When speaking of high school football, plenty of people love to wax poetic.
They’ll speak fondly of that state championship way back in (insert year here) and remember the time that their school won that last-second thriller against their rival during senior year.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Sports and nostalgia go hand-in-hand as the American institutions that they are.
But there is a good reason for this as well.
So often, the past is remembered fondly because of the uncertainty of the future.
High school football isn’t the NFL — where All-Pros and future hall-of-famers can be given boatloads of money to stay on the squad. It also isn’t college – where even struggling teams can turn around in an instant if a recruiting class pans out.
Nope. No matter how good or bad a previous season was, the slate is wiped clean — or at least halfway clean — with each passing year.
There is no guarantee that a departed All-State performer will have an understudy or a rising freshman that can fill his shoes. In many cases, there isn’t even a guarantee that the newest class of players even fit the team’s philosophy or strategy.
And there has been plenty of evidence to this just by looking at area teams so far.
At Statesboro High, the standard is excellence.
The Blue Devils are an outlier in that they have made the state playoffs in every season that most of their players have been alive.
But all of that history means nothing when graduation has taken away most of Statesboro’s offense and injuries have taken a second swipe at those starters who have returned. Trophies and banners and expectations can push teams to another level, but there is a ceiling to what a team full of underclassmen and new starters can achieve.
On the opposite side of the coin, Bulloch Academy is quickly speeding away from the 3-7 mark that defined its 2013 campaign.
The Gators were able to bring back many of their starters and — even through three games — are healthier than they were for the vast majority of last season.
As a result, the potent Gator offense that seemed to vanish into thin air midway through last September has come back with a vengeance.
Over in Brooklet, the Yellow Jackets of Southeast Bulloch are feeling the sting of a new wave of upperclassmen.
One of the best feel-good stories of 2013 was seeing the Jackets who were pressed into action as freshmen and sophomores during some of the programs’ darkest days finally flourishing and leading SEB to the state playoffs.
In many ways, the current class of Jackets is just as likely to do the same, but newfound expectations and an 0-3 start can easily put a damper on anyone’s expectations if they don’t step back and view the bigger picture.
In Portal, coaching changes and turnover are nothing new. When you’re one of the smallest football-playing schools in the state, that isn’t a criticism, it’s just the way things are and have to be.
No matter the talent or special skills of any Panther on the roster, sheer numbers dictate what the team can do. Once again, Portal seems to be making progress despite routinely being outmanned.
Bulloch County is a tiny subset of all the schools currently hitting the field throughout the country, but so many of the challenges and perks faced from year to year by most programs are evident just by taking a trip up the road and watching one of our local teams.
There are schools with dozens of state titles and even more region championships. For many of those programs, there are underlying reasons for that success that can wait for another column at another time.
The reality for all of the schools in our area is that there is — as always — fluidity in the programs. Some seem to be on their way up. Some have hit a bump in the road.
But the season is still young, and anything can still happen — especially in high school football.
That might seem like a cliché, but if it weren’t true, we wouldn’t be so excited to see how the rest of the fall plays out.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.