The offense was the wing-T, and program success was the exception rather than the rule.
Justin Rogers remembers the situation after he took over as head coach at Jones County and got to work, commuting from Griffin.
“Spring ball, it was just, ugh,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty at all. The kids had never done the system. Putting it all in, coming from that wing-T and trying to flip it around, trying to find where people fit ...”
Fast forward to a chilly night in Atlanta about seven months later, and the same program that was more than 120 games below .500 all-time and had only one 12-game season on its resume was maybe a foot from the Class AAAAA semifinals. Oh, and it already had a win over the team that would eventually win the state championship.
For doing what had never been done at Jones County and certainly wasn’t expected to be done this season, Rogers is The Telegraph’s All-Middle Georgia Coach of the Year. And the competition, one colleague in particular, isn’t lost on Rogers.
“You got a dang state championship coach,” Rogers said, noting Northside’s Kevin Kinsler. “State championship, that’s pretty strong.”
There’s little doubt that the job done this season by Kinsler and the Northside staff was at least as good as any done by a staff in that storied program’s history and certainly would have cemented the All-Middle Georgia honor in almost any other year. But Jones County made sure this wasn’t any other year, handing the Eagles their lone loss and being perhaps a missed sack away from reaching the semifinals.
“We just wanted to make the playoffs,” said Rogers, whose team was 5-5 in 2013 under then-head coach Dwight Jones, who left for Harris County and finished 10-3 this season. “That’s all we wanted to do.”
That’s how surprising Jones County was in 2014. Just making the playoffs from GHSA Region 2-AAAAA would have had Rogers high in the running for the honor, considering the road taken.
New head coach. New quarterback, with no experience.
New offense, on the opposite end of the philosophical spectrum. Season-ending knee injury in the summer to a first-team all-region running back.
And how did all that turn out?
The Greyhounds opened the season with three nice wins over other non-descript programs, but they came in uncharacteristically dominant fashion.
Then the eyebrow-raising, headline-making win over Northside changed the fall at Jones County and made things a whole lot more interesting in the region.
The bubble burst a week later with a loss at Lakeside-Evans during which starting quarterback Bradley Hunnicutt, who had a revelation of a season, was knocked from the game. Jones County stayed flat when Houston County dropped the hammer in a 45-15 win a week later.
“We didn’t play well, and they played great,” Rogers said. “It was a wake-up call.”
The bubble filled back up and expanded with two wins, and then a victory over Warner Robins to clinch the No. 3 spot in the region -- the Greyhounds kicked off that night with the possible of finishing second or not making the playoffs at all.
They lived a charmed life in a 13-12 first-round win over Carver-Columbus and then ended unbeaten Kell’s season with a two-point road win.
For the first time in a long time, basketball season in Gray would really have to wait.
The football season ended in unforgettable fashion, with Mays quarterback Asahnia Aderhold avoiding two Jones County defenders to throw a game-winning touchdown on the final play in the quarterfinal.
Devastation soon gave way to anticipation around “The Barking Lot” at Jones County, a sign of a culture change.
Rogers, part of Griffin’s Class AAAA title team in 2013 as offensive coordinator, is well aware that coming close to repeating in 2015 what happened in 2014 is unlikely. For one thing, Jones County won’t be sneaking up on anybody.
On the other hand, he said players are already working toward handling that disappearing advantage.
“I got kids right now chomping at the bit, working hard, staying after school, doing ladders and throwing tires,” said Rogers, adding that the work of the coaches who remained on the Jones County staff was an immeasurable part of the season’s attention-getting success. “If you can get that year-round program going, like a Northside, that’s how you can have continued success.”