Fannin County

Fannin County had to scramble to find a new opponent for the second week.

Credit: Rachel Adams,

The first thing I want to do is apologize to Fannin County Coach Chad Cheatham and Jeff Davis Coach Lance Helton.

I know for a solid fact I caught one of them just walking in the door at home (Chad) and the other sounded like he was trying to head home (Lance) at the beginning of a very long week.

When you’re a head coach/athletic director and you’re having to scramble to find an opponent after losing one, your adventures are just beginning as you’re trying to get ready for -- what you hope -- is a game on Friday night.

“We had to go inside and practice today because of the weather here,” Cheatham says. “My wife has supper cooking in the oven and I’m munching on some Baked Lays to try to get me to dinner.” Add to that the concern over senior RB/DB Jackson Davis after his collapse at home Thursday and it’s been a stretch for him. A lot of energy has been spent by the Rebels program in a lot of different directions in the last few days.

It was like working some kind of weird arithmetic to get it going to try and find a game for us,

Fannin was supposed to play Copper Basin, Tenn., a border battle that would have been a first for a regular season game in 15 years. It would have been a great gate, a great crowd. And it’s a good rivalry -- one Cheatham played in when he was at Fannin. He got “that” call and they decided it was for the best to call it off for everyone involved. Copper Basin had COVID-19 cases inside the program.

“Then, the first thing I did was go on our website, your website, the Vent and the AJC,” he says. “And  then you see the other schools going through the same thing.”

Two phone calls from other schools looking for games came quickly. There were even schools from out-of-state that were interested, but the drives would have been for a few hours each way. One team reached out and wanted to play, but on a Saturday.

Chad Cheatham

Coach Chad Cheatham, Fannin County

Credit: Fannin County Facebook page

“It was like working some kind of weird arithmetic to get it going to try and find a game for us,” Cheatham says. “You’re trying to make the best decision for you and do it on short notice.” He had another school pull out, but Fannin was able to find an eventual opponent 50 miles away in Sonoraville.

“The kids need to play,” Cheatham says. “You want to find the best opponent for the kids to have some success and we were able to work it out.”

But then, you now have to prepare for an entirely new opponent.

“We couldn’t prepare on the weekend- which was scary,” Cheatham says. “You normally watch film Saturday and Sunday to find out what you need to know. But we couldn’t start watching until late Sunday night. We had a middle school game Monday, so we only had an hour to work. Then, we had the flooding Tuesday.

“It’s crazy! You want your seniors to play a 10-game season. You want to win a region. You want to host a playoff game. So, you’re going to fight and claw for those 10 games. We’re going to just control the ‘controllables’ and do what’s best for our kids.”

Helton was trying to get settled in his truck for the drive home when I called to ask him about still trying to get his first game on the board for the season.

Unless there’s some kind of schedule compression coming up for Jeff Davis, Helton’s seniors won’t get 10 games. They almost didn’t get nine.

“Last week, we got the phone call,” Helton says. “You immediately assess and evaluate the situation. You assess your own situation. Then your next obligation is to try and find a game. We had a deadline and we thought we had an opponent. It was close, but then the decision was made not to have a game."

“We then worked on ourselves to be the best Jeff Davis Yellow Jacket football team we can be that week. It doesn’t change amidst the struggle.”

Jeff Davis

The excitement of Jeff Davis football returns this week when Jenkins comes to the Pinelands.

Credit: Jeff Davis Facebook page

Jeff Davis players spent the weekend with their families, moved on to the next opponent, and tried to get back to normal. At 9 a.m. Monday that changed … again.

“You assess the situation,” Helton says, “and we were clean in the sickness department.

“And this is the crazy thing … In hourly windows, it becomes an event like you’re jockeying for position. It’s almost like you’re coming down the homestretch at Churchill Downs racing to the finish.”

Jeff Davis has Jenkins-Savannah coming to the Pinelands this week and that was important.

“They’re a strong opponent and our focus was on getting a home game. Our young men who represent us have earned the right to represent us at home. When all is right with the world, these young men get to play the most special game in the world -- high school football on a Friday night here in Jeff Davis County.”

Helton and his staff have a learned a lesson in this. All of this juggling and changes in direction have kept their game-planning skills sharp. You have to game plan for four of five opponents sometimes before you get your final answer in trying in this case to “be the best version of Jeff Davis County we can be," say Helton.

Lance Helton

Coach Lance Helton, Jeff Davis

Credit: GPB Sports

As he looks at each of his players and the community he represents on Fridays, Helton is called back to memories of his time as a player in Sandersville at Washington County High School learning under Rick Tomberlin and his then-line-coach (who is now head coach) Joel Ingram. He feels he has a responsibility to his team and his town the same way they did and now do.

“I ask myself how I would have thought about it as a player if it had happened then. I know what 7:30 on a Friday night meant to the ‘House of Pain’ in Sandersville and I know what 7:30 means to the Pinelands. I know how this town feels about Jeff Davis Yellow Jacket football was how they and I felt about Washington County High School.”

It is heavy responsibilities across the board these days for Helton, Ingram, Cheatham and every single coach and administrator dealing with the schedule you thought you had, the schedule you thought you had after that, and the schedule you hope you have going forward…

We’ll keep an eye on it all.

Play it safe, everyone … I’ll see you soon…