There are a good number of teams that are out of the blocks at 3-0 this season.

The first stage of covering that was on the Football Fridays in Georgia podcast over at GPB Sports and your favorite podcaster, where we caught up with a long-time coach in west Georgia, a coach that went home and is building his hometown program, and a “builder” (by the coach’s own definition) that has turned around a program that has only won three of their last 30.

It was a fun conversation.

So, let’s continue our tour...

Brantley County

The Brantley County football team is 3-0 for the first time since 2005.

First stop, Nahunta … and Geoff Cannon, the head coach of the Herons of Brantley County and he still has coach Ed Dudley on speed dial if he needs to get advice. That link goes back to his high school days as a Walton Raider. Cannon leans on Dudley and has an invaluable resource available in the head coach at Winder-Barrow (who is also 3-0).

Cannon is in his fifth season as head coach in Nahunta and is carrying a big lesson from the end of year four forward.

“We’ve made the playoffs for three straight years,” Cannon says. “We were playing at Liberty County in the first round last year. We scored a touchdown with no time left to trail 30-28. We went for two, didn’t get it, and lost in one of those 1-4 matchups. It was an outstanding game, but we don’t believe in moral victories. We feel like we can take the next step.

“Our tight end, quarterback, four of our five O-linemen, and two running backs return this year. Offensively, we want to work to be better and, in the summer, we were working on being bigger, faster and stronger. We added a new Defensive Coordinator -- Jacob Lautenbach -- from Marietta where he was a part of the 7A champs in 2019. That was a big event and he has been outstanding.”

The Brantley staff has invested in their student-athletes with this new scheme and they’re playing well so far -- having only given up a touchdown a game in wins over Atkinson County, Groves and Beach. They’ve brought a soccer player who was working with the football team in the weight room and encouraged him to dress out as well. The 42-yard field goal Jon Mock hit is an instant dividend and has Cannon excited about his special teams.

Brantley Snow cones

The Brantley County football team is rewarded with snow cones after a hot day of practice.

Credit: Brantley County Facebook

“In all three phases, we have a good nucleus,” Cannon adds. “We have vets sprinkled in with Sophomores and they have all contributed at a high level so far.

“Next up for us is a game with Johnson, who is having to finish their Windsor Forest game during the week. They’ll be the best team we’ve played so far.”

Cannon, as a head coach, has learned to respond better with the big picture in mind these days. The details and the fundamentals are just as important, and he has learned not to let the daily work sink the ship. The last time the Herons started 3-0 was back in 2005, when most of his varsity starters weren’t even born. He knows these successes are important to the community and he’ll get the week off after this week to prepare for region play.      

Next stop, Portal ... which, if you drive through the town in Bulloch County, you may miss because you don’t have to stop. The Class A Panthers don’t have a stoplight in town. It’s still just one of those flashing red light/yellow light things. But, according to head coach Jason McEachin, they do have another restaurant in town from the last time I was there.

Portal coach doused

Portal coach Jason McEachin gets the Gatorade treatment after his team's win over Twiggs Count. in over

Credit: Statesboro Herald

Coming into this season, Portal had lost 26 of 27 and 33 of their last 35 going back into the 2018 season. Coach McEachin has a coaching history in that part of the state that includes Coffee, ECI, Swainsboro and Toombs. He grew up in the Pinelands and the No. 1  goal of the administration when McEachin took the job was to increase participation.

“We thought we had enough talent and we all knew that, if we moved in the same direction, we would be a success,” he admits. “We knew we had a lot of multi-sport athletes here. In June and July, we were introducing new schemes and doing it as best we could until baseball and basketball were over. Since then, attendance has been normal and it has led to the success we’ve had this year so far.”

Portal has an enrollment close to the 300 mark. McEachin has 47 players on his roster out of 120 males in grades 9 through 12 and he says that the start this season talks to the quality of what the Panthers have.

“We have come-from-behind twice this year,” McEachin says. “And, to be honest, being in a bye week you don’t like the break in momentum that we have built. The pride everyone has in the program this season actually started back with our scrimmage with Charlton County. There’s a lot of pride in the current and former players right now.

“It has been 20 years since they have seen this kind of success (the 2004 season with Pat Collins as head coach is the only double-digit win season the program has ever had) and we’re all enjoying it. We have an opportunity to impact a lot of young men here and a big part of the process is building relationships here in the building. We went from 32 players to 47 after going 0-10 last year because of what we were building.

“There’s something right in the building,” he says. “If you take care of the kids and the parents know they can trust you, there’s positivity that can happen every day. Our attendance is up. We have a lot of parents volunteering and they get to see and experience this, too. It’s neat and it’s awesome. The support has been amazing.”   

Last stop, Tiger, for a first-year, first-time head coach with an interesting staff off to an interesting start. ...

Michael Davis came to Rabun County High as offensive coordinator two years ago. He replaced Jaybo Shaw, who replaced his dad Lee. In the Shaw Family Decade, there were seven straight double-digit win seasons, eight straight region titles, and playoff berths every season. Davis’ pedigree was top-notch before his time in the mountains- spending almost two decades at Calhoun, leading the Yellow Jackets to state titles three times (2011, 2014, 2017) and 18 straight region titles, 19 overall, as offensive coordinator.

Rabun County

Rabun County has managed to replace some key players in order to win its first three games.

“This is year 30 for me,” Davis says. “I thought, after my time at Calhoun, that this would be my sunset ride. I loved my time back there with Coach Lamb, the school system, and everyone else. At Christmas, when Coach Shaw said he was going to Wayne County, he was going to tell those looking for the new head coach ‘that you’re the new head coach.’ I mean, I’m 54 years old and I wasn’t all that sure about it. I would like to coach another 10 to 15 years if my health allows.”

Davis talked to his wife about it and with a daughter playing softball at UGA, it made the move east a lot easier in the first place. Having in-laws in Commerce helped as well.

“God always has a plan,” Davis admits. “I interviewed and the Superintendent and Principal offered the job to me. At times, I feel like I’m drinking water through a fire hose to be honest.  I called Coach Lamb up one time and apologized to him for all the trouble I caused as an assistant.”

Davis laughs and admits that there are a lot of things as an assistant coach you take for granted. He now sees that perspective as a head coach. There are times he does miss being an assistant, but he now manages 60-65 kids as the new Wildcats head coach.

He does have some help, ... Boy, does he have help.

Here’s some of his assistants: Caleb Bagley, former head coach at Coahulla Creek; Eric Richardson, former assistant at Clinch County; Ricky Ross, former DC at Calhoun; Jim Pavao, who has been at places like Gainesville, Coffee, et al.; and Bill Ballard, former head coach at Tucker, Peachtree Ridge, and White County.

“Here’s how I got Coach Ballard,” he said. “We were scrimmaging Bowdon. I go walk over to George Bobo to talk to him at the half. Bobo points at Ballard and goes, ‘He lives up here now. You need to hire him.’ We had two openings at the time. We met Saturday morning and he’s now a lay coach for us and doing some substituting at the school.”

His first three wins as a head coach have been against Haralson County, Stephens County and Adairsville. They had to travel to Buchanan since it has been difficult to find opponents. Stephens is loaded with athletes and it turned into a one-score game. And Adairsville was a 108-point track meet where the team’s depth at wide receiver --  aside from Jaden Gibson -- shone to the rest of the state. Davis is the first to give Adairsville a lot of credit.

Rabun has a bye week as well, and after a little thought, Coach Davis is a fan of it coming where it is -- giving his team a chance to heal up before another road trip to Heard County next week. It’s tough being in a four-team region having to schedule seven non-region games this year and next. He would love the chance to play the local teams considering there were, probably, 8,000 at the Stephens County game. But he also knows his region will be a tough sprint with Elbert County, Commerce and Athens Christian...

How’s that for a first-time quest at 3-0? But Coach Davis has a chance to catch his breath a little bit...

Play it safe, everyone... I’ll talk to you soon...