MILLEDGEVILLE -- Brad Owens set a few goals after landing the head coaching job at GMC Prep.
He wanted to build up the number of players on the football team. He wanted to win games. He wanted to get the Bulldogs back to playing a region schedule.
Owens accomplished the first two goals during his first three seasons in Milledgeville, and he’ll cross the third off the list Friday when the Bulldogs (3-0) host Wilkinson County in a GHSA Region 7-A matchup.
“There is a lot of hype for this game,” Owens said. “It’s a huge game, and we should have a huge crowd. A lot of people have waited a long time for this day.”
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After years of non-competitive football, the administrators decided the football team would play a non-region schedule beginning with the 2008 season. The program had played non-region football for two years in 1998 and 1999, but the team just couldn’t stay competitive enough to warrant a region schedule. From 2004 to 2007, GMC lost all 24 region games it played, hitting rock bottom with an 0-10 season in 2007. It was only the program’s third winless season since 1954, according to ghsfha.org, a far cry from the early days of the program when it claimed or won seven state championships from 1913 to 1930.
So Owens went to Milledgeville after stints at Dooly County, McIntosh County Academy and Metter with the hope of engineering a return to region play.
After a 3-7 opening season, the Bulldogs went 5-5 in 2010 to post only their sixth non-losing season since 1980.
The Bulldogs topped that with a 7-3 season a year ago. They lost to teams from a larger class in Jeff Davis, Lakeview Academy and Prince Avenue Christian, which advanced to the Class A state semifinals before losing to eventual champion Savannah Christian.
“We finally had some real success on the field,” Owens said.
Owens went to the administration following the season and asked that his team be allowed to play a region schedule. The group debated the idea but finally acquiesced.
“It means so much to these kids and the guys that came before them,” Owens said. “They worked so hard. So many of my former players have called and said they want to be here on Friday night. It’s going to be special.”
Owens knows this next step won’t be easy.
The Bulldogs have won 11 of their past 15 games. But the level of competition rises significantly against Wilkinson County, a team that many expect to contend for a public school state championship and one that was ranked before a loss last week to Irwin County. The wins won’t be easier thereafter with games coming against FPD, Lincoln County and Aquinas and improving programs in Hancock Central and Twiggs County. The schedule is a departure from the past few years, when region commitments limit the teams the Bulldogs can schedule, resulting in a number of games against fellow non-region schools.
“We’ve worked towards this (Wilkinson County) game since we started working out in June,” Owens said. “No offense to the teams we’ve played, but we’ve been working towards this game.”
Owens said he’s excited region play will begin against Wilkinson County, a neighboring school and a natural rival.
“Football in Georgia is about playing neighbors and rivals every week,” he said.
Because of the Bulldogs’ success on the field, Owens said his team is very confident, but he has tried to temper the exuberance as the week goes on. Win or lose, the Bulldogs still have six more region games to play.
“Our kids are sky high and they think they can beat the world,” Owens said. “There’s bad and good to that. There’s a fine line between being confident and understanding where you’re at as a football team. This should be a huge challenge for us.”