Saturday college football for some attendance, I suppose. So it could hurt as far as that. But I don’t think it’ll affect the outcomes or or anything, anything like that. And the bigger story to me is just the officials. You know, there’s just not as many as there are needed. And then in the playoffs, not — just because you can officiate a regular season game, doesn’t automatically mean you’re qualified to officiate the playoffs. There are other standards, if you have to meet a number of clinics and courses and things like that. And so there’s just not — not enough of them. So they got to spread them out.
Jon Nelson: All right. So how many versions of brackets did you have in pencil before you got the ones in pen? How many — how many combinations and permutations did you have to go through leading into last Friday?
Todd Holcomb: Are you talking about knowing who is going to play who, or who I thought was going to play who?
Jon Nelson: Yeah, both. How many combinations and permutations did you have going in?
Todd Holcomb: Yeah, you know, I don’t, I don’t — it didn’t seem like there was that many surprises on Friday that changed it a whole lot. I don’t believe, you know, there were you know, I guess when you look at the the brackets, though, now, I did see a few teams kind of sticking out there that are four seeds and they maybe didn’t expect to be or are three seeds and things like that, but nothing too surprising, I don’t think, once we got to that final week.
Hannah Goodin: What’s the toughest bracket, do you think, and who has the toughest road to the championships?
Todd Holcomb: Well, it depends on what classification you’re talking about. You know, I think Colquitt County is probably not overly thrilled that they got Brookwood in the first round.
Jon Nelson: That upper right bracket in 7A, I know.
Todd Holcomb: Yeah, I mean, that’s incredible because in Brookwood, literally, I mean, they were in the top five for much of the season. And the only reason they really aren’t is because, well, I shouldn’t say it that way, I don’t want to take anything away from Newton who played a great game against them, but Brookwood had some key injuries in that game or maybe they would have won that or played better and then their other loss is to Grayson. I mean, they’re really good and explosive. I would you know, that’s going to be — that’s going to be pretty hard. Yes.
Far as other teams with tough draws, it’s interesting, certainly, that Cedar Grove is going to be on the four on the road for the first round. Yeah. And then they potentially could play Crisp County in the quarterfinals. So that’s pretty tough. And I don’t know if as many people pay attention to Class A Private, but I — I think it’s interesting that, like, Athens Academy might play Fellowship Christian in the second round.
Hannah Goodin: Oh yeah.
Todd Holcomb: Prince Avenue might play Eagles Landing Christian in the quarterfinals. Those are the top two teams ranked rank-wise. So those are some interesting ones.
Jon Nelson: And at the same time, you know, the way that things have come because of rotation, you could have a second round match up in Single A Public involving the two teams that played in the double final last year with Brooks and Dublin.
Todd Holcomb: That’s right. I’m just looking at that. I didn’t notice that. That’s — yeah, and I mean, I guess Brooks County, they are, well, there’s — there’s that really tough region, you know, with Irwin and Brooks.
Jon Nelson: The region of doom.
Todd Holcomb: And so — so that’s the tough thing. You know, obviously, the Georgia High School Association does not seem to seed, you know, any of their tournaments like, say, that the NCAA does so, you know, really tough regions. You know, a lot of times you’ll see sweeps and there probably will be some, you know, one regional sweep the other, you know, you played real hard to get a one or two seed and then you find out, well, and I would have been better off maybe being the three seed.
Jon Nelson: Be a two or three and go on the road.
Todd Holcomb: Yeah, exactly.
Hannah Goodin: You said you didn’t see any big surprises. And they’re certainly all good teams in the playoffs. But is there an underdog that sticks out that you’re rooting for? I love a good underdog.
Todd Holcomb: Well, let’s see, I think, you know … well, here I’ll point out a few little trivial things, you know, people might be interested in. I was just doing some research. There are five teams in the playoffs that have never made it before. You would think maybe more than that. But there’s, you know, 255 teams in the playoffs. But those five teams are Discovery and Kennesaw Mountain, Cherokee Bluff, King’s Ridge Christian and Lakeview Academy.
So those are some kind of interesting teams that will be in there for the first time. As far as, like underdog, you know what team I would be curious to see how they’re going to do is South Atlanta. They had not won a region title, I think ever; I think they opened in the ’90s and it’s a school known for its basketball team.
And — and they are a No. 1 seed out of that region. Got a home game against Chattooga and really a draw that, you know, there’s some other pretty good teams in that corridor, Jefferson County, and, you know, but it wouldn’t be shocking with home field advantage if they could really get to the semifinals.
Jon Nelson: Who do you think — I guess, what’s the class that’s the most wide open from your point of view? Because you look at some and you sit there and you have a decided number of favorites, but is there one class more than any of the others that is more wide open where you could see like 12 teams make it to win a championship?
Todd Holcomb: Let’s see. I would have to kind of go down the list of some of these. I would say that Class 6A. I think it’s hard for me to peg there. I mean, I think, you know, you’ve got, you know, Buford, Lee County at the top of there. But I don’t — I don’t sense a real obvious favorite in that one. Yeah. I think Grace is clearly the favorite, although anything can happen in the highest classification. And then I think yeah, I think Tift, you know, Jefferson and Marist, huge favorites, I think in 4A, one of the two teams.
Jon Nelson: Right. Yeah.
Todd Holcomb: So lemme kind of scroll on down. Let’s see, I like 3A a lot, you know, especially — with a little bit of uncertainty regarding Cedar Grove. I mean they’ll be playing on the road also. They only played five games.
Jon Nelson: Right.
Todd Holcomb: And you know, Crisp County was in the final last year. Oconee County was in the final last year. Peach County, I think, you know, beat Crisp this year. So those are four really good teams.
Jon Nelson: Nothing like a region game with Peach and Crisp, eh?
Todd Holcomb: Yeah, right. Exactly. So, and I think I mean, my answer might actually be 2A, so I know I’m bouncing around, but I really don’t know who’s gonna win that.
Jon Nelson: No, it’s okay!
Todd Holcomb: You got Rabun County never won a state title. Fitzgerald has not won one since the ’40s with both of them are really good. And — and Fitzgerald’s had a great season. They won — you know, they’re undefeated and they’re ranked number one, we haven’t ranked number one, but they’ve had 3 or 4 games that are just down to the wire. They had to come back in the fourth quarter. So they’re not like blowing people out. So that that would definitely, I would think is pretty wide open. Among the top three, four teams.
Hannah Goodin: Our Football Friday Game of the week is Camden County versus Parkview in the Big Orange Jungle. And we’ll preview that game later in the podcast. But what do you think about that matchup? I’m also interested in Marietta versus East Coweta, the winner of Camden County. Parkview plays the winner of that game. So those are two big matchups, in my opinion.
Todd Holcomb: Yeah, no doubt. I mean, I think Parkview and Camden County is definitely one of the — probably one of the best handful of games statewide, just in terms of it being kind of intriguing. But both teams were ranked in the top five in preseason. And I think both of them, you might say, have not played as well as they had hoped for various reasons. And Camden County has had just a slew of injuries and especially on the offensive line. But they’re, you know, they’re really talented and well coached. And, you know, Bob Sphire is one of the best in the business.
Hannah Goodin: The best.
Todd Holcomb: Both of those teams have AJC Super 11 players, Micha Morris, the lineman in Camden and Cody Brown, great running back at Parkview. And Parkview has struggled throwing the ball. I think that’s always held him back. I think the talent is pretty much there. And — and, you know, and Brown is he probably you know — one of the things you can say with — with Parkview that they are you know, University of Georgia likes to call itself a running back U., well, I think Parkview is a running back high school with all the great backs they’ve had over the years. And, you know, Chris Carson on NFL and Cody Brown, just another in a long list of guys they’ve had come through there.
Jon Nelson: All right. So now it’s time for the promo. And I will go ahead and stipulate. And thanks for coming on with us this week as we’re getting ready to do brackets. I have saved every single GHSF Daily that has ever come out because there’s always been a piece of information that I’ve always thought was really cool. It’s in my saved mail. So for those that haven’t subscribed and would like to, to keep up with everything going on on a daily basis for Georgia high school football, how do they do it?
Todd Holcomb: Well, find us on Twitter. That’s the best way. I’m getting more active on Twitter, but just Georgia High School Football Daily Twitter and Google that and you’ll find us.
And we’ve got at the top of there, you can there’s a link you can click that allows you to — to sign up and it’s free and you can opt in, opt out. But I hope you opt in. I think it’s some, you know, pretty, pretty good daily news. And we’ve enjoyed doing it now for our 12th season. And our — we’ve — our subscribers are more than ever. We’re over 23,000 right now.
Jon Nelson: Very cool.
Hannah Goodin: Wow. That’s a lot of subscribers. Todd, you find these nuggets of information. And I read the emails daily and I’m like, I don’t even know how he finds this stuff. What’s been your favorite story to cover this year or some of the coolest information that you’ve come across this season?
Todd Holcomb: Oh, well, you know, first of all, I think credit goes to the Georgia High School Football Historians Association and a guy there named — who founded it nearly 20 years ago now — Lauren Maxwell. And so and I did I’ve done a lot of research for them to get that website going and even to go on. And so he’s just a good friend of mine. And I’ll come up with some idea and I’ll send him a request like he, you know, can you search the database and come up with this? And he — so he really helps me out. I’ve talked to him like we’re the Lennon and McCartney, you know, coming up with these lists and stuff like that.
You know, we just play off each other well. And — and I mean, I would have to think hard. My example of one is like, let’s say, you know, Cherokee Bluff this year, won their first region title in just their third year as a school. So when things like that happen, I say, “Well, when — how many teams have ever done that?” And — and now because of this database in the history that Georgia fortunate enough to have on that website, he can do a query and figure it out. And so there’s been only like fewer than 20. And — and Cherokee Bluff is the first to do it in three years since Grayson in 2002. So little stats like that really help, you know, a really cool that we have in our newsletter and I think is something that in Georgia high school football for the media is you don’t really see that in other states because the information is not available. But I credit, you know, that — that historian’s website, if people haven’t seen that, they need to check it out.
Hannah Goodin: Well, you certainly do a great job. I’ve got one more question for you, since you do cover every team in the state.
Jon Nelson: Every team in the state.
Hannah Goodin: — and you are familiar with most of the top players in the state, I’m just going to go ahead and say all of them. We do this segment on Recruiting 2020 that’s called Make This Kid an Offer. Is there a player out there that doesn’t have an offer or needs a better offer that you think has been overlooked?
Todd Holcomb: Hmm, let’s see.
Jon Nelson: And you know what you could do if you could come up with an answer, maybe you put it in your column, put it — put it in the GHSF Daily, maybe? Something like that.
Hannah Goodin: We’re going to get this kid an offer for sure.
Todd Holcomb: Yeah, I mean, I think sometimes, you know, I don’t know who that player is, and I mean — I mean, I’ll give an example of a guy that we — like last week, our state player of the week was a guy named Clay Hyatt at Haralson County.
Jon Nelson: Yeah.
Todd Holcomb: And, you know, he’s just two years in a row. I mean, I think last rushed for close to 2,000 yards, this year he’s steering a little low, about 1,200. And, and he’s big, you know, like, you know, a lot of times you’ll see a guy in his yards and you’ll go visit them. And the thing on their list at 5’9”. But they’re really 5’6”. And they’re great high school players, but not necessarily next level. Well, this guy is pretty big. So, you know, you see guys like that a lot.
You know, Washington County has a kid named Malyk Walker and he’s rushed for over 2,000 yards. And I don’t know how good of a college prospect he is, but I’m sure curious to know what people, you know, what colleges think of him. And, you know, so there’s a lot of guys like that that I think, you know, because we run a lot of stats and notes that, you know, they pop on the radar. But I’m not — I’m not a recruiting expert. But I think there’s just a lot of rich — there’s just a rich amount of players, you know, for the show y’all are doing, which I think is really terrific, that, you know, you can explore into and find a bunch of ’em.
Jon Nelson: Well, Todd, thanks for hanging out with us this week on the show and go get some lunch.
Todd Holcomb: Well, all right. Well, great. It’s fun being with you I hope, maybe I’ll be on here again before the playoffs are done, but looking forward to it. I’m just excited we got this far. And, you know, it’s almost like free football because we didn’t take it for granted this year.
Jon Nelson: Good to catch up with Todd, and I know that we’ve got to kind of get into last week a little bit before we get into this week and catching up with Zach Grage down in Thomasville, what you have on your show, what did you have on your sheets from last week? What was on your mind? What’s on your mind?
Hannah Goodin: Well, our game, our Football Friday game of the week —
Jon Nelson: Yes.
Hannah Goodin: Which we talked to Todd a little bit about —
Jon Nelson: Yeah.
Hannah Goodin: No. 3 Norcross versus Archer. That one determined the Region 7-AAAAAAA championship. The Blue Devils took an early lead with help from senior running back Jahni Clarke, who rushed for 133 yards and a score. Sophomore tight end Lawson Luckie also got his first touchdown of the season.
Jon Nelson: Lawson Luckie!
Hannah Goodin: Yes! During Norcross’ first offensive drive. That was great for him. The Blue Devils ended up taking down the Archer Tigers 31 to 14 to go undefeated at 10 and 0 on the air and clinch their first region title since 2016. What were your thoughts on the game, Jon?
Jon Nelson: The hot hand: Jahni Clarke, 133 and a score. And you know, I talked to Coach Maloof about it at the half. You know, when you’ve got three running backs that share the load, which I think is going to be big when it comes playoff time, because that way you can just bring in a fresh set of legs to make sure that you can grind a defense down. You saw in that first drive for Norcross what Jahni Clarke is capable of being for that Norcross offense and the fact that Coach Maloof can sit there and he can sit there and tap somebody else and go, “OK, it’s your turn, Jahni’s a little winded,” Jahni is like, “Nah, I ain’t winded. I’m staying out here.”
Hannah Goodin: Yeah.
Jon Nelson: And so when you’ve got depth at a position like that, especially when you can grind out a game like we saw Norcross do at points, I think it’s going to be big for them come the postseason, you know, you run the table at 10A. And you get South Forsyth coming up in the first round of the playoffs,
Hannah Goodin: Taking a look around the rest of the state: No. 8 Milton claimed victory in Region 5-AAAAAAA and they went 9 and 0 on the year with a 49 to 20 — 41 to 29 win over Cherokee. No. 7 East Coweta is the Region 2-AAAAAAA champion with a one-point victory.
Jon Nelson: This one was crazy. Scott Sickler was down there helping me out with all the scoring and everything, and he said it was absolute pandemonium when Chase Lewis blocked Noonan’s PAT with 76 seconds to go.
Hannah Goodin: What a heartbreaker. They had two blocked PATs, which was the difference of the game.
Jon Nelson: Yeah and you get into, you know and when we talked to Todd about East Coweta and Marietta, Marietta is another side story to all of this. 2 and 7 coming into the last week of the regular season. They beat Walton. They get into the playoffs as the four out of that region at 3 and 7 coming in. What can the defending champ do now that they’re in the dance? That’s another question.
Hannah Goodin: Yeah, I mean, I told Todd I’ve got my eye on that game for sure. A few more for me: No. 2 Buford shut out No. 5 Dacula for the Region 8-AAAAAA title. The Wolves led 21 to nothing in the first quarter alone. The Falcons, on the other hand, are now the runner-up in the region. For the Region 1-AAA crown, No. 8 Pierce County defeated No. 5 Appling County, 28 to 21.
Jon Nelson: By all accounts, this one was as absolutely bananas as we were hearing on social media. The crowd in Baxley apparently was overflow or as overflow as you could get. Two great programs there with Appling and with — with Pierce County going at it. And it went down to the wire, as everybody thought.
Hannah Goodin: And finally on my list Christian Heritage took first place in Region 7-A Single A Private with a 28 to 13 win over North Cobb Christian.
Jon Nelson: Cobb, Christian say that ten times fast.
Hannah Goodin: North Cobb, Christian. I think I said Crob.
Jon Nelson: River Ridge beat Cambridge to run the — run the table and go 9 and 0 and finish up undefeated. Good good for River Ridge. Season for them for the ages. Blessed Trinity, they beat Woodland Cartersville, they finish their season at 6 and 0. We know how tough it’s been for the Titans to get through their schedule. Warner Robins finishes off at No.2. They are at 8 and 1; they beat Veterans by 28. Ware County right behind ’em. Ware’s loss to Warner Robins. And so those two teams, I anticipate making a deep run into the postseason. Then you look down the line, Carver Columbus beat Troup on Saturday, and that was a game that was going to determine things over on the western side of the state. D.J. Riles, 16 of 17 passing for 176. Calver runs the table. They go to 8 and 0. They’ll get Jenkins Savannah coming up in their first round action. Perry beat Baldwin for the region championship, 23-20. Also in Class 4A and down on the coast. You mentioned what happened with Pearson, Appling County. ARC: Another great story here, the Academy of Richmond County … Just, it’s Richmond Academy, but really, it’s ARC. The Academy of Richmond County beats Burke, Richmond — Richmond Academy’s first region title since 1976.
Hannah Goodin: Wow.
Jon Nelson: And here’s your here’s your piece of history. What former SEC coach attended ARC in his high school years?
Hannah Goodin: What former SEC…
Jon Nelson: What former SEC coach — as she’s thinking, she’s — she’s putting her index finger —
Hannah Goodin: Can I get a year?
Jon Nelson: Let’s — let’s let’s put it this way. He was coached on the plains. And I know that you spent your SEC reporting days in Tuscaloosa.
Hannah Goodin: I know. I know a lot of Alabama history.
Jon Nelson: Uh-huh. Pat Dye.
Hannah Goodin: Oh, I should have known that
Jon Nelson: Coach Dye was at ARC before he went to the University of Georgia for his college.
Hannah Goodin: I’ve interviewed him before. Good guy.
Jon Nelson: Yeah, very good, dude. Fannin County, L.A. They beat Dade 55-7. Callaway beat Heard 30 to 17. To — I mean, that was another region that was in the blender with Haralson County and Callaway and Heard — that’s, it’s been a fun watch. Vidalia beat Swainsboro to finish at, 7 and 2 in AA. And then you mentioned what you saw in Single A Private with Christian Heritage in North Cobb. You had a region of doom in Single A where folks were putting up numbers there as well. So that’s just a small piece of what happened the last week of the regular season.
Hannah Goodin: We missed one.
Jon Nelson: What.
Hannah Goodin: Lassiter. Lassiter, my alma mater, lost 58 to nothing.
Jon Nelson: But then you said, well then, we missed two because Lakeside lost to Stone Mountain. So there we go.
Hannah Goodin: Whoopsies.
Jon Nelson: OK, so now let’s talk playoffs. Who’s our guest to talk playoffs?
Hannah Goodin: Oh well, we just talked to Todd.
Jon Nelson: Yeah.
Hannah Goodin: So we’re getting Zach Grage on the phone.
Jon Nelson: Yeah. So it’s Zach Grage. The head coach of the Thomasville Bulldogs and we mentioned regions of doom here in the show. Zach is in one of those regions of doom, Region 1-AA with the likes of Fitzgerald. He goes into what it’s like being in that region and one of the toughest regions in the state.
Zach Grage: It feels awesome. Definitely better than the alternative right to be hosting and proud of the kids for getting to this point. And, you know, I could go up learning this as well to all the marbles are made. So I’m just excited to have this opportunity for sure.
Hannah Goodin: You’re coming off a huge 68 to 6 Region 1-AA win over Berrien on Friday. How does that game propel you into the playoffs?
Zach Grage: You can’t question the momentum that it brings for sure. And we’re coming off a tough loss against Fitzgerald, 29-28. There was the Region championship for 1-AA. And I was a little worried, you know, about our kids coming into the Berrien game against, I guess probably what they would see as the lesser opponent and, you know, having that Fitzgerald “hangover” in quotes. So I was really, really proud of our half. We were up 61 nothing at halftime. And it was probably one of the most well-played, well-executed halves of football since I’ve been here.
So really, really proud of their effort, really proud that we were able to get all of our kids in the program into the game, second half with a running clock. And it — was it was exciting. It was a good night for Thomasville. And we had the open week this past week to focus on ourselves and nurse a couple of injuries and find out who we were playing this past Friday night.
Hannah Goodin: Well, this Friday night, playoffs begin. You are a two seed you’ll take on three seed Westside Augusta. Preview that matchup for us.
Zach Grage: Well, we, one, get to play Saturday, which is awesome.
Hannah Goodin: Saturday. Yeah, that’s right.
Zach Grage: We just were informed of that this morning, which has made today a logistical nightmare. But I think — I think we figured it out.
But no, Westside, it was good for us having this open week. I’ve never had a Week 10 open, but myself, our defense coordinator, will go over and watch them live against Oglethorpe and, yeah, Westside’s going to be low in numbers, about 30 kids on the roster. But I will tell you, they get after it. Coach Wiley over there — I think he’s in his second year — has done a fantastic job of bringing them back then to respectability, for sure. I know their kids are gonna be pumped — I believe most of them are going to be their first experience being in the playoffs.
So, you know, to bring a good crew over here with them making that long trip, but extremely athletic, very senior-laden offensively and defensively. A lot of the guys are going to be Iron Man type guys, going both ways and playing on special teams. So, again, just excited about the opportunity and the chance and really excited — there’s — there’s no better atmosphere. And I’ll put it up against anybody than, you know, playing Friday nights at Veterans Memorial Stadium. Even though we’re not able to have full capacity, it’s still nice every time we get to give back to our community for everything they do for us in Thomasville and host as many playoff games as possible.
Jon Nelson: Since you’ve already started reading my notes and asking you questions this week, I’ll go ahead. I’ll go ahead and ask you this question, considering that you mentioned it. For someone who’s never been to a game at the Vet, what are they missing out on on a football Friday?
Zach Grage: I’ll tell you, it’s you know, and I was fortunate enough to have the experience at Moultrie and kind of what’s expected. You know, the Moultrie Lowndes, Moultrie, Valdosta, the coolest thing that we offer. One is, of course, a small Georgia town. You’ve got, you know, Central a few miles down the road. But we’re able to pack this thing out. Our atmosphere, I think, just goes a little bit above and beyond. You have those guys that have been in the same seats for 50-plus years. You have the folks that, I mean, they’re hanging on the home side. On the visitor side, the fences are right on the sideline. I mean, there’s no hiding, so there’s no track in between. I think a lot of schools that are doing these big complexes with the track — I think you lose out on a lot of, just the South Georgia Friday night. And I know it’s you know, everybody says it and it’s kind of unfair. It’s overused. But I mean, if you want to, if Central and Thomasville both have home games on a Friday night, that’s the place where you can go and do whatever you want downtown because everybody’s going to be there. The amount of pride you’re either a Dog or a Jacket, you know, no in between. So especially when we’re able to host that game at our place —
Jon Nelson: A War of the Roses at your place.
Zach Grage: Right. I mean, that that is the coolest game I’ve ever been a part of. And just the I don’t know, I don’t want to say hatred because that’s bad, but it’s pure. I mean, it’s South Georgia hate for that night, and you’re one or the other. There’s no sitting on the fence. And even our other home games, Fitzgeralds and Brooks and, you know, the things that are really grown into rivalries, there’s nothing — nothing like it. Just the pride that these guys have and the dads and the granddads, everybody comes back. You really can’t explain it until you experience it.
Jon Nelson: And at the same time, if memory serves, if the game at the Vet is a sellout, you’re going to have folks who are standing on the sidewalk looking through the tree line in the fence line just to kind of get a glimpse of things, yeah?
Zach Grage: Yeah, yeah. I don’t know — I don’t even know what our sellout numbers are. I know they just sell tickets and so we can’t put anybody else in. And then you have — you know, you’ve got the stands on the home visitor side. We’ve got some temporary stands we brought in in one of our end zones. But even then, it doesn’t matter. There’s a big oak tree up in the corner. They’ll be inside, you know, climbed up in that. They’ll be hanging out up there. There will be folks, you know, on the other side of our practice field looking through the fence. And I’ve gotten some folks, you know, from the community, that say “Hey, coach, you need to, you know, put some windscreen up” and “They can’t, they’ve got to pay to get in.” And I’m like, “Look, man, that’s — we ain’t doing that for eight bucks.” I come out here, it just I think it adds to the atmosphere.
A couple of years ago, unfortunately, the cops didn’t get — there’s a cemetery across the street from our place. The cops didn’t get it closed off in time and it ended up, you know, with everybody parking in the cemetery, they really didn’t care. But there’s a lot of issues that we had to fix with that thing. So it’s come one, come all. And it’s the same football, basketball, baseball, just the love for this program and the amount of community support, you know, I called it Mini Moultrie when I first got over here and I think we even go above and beyond in some facets.
Jon Nelson: And at the same time, you mentioned region play. And I have the terminology of “Regions of Doom” around the state of Georgia. 2 Single A is one, obviously, 1-7, 1-6. I’ve always maintained that 1-AA is also one of those regions of doom because you can’t turn one direction or the other without having a heavyweight matchup in region every week. For someone who hasn’t seen a region game that you’re involved in, what’s that like?
Zach Grage: It’s a — it’s a South Georgia slobberknocker. I mean, you don’t want to talk about — and people were kind of looking down on it as far as the whole region because Brooks dropped down to Single A this year. We still played them Game 1. But even losing them, Early County was much better, much improved this year. Berrien has still had their struggles. Worth County with Coach Ironside, you know, came on and won a few games. So you still have us. You still have Fitzgerald, you got Early. You got Cook back down from 3A. It is going to be a physical battle. If you don’t — and that’s one thing going on the Westside. Westside has a very electric running back, but he’s — he’s small. He’s smaller than what we’re used to seeing. You know, he’s not an Omari Arnold. He’s not a Jay Ealy from Early County. Those big six-foot, 200-pound guys that just our kids love to hit. And it’s offensive line. Defensive line. You talk about, you know, where football seems to be going, maybe in the metro area, maybe in the NFL, in college, where you can’t hit people. And it’s a lot more throwing going on. The finesse part of the game. I guess you don’t ,you don’t have that down here. And that’s one of the reasons I love it. You don’t have the individual trainers. You don’t have — you still have that pride about football. And it is what is supposed to be done.
You know, we get out there and when we go practice, you know, you got to do a good job taking care of the kids. But when you open it up, they go and they still love each other, but they’re going to — there’s one thing that Thomasville will do long after I’m gone and long before I was here and they will hit you. And it’s just that’s — that’s what these kids do. And that’s everywhere. That’s Fitzgerald. That’s — you know you are in for a physical battle whenever you get in the South Georgia regions. I think that’s everybody: Region 1, region 2, south of Macon.
Hannah Goodin: Well, Round 1 of the playoffs have begun and there’s going to be some physical battles here as well. We talked about you guys playing Westside Augusta. The winner of your game will play the winner of Swainsboro-Dodge County. You also have Lovett versus Pepperell, Banks County versus Callaway. How tough is your upper left quadrant here?
Zach Grage: Extremely. But that’s what you want. I mean, Tucker Prewitt and I were talking to Fitzgerald and, you know, he reminded me the four years that we’ve been together coaching in this region, the lower-seeded team has actually gone further than the one seed every single year. Even last year, we went to the semifinals as the one seed, but then Brooks County made it to the state championship.
Jon Nelson: So Tucker tried to trade with you?
Zach Grage: Trust me, I’d take it right now. Give him a call. But no, listen, it’s that same idea. There’s no real bracket where you look at and go, hey, this is going to be easy. I mean, if you look up where Fitzgerald’s at they got Pace Academy, I think, is in as a four seed. Saw how that worked out. But I mean, you’re looking at a Pace Academy team. You’re looking at Fannin, that has went through an undefeated season. You’ve got, you know, in the bottom half of ours, you’ve got Rabun. That’s always going to be a force to be reckoned with, especially with Gunner and Coach Shaw and everybody up there. And then —
Jon Nelson: Bleckley is at four.
Zach Grage: Yeah and Von Lassiter is one of my best friends. I was in there talking to him today about how we’re handling Saturday logistics with our teams. And you know him as the four seed. That’s I think — but when you look into it, though, you’re Jeff Davises and you know your Region 1’s, Region 2’s, especially the region 3’s with Von and Waco. And you start looking at how these things fit out throughout the year. And just when you think you’ve got to figure it out, somebody’s going to creep up and beat somebody and completely throw a wrench into it. I know Callaway had it in, you know, preseason No. 1, they’re going to go in and, you know, make runs out through their region. And then I believe they lost Haralson County on a Tuesday night game, which is great. That’s just 2020 in a nutshell.
But they were still able to go and do what they need to do against Heard this Friday. But there’s always all those questions and I think very few reasons this year were cut and dried. And there’s not a lot of even 1-4 matchups where you look at and go, “Oh, that’s a no doubt; that one’s going to beat those guys.”
I think this is going to have the definite playoff feel, maybe more than any other year. And then you’re going to add in the questions of quarantines and who can play and who cannot play. And I think that’s going to definitely be another storyline by the time it’s all said and done.
Hannah Goodin: Well, all these teams have amazing playmakers, your team has great playmakers, we do this thing on Recruiting 2020 where we like to shine light on a player that is overlooked. It’s called Make That Kid an Offer. Is there someone on your team that you think deserves a better offer or an offer just — just —
Jon Nelson: Just an offer outright —
Hannah Goodin: A good kid on your team that’s been overlooked?
Zach Grage: I think there’s no doubt it’s our offensive lineman, Jackson Hodge. He’s a — he’s a senior, Number 74. He’s legitimate 6’4”. He’s sitting now at 285. He played last year at 315. He lost a bunch of weight. He’s actually the — the lead in all of our school plays. He’s like the epitome of Renaissance man.
He’s been on our Odyssey of the Mind team. And he’s had some talks with the Kennesaws and Stamfords and Mercers of the world, you know, really good in the classroom. Very, very good player, probably — And we’ve had some offensive linemen go on, Jamal Demagriffe was at Georgia Southern last year, we had Grant Conger, that was a big recruit last year. So, you know, that’s an offensive line. Go on. And I think Jackson has played the best out of all of them. And when I sit there and watch this tape and we kind of look at who’s being offered, I know we’re — we’re selfish and we’re definitely biased. But, you know, we look at these guys. I mean, must be really good to be better than Jackson. So I think that’s a no-brainer in our senior class. The Jackson Hodge is a guy that we can put out there for sure.
Jon Nelson: Now, you mentioned that your logistics have been kind of put in the blender, considering that your game got pushed to Saturday. For — for someone who’s just looking at it from a fan perspective, what are we talking about here when it comes to logistics and planning, knowing that you have to slide things now 24 hours. What does that actually do for someone who doesn’t quite understand all the effort that coaching staffs and administrations put into an event like this?
Zach Grage: Well, first and foremost, most schools around the state — I’m just going to treat it like that first and then look at specifically what Thomasville had to do with it. But, you know, we found out this morning, right when we started selling tickets, I think it was 8:48, my athletic director came into the office and told me something. We started selling tickets at 9. So trying to get that information out. But the first thing I did was give the other coach and find what time you’re playing. So, you know, it’s not like we just flipped it and said, OK, we’re going to play eight o’clock now. You know, you want to look at recovery time for your kids. Whoever makes — is fortunate to make to the second round. How are you going to prepare for the next team? The good thing about it is that everybody’s in the same boat in Class 2A and 4A, so you don’t have the same kind of prep time.
But you know who’s — then — and you talk about announcers and officials and keepers and all the gatekeepers, ticket takers, everything that goes on to a normal Friday night, getting all those folks moved. And that really isn’t that bad. Reaching out to the news sources, you kind of get them in a group, text the newspapers and the radio stations and, you know, everybody that covers your games.
What really threw us for a loop was we had done a lot of work because, you know, well, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday for Thanksgiving.
Jon Nelson: Right.
Zach Grage: So. Our No. 1 priority here is making sure we take care of our kids, feeding them and doing everything like that, so we came in, we had to go and meet with our cafeteria nutrition staff here at the school and make sure that we have people that are going to come in and take care of our kids on their days off. So reaching back out to them and say, hey, I know we just went through this whole big meeting, but we have to change it again. Can you come back and re-do this on Friday morning instead of Thursday morning, or can you do both? Which is great. And that’s what they’re doing for us. We’ve got local churches that feed us on game day morning. So reaching out to the local church and saying: All right, instead of Friday morning, we want to go now Saturday morning, and we’re going to change it from 10:00. And we want to change it now to eight o’clock. You know, can we and everybody right now has been phenomenal. Have my wife as a resource is fantastic to try and delegate and pawn off a lot of stuff on her. And the first thing I did when we heard about it was, you know, called a bunch of guys on our coaching staff and anybody that was able to get down to the field house. We met. If you couldn’t get down to the field house, we had you on speaker phone and just hammering — our staff’s unbelievable — and just trying to hammer logistics and who’s, you know, who has to be here getting ball boys. You know, they’re normally our middle school kids that are normally Friday night guys make sure they’re there Saturday. Just every little thing. And I’m sure I’ve left a leaf unturned that I’ll find out about later this afternoon. But there’s a lot more that goes into it than just telling your kids what time to show.
Jon Nelson: Well, Zach, thanks for hanging out with us here on the Football Fridays in Georgia podcast. Good luck this weekend with your game against Westside Augusta. It’s good to catch up with you and good to kind of let everybody else know what they’re missing by not seeing a game involving the Bulldogs down there in Thomasville. Thanks for hanging out with us here on the Football Fridays in Georgia podcast.
Hannah Goodin: Absolutely. Appreciate all y’all do.
Jon Nelson: Good to catch up with Zach, and he mentioned what it looks like for him, he was an assistant under Rush Propst in Rush’s time at Colquitt County, and then he took the head coaching job at Thomasville. And to hear him talk about Thomasville and what he’s been able to to experience with his time as A) being a head coach and B) going from Moultrie to Thomasville to experience it with the Bulldogs, I think it’s pretty cool.
Hannah Goodin: His description of the games in the town just brings you there. I mean, if when he’s talking if you’re not picturing exactly what he’s talking about, then you just — you don’t know anything.
Jon Nelson: You don’t get it. You don’t get it. Well, and the thing is, is that the Vet is literally — it’s right up against Thomasville Road and Thomasville. And if you haven’t seen War of the Roses, Thomasville, Thomas County, Central, if you have a chance, go see this rivalry game. But yeah, Thomasville Road goes right past both stadiums. And what he was talking about is that you have the stadium, you have the chain link, you have the oak tree, the oak tree, you have the sidewalk, then you have Thomasville Road. And then he mentions the cemetery. The cemetery is on higher ground. So I know exactly what he was talking about, about folks going into the cemetery, because in the fall, once all the leaves have come off the trees, you can be in the cemetery, look across the street and you can watch the game from one of the — through one of the end zones, through the north end zone. There are through the south end zone looking north. So, I mean, it’s it’s a really cool visual, although I know that, you know, looking at a — watching a game in a cemetery. But people will do what people do.
I mean, here’s another example. Cedartown, Cedartown’s practice facility is across the street from a cemetery. And folks, since, you know, you can’t, you know, watch if a lot of folks are watching and you’re not, you can’t park on. If there are not parking spaces at old Cedartown, what you do is you’d go across the street to the cemetery, watch practice from there, and then you would watch what’s going on with guys like Nick Chubb and stuff. So, no, it’s that is — that is a common occurrence to watch games and practices from cemeteries that are on higher ground.
Hannah Goodin: How do you get your car through the cemetery? Well, I guess, I mean —
Jon Nelson: They — they have one lane roads, but I mean, it’s usually one lane or a one lane and a half. And so, yeah, there’s — there’s — there’s room.
Hannah Goodin: And then you just grab your chairs and go up to the fence?
Jon Nelson: Yeah. Or you just sit where you are and if you got there early enough then you’ve got — you’ve got the view.
Hannah Goodin: You’ve got your view.
Jon Nelson: What’s our game this week?
Hannah Goodin: Our around one playoff match up will be Camden County versus Parkview at the Big Orange Jungle in Lilburn. Yes, the Panthers are 6 and 3 in the No. 2 seed from region 4-AAAAAAA. The Wildcats are 5 and 5 in the No. 3 seed from region 1-AAAAAAA.
Both teams have dropped some big games lately, Jon. They’ll be looking to get back on track in a big way. They haven’t played each other since 2004 when No. 1 Camden defeated No. 3 Parkview 12 to 10 in their season opener. The winner will advance to Round 2 to take on the winner of four seed Marrietta versus one seed Coweta. Both of these teams are really losing —
Jon Nelson: A major mini bracket. It really is. I mean when you look at, I mean, Marietta coming in at 3 and 7, East Coweta who had the region championship game coming in with all the emotion off of that. And then you have this game with the running game with Jamie Felix and you’ve got Cody Brown who you talked to for Recruiting 2020. I mean there’s a lot of subplot going on in this mini bracket right now.
Hannah Goodin: Yeah. Cody Brown has had his ups and downs this season, so I’m interested to see which Cody Brown we get on Friday.
Jon Nelson: Yeah. And you know that Coach Godfrey’s going to want that offensive line to create the holes that we saw because we had Newton on for Football Fridays in Georgia and that offensive line created a big hole for Cody, got the long touchdown and he was off and running. And this was the game before the Grayson game that was on national television. So we’ve had the chance to see Parkview up close. We’ve seen Camden County. We’ve seen Jamie Felix pretty much since he was a freshman at Camden County. But it’ll be good to see Bob Sphire and everybody knows him from his pedigree up north with North Gwinnett.
But there’s a lot of great subplot here, not just within the game that we have, but in the mini bracket that is a part of 7A and also everything that’s going on in all the other playoff games. Remember, like Zach said, Double A and Quad A have all been pushed to Saturday games because of the desire to have all of the officiating crews that you can have being in all of these games.
So just a reminder, if you’re a fan of a Double A or a Quad A team, check your check with your school about start times, home games, tickets, all those kinds of things 2A and 4A pushed to Saturday.
Hannah Goodin: Is that a COVID issue? Because the playoff games aren’t normally played on Friday and Saturday?
Jon Nelson: Well, I mean, sometimes you do. Sometimes you have agreements where with if — if there’s travel that’s associated with like if it’s a really long distance.
Hannah Goodin: But I mean, like an entire —
Jon Nelson: No, not an entire — not an entire classification. No, no. I mean that is having and it was in Todd’s article, he did mention it was just making sure that testing was OK, that you had the number of officials that was part and parcel to it and having crews —
Hannah Goodin: In case something happens as well.
Jon Nelson: In having enough crews that could house these kinds of games. So, yeah, Todd has the article up at the AJC.com if you’re looking for details in that kind of stuff there as well.
Hannah Goodin: Yeah. If you guys want to get to know Cody Brown, go on over to GPB Sports YouTube.
Jon Nelson: There’s the plug I was waiting for!
Hannah Goodin: — and listen to the interview. It was great fun. Fun fact: 24/7 Sports ripped my entire interview and did an article on it, literally word for word. So it was — it was a really good interview. The kid is awesome. He’s going places. So check — check that out. It was on Recruiting 2020.
Jon Nelson: So that is another round of the Football Fridays in Georgia podcast, Playoff Style, Round 1 of the playoffs.
Hannah Goodin: That was a fun one, Jon.
Jon Nelson: Yeah, and happy Thanksgiving to everybody, by the way, because —
Hannah Goodin: Yeah, happy Thanksgiving didn’t even get to talk about that!
Jon Nelson: We’ll — no and we’ll talk about that next week when we talk about Thanksgiving and what happened there. So thanks —
Hannah Goodin: We’ll have some stories. I’m sure
Jon Nelson: Yes, we’ll have some stories. Thanks to Todd Holcomb coming from the Georgia High School Football Daily, thanks to Zach Grage, the head coach of the Thomasville Bulldogs. And thanks to you for hanging out with us. As always, the Football Fridays in Georgia podcast is brought to us by the irreplaceable producer Sean Powers. Thanks for accessing us and subscribing every single week to hear what we have to talk about when it comes to Georgia high school football. For Hannah and Sean, I’m just Jon. Play it safe, everyone, enjoy your game.