Looking Forward • photos and story by angelina bellebuono
2012 Morgan County High School Bulldog football...
It’s a mere five months away.
In Bill Malone's office, football exists, every day, in every month, of every year.
Cleats. Pads. Helmets. Schedules. Play charts. They tumble willy-nilly on the floor, the couch, the table, the chairs, the desk. On every horizontal surface, actually.
The adjacent locker room, however, is virtually empty. Yet there are whispers of voices hovering in the fluorescent light. There is the clang of a locker shutting. The inspired rise of a coach's pre-game prayer. A victory crescendo that smells of sweat and toil.
And Malone, despite these waning days of winter when autumn’s magic is nary but a dream, is already hearing the impact of pads and seeing the shimmer and promise of stadium lights.
For a coach, these dark days without practice and these weekends without games can be daunting. Or they may lead to thinking, planning and anticipating. Malone is there; he has known since the Georgia High School Association released the reclassifications in early December that his team would be returning to Region 8AAA after a two-year stint in Region 4AA.
In the months of quiet, the excitement is building.
"We are really looking forward to another opportunity to compete in AAA," Malone said from his office, amid the flotsam and jetsam of seasons past.
He won't shy from what those who look more to that past than to the future may choose to discuss in grocery store aisles or the barbershop chair. He is acutely aware that his teams did not fare well when they competed in AAA during the 2008 and 2009 seasons.
The losing records are sharp in his memory, still.
Yet he also knows that the athletes who toughed it out during the 2009 season will be the leaders of the 2012 team. And he knows they remember the losing record, too.
"When the guys found out [about the change in classification], their faces lit up with just the thought of the challenge," he said.
Those same guys are undaunted by the past, Malone confirmed. And for good reason. He explained, "This will be another football season. We learned a lot during those years. But there is a difference in the caliber of the team we will be fielding; the strides in the weight room alone are exciting."
During seventh period every day, the players returning as 2012 Bulldogs get stronger.
Malone said the weight room (a new addition this year) is functioning perfectly, and that workouts are "going great."
Will that satiate him for another 59 days, as spring tumbles into green and tennis and soccer and baseball and track turn students to athletes? Will he be able to truly appreciate the crack of a bat or the whip of the wrist as racket meets ball?
Probably not. He's a football coach.
And for him, a season with good competition is a good thing.
"We are going to be maintaining our historic rivalries," he said, indicating the decision to make the three non-region games against Monticello, Greene County and Putnam County. But, he added, "We will be facing Jackson, Franklin and Hart, as we did three years ago, with the new additions of Oconee County, North Oconee and East Jackson."
He speaks with admiration and respect for the opposing coaches and their programs. "They are good guys," he said.
"But," he paused before continuing, "we are definitely looking to win."
There is extra emphasis on the final word.
On mornings when Malone must still clear the frost from the windshield of his truck before leaving for the drive to the high school, the sweltering August heat is just a hope. Yet it is familiarity and good-natured coaching camaraderie with which Malone greeted Defensive Coordinator Doug Huff as he stepped into Malone’s office before seventh period recently.
The two immediately jumped into their football season banter about weight gain and granola bars and meat sweats. But something in Malone’s voice shifted to serious as Huff chuckled and started to leave the room.
Malone called him back. He held up a football helmet and turned it slowly, showing it to Huff.
"It's the new look," Malone said. "For a new season."
Printed in the March 8, 2012 edition.