Greene County not on schedule
By Greg Sullivan
With their transition up to Region 8-AAA, along with some ambitious non-region scheduling by Head Coach Bill Malone, the Morgan County Bulldogs expect to see some of the toughest competition they've seen in the history of their storied football program with the approaching 2008 gridiron season.
Despite this, though, some fans in the area may be disappointed to learn that in the aftermath of recent region and class realignments the Bulldogs will, at least temporarily, lose their longest-running rivalry game, Greene County.
"We'll eventually do it again," Malone said. "What I'd like to see is for it to get back to where it once was; a good, clean football game."
Last year's game went smoothly, with no off-field problems following the game. Yet some discipline-related issues involving some people with Greene County ties, not necessarily football ties, at a Morgan County-Monroe Area basketball game a few months ago in Madison may have caused some concern amongst some Morgan County people.
Malone said he and Greene Head Coach Larry Milligan have said in the past to one another that they both love the Morgan-Greene game but hate the week leading up to it.
Playing Greene, Malone said, is something he always looks forward to and he said he looks forward to restoring the rivalry in the years to come, as it was far and beyond the Dogs' most memorable win last season.
The Putnam-Morgan County rivalry was also lost in the scheduling shuffle, although both coaches wanted to schedule the game, Malone said. According to Malone, both coaches required an additional home game when they were in the scheduling process, but neither team had room on their schedule for a visit to the other school.
"If it works out in two years that we can get Putnam and Greene on [the schedule]; we'll do it," Malone said.
For those who like to see good football, these changes will not likely ruin any expectations even without the traditional rivalry games, and the high-profile games will kick off right out of the gate, with three top-notch non-region match-ups before a bye week in week four and then a vicious region schedule.
The journey starts with traditional power Mary Persons, 7-4 last season under head coach Rodney Walker, and a one hour trip for the Bulldogs to open the year on August 29.
Walker has state championships under his belt and is well on his way to guiding the Mary Persons Bulldogs back to their traditional prominence.
Malone said he has always been impressed with the tradition at the Forsyth school and expects a hard fought football game in a tough environment.
"I wanted our kids to be a part of that," he said.
If they escape Mary Persons unscathed, the Dogs won't be able to rest long because, the small-school powerhouse Commerce Tigers will come into town hungry and with something to prove.
The Tigers were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round last season for their second first round exit in three years. The team still represents, however, one of the most legendary programs in Class A football.
"I've been intrigued by Commerce for about 10 years," Malone said. He said he was in the Jackson County town back then with former Bulldog Head Coach Kenny Moore when the two of them sat at a local diner before they were to scout a Tigers game when they witnessed parents, kids and other fans in that community dressed up in school colors and excited about the night's game.
"I always thought the atmosphere at a Commerce game was something we wanted to capture," he said.
Aside the obvious fan support, the Tigers are also expected to bring to Madison an intricate I-bone offense with intentions of spoiling the Dogs' home opener.
"If we can defend the Commerce I-bone, we should be prepared for everybody else, assignment-wise," Malone said.
The next test comes in the form of what is likely their toughest non-region test, Washington-County.
"Everybody knows about Washington County," Malone said of the team that has made a habit of challenging for the state title in the past. "If we're able to stay on the field physically with them I think it'll be a great big boost to our confidence."
Why so tough a non-region schedule?
"I knew that we had to get our kids and our coaching staff ready for the competition," Malone said, referring to the move to Class AAA. "We're going to play tougher guys. I felt like that would get us ready."
But when the team finishes up with the tough non-region slate and then gets through with its bye week preparations in week four, things won't get any easier for the team when they head into a rugged region schedule, that offers more than its share of tests.
The perennial titans league are Stephens County and Hart County, and this year doesn't look to be an exception.
"Athletically Hart County will be the best team we've seen in years," Malone said. He doesn't expect Stephens County to be a piece of cake either. After all, Stephens has gone undefeated in Region 8-AAA for the last three years.
Eastside also brings a lot of athleticism to the table and looks like a team that can make a run for a playoff berth in the new region.
Then down the road in their regular season finale waits Oconee County, a team that made it to the Class AAA state playoffs last season. At the helm of their offense the Warriors have a University of Georgia commitment at quarterback who could give the Dogs some problems.
"We look forward to renewing that rivalry with those guys," Malone said of the nearby school.
In a key away match-up the Dogs head up to Carnesville where a defensive juggarnaut Franklin County Lions team shut the Dogs out early on last season.
Fans won't have to wait all the way until the start of these contests, though, to get a look at next year's Dogs. Before the Dogs head down to play Mary Persons fans will have a chance for a sneak preview when the Dogs travel to Jefferson for a scrimmage game on August 21.
Right now the Dogs look to have much more experience coming back than they had going into the schedule a year ago.
"We're excited about what we've got coming back," Malone said. The team expects to have nine starters back on offense and seven back on defense.
Defensively, new coordinator Clint Jenkins will look for some new faces to step up to replace last year's seniors on the defensive line and at outside linebacker spots, but the team expects to have plenty of experience in its secondary.