When Pat Collins accepted the head coaching job at Southeast Bulloch, I was in my second season of covering the Yellow Jackets.
For the most part, the only information that I had dug up on the program in my first season wasn't much worth sharing. The Yellow Jackets were a struggling program, to say the least. The team was mired in its fourth consecutive losing season and finally bottomed out in 2009, dropping all 10 games on their schedule for the school's first winless season since its inaugural 1966 campaign.
To make matters worse, the team had dwindled down to just a few dozen players even as the school itself continued to grow. Sparse turnouts on the home side on Friday nights had SEB looking like a Class A program on many a game night.
Almost from the minute Collins arrived, that culture began to change.
In his first week in Brooklet, Collins was hitting the hallways, actively recruiting anyone who looked like they could be of some service in a helmet and pads. Within a month, Collins had also added some much needed help within the assistant coaching ranks.
By the time spring practice rolled around, the roster size had nearly doubled and the SEB coaches and administration had to secure some help from the community just to ensure that there would be enough equipment for everyone who wanted to play.
In the opening game of the 2010 season, the Yellow Jackets snapped what had grown to a 19-game losing streak. The next week, SEB came out on top once again.
That was all for the win column in 2010, but the first seeds had been planted.
When Collins first arrived in Brooklet, he routinely brought up the steps that would have to be taken to grow the program. The first step was simply to get rid of that looming losing streak. The team — along with the support of fellow students and the community — continued to grow, but 'Step 2' wasn't achieved until 2012 when a win over Savannah marked the Jackets' first region win since the first week of 2009 — a span of 26 games.
Southeast Bulloch finished the 2012 season with a 4-6 mark and was in the postseason discussion until the final weeks of the season. A state playoff berth was Collins' third step and the Jackets achieved it in 2013, finishing fourth in a tough region and nearly pulling off an upset in the first round of the playoffs.
Last season brought about a sub-region title — something that wasn't even available for SEB to achieve when Collins first took over — but the Jackets fell just short of a return trip to state with a loss to Appling County in the region play-in game.
And that brings us to the 2015 Yellow Jackets.
Once again, a brutal early schedule forced SEB to grow up in a hurry. Smarting from a 1-3 mark in non-region play, the Jackets hit the gas at just the right time for the second straight year. SEB cruised through the first three games of its sub-region before putting on a near-dominant showing against Jenkins, which was the only sub-region opponent that figured to challenge the Jackets.
With another sub-region title in its belt, the stage was set for a rematch with Appling County last week, with another state playoff berth as the winner's prize and only a long, cold offseason offered in consolation to the loser.
Two regular seasons and one region play-in had ended with losses to the Appling County Pirates. And as the Yellow Jackets charged onto Fred Shaver Field last Friday night, it seemed clear that a new step had been added to the now six-year old checklist of Collins.
Even as Appling County rallied through the middle portions of the game, Southeast Bulloch came up with big play after big play to ensure that a win over Appling could join the likes of making the postseason, climbing out of the cellar, or even just winning a game.
That very first step — just winning a game — seemed little more than a far-fetched dream in the summer of 2010. Now, in 2015, as the fall has been wearing on for over a month, winning has become the new norm at Southeast Bulloch.
Not only are the Yellow Jackets racking up the victories, but the stands – once rickety and empty – have been rebuilt to twice their size, only to be filled near capacity by fans decked out in blue and gold.
That one little checklist from 2010 has turned into an amazing story of a program's rebirth.
And even if new goals on that list must now be made up on the fly as new challenges are met and achieved by the Jackets, you've got to admit that part of any great program is its ability to write its own history.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.