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Eagles playing with new attitude
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Coach Conley

JCHS coach Chuck Conley talks about his game plan heading into the 2007 season.
    MILLEN — As his third year at Jenkins County High School kicks off, coach Chuck Conley has noticed something about his team that he hasn’t seen much of the last two seasons — the juniors and seniors that were freshmen and sophomores when he arrived are stepping into a role that his Eagles have been lacking: team leaders.
    “Push it! Step it up!” shouted some members of the offense from the sidelines as their defensive teammates struggled while running drills in the brutal south Georgia sun.
    Later, at the end of a water break, as some of the younger defensive players began trotting onto the field to line up for the next group of drills, a teammate shouted, “Get back here! Wait ’till coach calls out the next drill, and we’ll run out together!”
    All throughout Tuesday’s practice, one thing was very clear, the JCHS Eagles — a team that has been at the bottom of Region 3-A for quite some time — is in this together.
    “It’s been a glaring weakness of ours, the past two years,” said coach Conley, “that we’ve really struggled with leadership. Our goal over the winter since last season ended is to try and build on that. We’ve got a group of seniors and juniors that have been under the current regime, and we’re proud of them. We think that for the first time — I don’t want to say we’ve not had any leadership — but for the first time they’re becoming vocal and willing to stand up and be accountable. And that makes us feel a lot better.”
    The 2006 Eagles, who started off strong but seemed to approach each week on a “business as usual” basis, were lacking some key ingredients to a successful football team. The air around the 2007 squad is different. Nobody can quite put their finger on it, but JCHS is starting gel.
    “I can’t explain why,” Conley said, “but last year we just, we fought ourselves. Not literally, but figuratively, as far as just selling out. The coaching staff and the older kids on the team have made a commitment not to settle for anything less than our best, and as a result, though it’s early in practice, there’s just a different attitude, and I hope it carries over.”
    The coaches aren’t the only ones who have noticed a dramatic change in attitude. Some of the players have noticed a different Eagle team as well.
    “We saw how not having leaders didn’t get us anywhere,” said Eagle quarterback Houston Bowers. “We’ve all stepped up and started leading a little bit.”
    Bowers is also excited because he feels that he will have more of a chance to showcase his arm, with a few new wrinkles being added to the Eagle offense — usually a running attack based mostly out of the I formation.
    Dontavious Young, an iron man who will be featured on both sides of the ball both at tailback and linebacker, is optimistic heading into the 2007 season.
    “I feel good,” said the confident Young. “I think we’re going to do good this year. We’re going to win a couple more games, and hopefully, we’ll make it to the playoffs.”
    While the Eagles haven’t sniffed the playoffs in Conley’s first two seasons as head coach, the team, says Conley, is heading in the right direction.
    “I’m having fun again,” said the coach. “The last two years, I have been going to work. I haven’t ‘worked’ a day yet this year. It’s just a different attitude. The kids are working. I’m not saying that’s going to convert over to ‘W’s.’ I am saying it is a pleasure to work with these young men.
    “It’s just a sense of belief, a sense of attitude, a sense of teamwork and kinship. It’s just different. And I appreciate the effort from the kids.”
    The Jenkins County Eagles kick off the 2007 season against the Wheeler County Bulldogs on Aug. 31 in Millen.

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.