MILLEN — As another season of high school football gets underway, much will be written about players and how they will prepare for the schedule to come.
Grueling summer practices, long road trips and seemingly non-stop pressure are the norm, but these challenges aren’t reserved only for those underneath the helmets.
The same can be said for the part of the team that is decked out in polo shirts and headsets each Friday night.
Along with players trying to earn time on the field and perhaps a chance to continue their careers into their college years, hundreds of coaches around the state are making their bones on the sidelines, adding more tenure and experience to a career that is spent constantly climbing through the ranks.
As Jenkins County tries to rebuild from a tough 1-9 campaign in 2013, Evan Woodard and Brian Lawson — graduates of Georgia Southern and pupils of accomplished coaches from around the area — have set up shop in Millen to give the Eagles a helping hand.
“There are lots of different situations that you can walk into with a new program,” Lawson said. “But the goal of winning is constant. I know that coach Woodard and I wouldn’t be here if we didn’t expect to win.”
Woodard was recruited by JCHS coach Charlie Waters from his previous position at Long County and will call the shots for the Eagles’ offense. Lawson will coach the Jenkins County offensive line and comes to Millen from Portal, where he spent the previous two seasons coaching line for the Panthers.
Both are set on making their careers in high school football, but took different paths leading up to their current road.
For Woodard, coaching is in his bloodline.
“My dad coaches. My brother coaches. I tried a lot of things, but decided coaching was one thing I was really good at, too,” Woodard said. “I took a course at GSU and really liked it. Southeast Bulloch had an opening for the middle school team that year, and I’ve been running with it ever since.”
Lawson, like Woodard, played football throughout high school and it didn't take long for him to find his way back to the field.
“At first, I was in athletic training classes,” Lawson said. “I played in high school and knew that no matter what I did, I wanted to stay close to sports. One day, coach Woodard told me about openings at SEB, so I gave it a try. I got a chance with them and immediately fell in love with it.”
The pair coached together for the Yellow Jackets’ middle school squad, then jumped to Bulloch Academy for the 2011 season. Both were quickly moved from the Gators’ middle school team to the varsity and helped Bulloch to an 8-2 regular season record and a state playoff appearance.
Now reunited — and holding even more responsibilities within the coaching tree — both are excited for the opportunity to turn things around in Millen.
For that, they lay out the same objectives for themselves as they do for their players — hard work, and plenty of it.
“It’s hours and hours of preparation,” Lawson said. “First, there are meetings between coaches to figure out what the plan for the day is. Then you have to run a good practice and get the players doing what we need them to do. After that, it’s more time with coaches, watching film and talking about where we need to go next.”
After all of the assessment, it falls on Woodard to plan offensive practices down to the minute.
“We’ll spend hours on the field and in the weight room,” Woodard said. “It’s a long day, but most of the time I don’t even make it home before I’m on the phone with our coaches, asking them what time they need and what we need to work on for the next day’s practice.”
While the day-to-day affairs on the field have become familiar to Lawson and Woodard, this season will feature a new challenge.
In previous years, both served as students or worked as paraprofessionals with lower grades during the school day. Now teachers at the high school, they’ll be getting a new look at their players aside from what they see on the field.
“It’s great to work with kids on the field, but now we’re going to be someone they see every day,” Woodard said. “I think that’s what we both want. We take pride in making these guys a good football team. Now we have a chance to be a part of their lives and help them be good men.”
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.