PORTAL — Pat Collins and Cherard Freeman made quite a pair the last time they were together on the Portal football field.
With Collins heading up the Panthers and Freeman acting as defensive coordinator, PHS reached the pinnacle of its success in 2004 when it notched five shutouts, put together an eight-game winning streak, plastered Miller County 56-3 in the first round of the GHSA Class A state playoffs and finished the season 10-2.
The two coaches went on to go their separate ways, but today they will once again be on the same football field. Only this time, they’ll be on different sidelines.
“It’s going to be a little odd for me said Collins, “because everybody who is on that field on both staffs will have coached on a staff I’ve been the head coach of. It’s unusual.”
Collins left Screven County after the 2009 season to return for his second tour of duty at Southeast Bulloch, and Freeman is now the head coach at Portal. The two will go head-to-head for the first time today at 7:30 p.m. as the Panthers host SEB for the 2010 season opener for both squads.
“It means a lot,” said Freeman about his inaugural game as a head coach and the fact that he will face Collins. “I learned a lot of football coaching under Pat when we were together here in Portal. He taught me a lot about what it takes to make kids understand how to win.”
While Freeman built his defensive chops under Collins, his offensive gameplan comes from his college playing days. He was a part of two national championships while playing slotback at Georgia Southern in Paul Johnson’s triple-option attack, and he brings that philosophy to Portal.
“I think it helps them buy into the system by watching Georgia Southern and Georgia Tech have so much success with it,” Freeman said. “[Tech] won the ACC championship with it last year — same offense, same blocking schemes, same terminology, same everything. I understand running it and I think it helps a lot.”
A pair of juniors — quarterback Hunter Ogelsby and B-back Corey Walker — will be the centerpiece of an offense that will go only as far as the offensive line can take it.
“It really makes Hunter’s job easy and Walker’s job easy when the offensive line really knows what’s going on,” said Freeman. “Overall I think the most important part of this offense is the offensive line, and they have done a great job catching on.”
Southeast Bulloch, riding on the back of a 19-game losing streak dating back to 2008, will run the Wing-T offense that produced three-time, 1,000-yard rusher Travis Coles at Screven and has helped Collins to offensive success at PHS, SCHS and SEB.
“It can be molded to the personnel you have," said Collins. Certain schemes require certain kinds of players. In high school, I think you have to be able to adapt your scheme based on the people you have. You can take the Wing-T and make it more of a passing offense, nore of a handoff offense or more of an option offense.”
Southeast Bulloch’s attack is led by halfback Dee Odum at halfback. The Jackets will run two quarterbacks, Taylor Burroughs and Cameron Duncan.
The goal for both teams will be the same — start 2010 on a high note by running the football and stopping the other team’s running game.
“We both have the same mindset when it comes to playing football,” said Freeman. “We’ll see who can run it and which defense gives up the most points.”
With Statesboro on the road today and Bulloch Academy kicking off its season on Thursday, Freeman points out that the cross-county matchup is the “only show in town,” so both coaches expect a playoff-like atmosphere at the contest.
Both coaches expect a lot of support in the stands.
“I think the big thing from our end is you’ve got a group of parents and a community who are firmly behind what’s going on in our program. I think our people are eager to be at a game, to be supportive as they did last week at Bryan County. We had more people there than they did at their own scrimmage.”
Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.