Three storylines: Washington County edition
WACO’s three-headed monster is quite the beast: The Golden Hawks backfield features three 1,000-yard rushers. Starting tailback Melvin Hill has rushed for 1,771 yards and 33 touchdowns on 181 carries (9.8 yards per carry). Backup running back Danyale Wicker has 1,569 yards and 18 touchdowns, averaging 9.7 per carry. Junior quarterback A.J. Gray has rushed for 1,308 yards and 18 touchdowns while averaging 9.4 yards per carry. He has also passed for 1,682 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Buford will counter with the toughest defense WACO has faced this season, but the Golden Hawks probably have the most dangerous offense the Wolves has seen. How many teams in state history have two 1,500-yard rushers and three 1,300-yard rushers?
Hey, the defense is pretty good too: The offense has received quite a bit of attention, which naturally comes with 4,600 yards on the ground and more than 6,300 total yards. But the defense hasn’t been too shabby either. They have allowed more than 10 points in seven of 13 games. Only one team has scored more than 20 points – Lovett – and only two teams have scored more than 10 while the game was still in question – Lovett and Blessed Trinity.
The Golden Hawks have playmakers at every level. The seven players who rotate on the defensive line have a combined 23.5 sacks. Junior Logan Hunt leads the unit with 57 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and four blocked punts.
Juniors Will Coneway and Stacy Thompson team with senior D.J. Sanders to form a potent linebacking corps. Sanders has seven interceptions; Coneway has 119 tackles; Thompson has six sacks.
Gray leads the way in the secondary. Dublin head coach Roger Holmes told me Gray has a chance to be the No. 1 overall prospect in Georgia next year. That remains to be seen, but Gray has had a hell of a season. Senior cornerback Bryan Hypolite has some interest from FCS schools.
Pop Strong is the motivator: Longtime assistant coach Frank “Pop” Lee passed away during the summer from complications of diabetes. He was universally beloved in Sandersville, coaching during both the lean pre-Rick Tomberlin years and during the state championship run in the 1990s and into Joel Ingram’s tenure. He served as a position coach for Takeo Spikes.
When he took over as head coach, Ingram asked Lee to ride with him in a police cruiser to his first game. Lee would calm his nerves. The two rode together every game thereafter. Lee was a spiritual advisor for Ingram, and the Golden Hawks coach considered Lee a second father.
Lee battled ill health over the past few years, undergoing a stroke, a kidney transplant and an amputation because of the diabetes. He rarely missed practices despite the ailments, and the memory of his fighting spirit resulting in the “Pop Strong” slogan. You see it throughout Sandersville, on the windows of the Dairy Lane restaurant near the school, on t-shirts and on wristbands worn by coaches and players. That motto forms the fabric of this football team.