CLAXTON — The Claxton Tigers have spent the last six years building from a program with little participation and only rare success into a perennial contender for the postseason and a threat to take down just about any opponent.
One of the big reasons for that rise was Allen Cartwright who led the Tigers over that span and guided the team to a .500 record or better in each of the last four seasons. This season, Cartwright has departed for Dodge County, leaving former defensive coordinator Patrick Hendrix with the task of continuing the program’s growth.
"We’ve come a long way recently," said Hendrix. "I know that coach Cartwright has done a lot for this program, but now we have to move on. There’s no ill will. We wish him the best and I know he feels the same, but now it’s time to keep things moving forward."
Despite the change at the top of the coaching change, there is still plenty of stability with Hendrix assuming the head coaching role. He has served on Claxton’s staff for the last four seasons and has been able to make a clean transition so far.
Having already coached the majority of this season’s roster, Hendrix feels that his new role is more about maintaining the positive direction of the Tigers than trying to create a new identity.
"It definitely helps that I know these kids and they still know our coaching staff," Hendrix said. "I think that everybody is comfortable with the situation and how we are practicing and preparing each day."
Still, Cartwright left the new head Tiger with some valuable advice as Hendrix takes on his first head coaching job.
"(Cartwright) told me to put my own stamp on this program," Hendrix said. "We’ve done a lot of good things recently, but I want to keep pushing. We’ve been very close to getting to the state playoffs and achieving bigger and better goals. I want to help push this team over that hump that we’ve been stuck on."
Aside from his familiarity with the team, Hendrix also has the benefit of knowing the Tigers’ competition. With the addition of a sixth classification and subsequent region realignments throughout the GHSA this season, many schools are faced with brand new schedules and region rivals. But Claxton will retain its Region 3-A home along with 10 of the 12 teams that have comprised the region for the last two seasons.
Even before he got to Claxton, Hendrix cut his coaching teeth at Portal — which remains in 3-A — and Metter, which has just left.
"I’ve been competing against mostly the same teams my entire coaching career," said Hendrix. "I think that will be a big help as I adjust to making up a game plan for each week. It is a big help when you know the competition that you’re going to face week in and week out."
Hendrix will get his first head coaching test against an old Claxton rival as the Tigers travel to Tattnall County for their season opener on Aug. 31. Tattnall defeated Claxton in each season from 2004-2010, but the Tigers claimed a 25-8 victory last season.
The real challenge lies within the Region 3-A schedule. Claxton has made the region play-in round in each of the last four seasons, but Hendrix hopes to get the 2012 Tigers through that round and back into the state playoffs for the first time since 2002.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.