BROOKLET — The hallmark of a successful program isn’t just past success, but the ability to eschew fond memories in favor of future potential.
The last four years has seen a huge reclamation project of a Southeast Bulloch football program that had been floundering after decades of success.
Starting from rock bottom – an 0-10 campaign in 2009 – the Yellow Jackets took baby steps as head coach Pat Collins brought in a new system and newfound intensity to the program. Lean seasons in both 2010 and 2011 gave way to a four-win season in 2012 — in spite of moving up to Class AAA — that was the school’s best mark in nearly a decade.
Last fall, SEB notched a 7-2-1 regular season mark to earn its first state playoff bid since 2003.
It would be easy to revel in all that has been accomplished in such a short time, but the Jackets are instead hard at work during spring practice and determined to keep on building.
“Right now, our goal for the season is simply to be the best that we can be,” Collins said. “We’re going to approach every game with the mindset that we’re going to win. We’ll see how we take shape as a team, but our boys have worked hard in the weight room over the winter and have been hustling throughout the spring.
“I view spring as the beginning to every season. Right now, I think we’re off to a good start.”
Continued success is far from guaranteed for SEB.
A reworked region alignment will throw some new and challenging opponents at the Jackets and the loss of 14 seniors — many of whom started for two or three years — has left plenty of holes to be filled.
Luckily, there is no shortage of willing talent ready to step in.
When Collins accepted the SEB job in 2010, he inherited a roster that hovered around 30. Through constant campaigning from coaches and current players alike, football has become much more popular in the hallways of Southeast Bulloch. When spring practice opened for business Monday, over 90 Jackets took the field.
“I’m thrilled to see the interest that a lot of our students are taking,” Collins said. “We have a lot of spots to fill, but we also have plenty of guys wanting to make the commitment to working hard and filling those spots. There are plenty of guys who have waited their turn. This is the beginning of their chance to step up.”
Collins stated that the main purpose of his spring practices are simply to evaluate the talent on hand.
SEB will likely be a slightly smaller version of last season’s power running Wing-T machine, but the philosophy of how the Jackets want to move the ball — or prevent an opponent from doing so — remains the same.
Because of that, the program’s consistency in running the same schemes all the way from high school down to the middle school and rec-league ranks helps even the rising eighth-graders to be on the same page as returning varsity starters from Day 1.
“It’s a great advantage to have a feeder system that is consistent,” Collins said. “It makes the coaching staff’s job a lot easier when everyone is familiar with what we’re trying to do. When you don’t have to explain schemes and plays from square one, you can focus more on developing players and seeing who can really help the team.”
SEB will keep that businesslike approach to the spring as practices will conclude midway through next week and no formal spring game will be held.
While the Jackets will be focused on a return trip to the state playoffs come fall, the spring is more about keeping the fire stoked while also supporting other annual spring traditions.
“We made a conscious effort to push spring football back as far as possible,” Collins said. “We had a baseball team and some track guys that had very good seasons and we wanted them to be able to compete in those sports before we started up. There’s also the end of school and all of the activities that surround that. We want our kids to enjoy that and still start to prepare for the season ahead.”
Southeast Bulloch begins the 2014 campaign with three consecutive road tests. From there, four consecutive home dates will make up the brunt of the Jackets’ sub-region schedule and will play a big role in determining SEB’s postseason fate.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.