Caleb Graham is seeing at Jones County what he never thought he'd see
One of two things will happen this week for Jones County’s senior class of football players.
Caleb Graham believes which it will be, with the Greyhounds getting Buford in the second round of the GHSA Class 5A playoffs.
“And get to go beat ‘em,” said Graham, who answers more to “Tank” around the stadium and field house than his given name.
The elder Greyhounds will either walk off of the field Friday night at Tom Riden Stadium in Buford having authored one of the biggest upsets in the state in several years with a win that broke a 30-game home playoff winning streak, or with a season-ending loss.
If it’s the latter, there will be tears and hugs, and at least the first part of the two-hour ride home will be fairly somber. But at some point, whether it’s while still on the bus or later on, something will sink in.
This senior class will end its Jones County career as the senior class with the most impact in program history. It’s tied with last year’s class with a four-year record of 31-14, but this year’s seniors will leave a greater set of holes to fill.
“With (Bradley) Honeycutt and Nick (Singleton) and all the guys that came through it, it feels good,” said third-year head coach Justin Rogers, the spark behind Jones County’s recent success. “It feels different walking the halls. It feels different going to meetings. They have established the culture here of what football is and what commitment it takes.”
The Greyhounds have had quality players throughout the years, from quarterback Justin Tyler and offensive linemen Zeb McHargue and Joe Fowler at the start of the century to Terrance Gore, Undre Williams and Jackson Williamson.
Those five make up the list of Greyhounds who made some level of All-State, from 2001-12.
In the past three seasons, state honors of some sort — as well as All-Middle Georgia — have been earned by Hunnicutt, Singleton, Torrez Finney, Terell Solomon, Tyler Storey and Trey Perkins.
And suddenly, Greyhounds appear on state all-time stat lists.
The Georgia High School Football Historians Association website doesn’t update career stats until the end of the season and only for seniors. The state all-time passing yardage list is amid major change and will continue to be transformed, but Hunnicutt will spend at least one season in the top 25. His 7,628 yards currently rank 15th, but there are two seniors from Middle Georgia alone still ahead of him, Houston County’s Jake Fromm and Macon County’s K’Hari Lane.
Singleton is already among the eight receivers in state history to have 3,000 yards, with 3,230, which currently puts him seventh, ahead of former Georgia standout Andre Hastings.
The funny thing is that Singleton might be known only for basketball had former head coach Dwight Jones not left for Harris County — and since, to Russell County, Alabama — after Singleton’s freshman season. Singleton didn’t play any football as a freshman, was talked into playing by Rogers after he was hired, and spent that first spring at running back.
A few conversations later, Singleton moved to wide receiver. It turned out to be a historic move.
“Blocking the big linemen,” Singleton said of preferring wideout to running back. “I like being in space.”
Junior Drake Bolus has given the Greyhounds a 900-yard rusher for the third straight year, and he is 81 yards from the second 1,000-yard mark for the team in three seasons, with now-graduated Chandler Ramage having gained nearly 2,200 yards as a junior and senior.
All of those numbers don’t come without a stronger offensive line, which is primarily a bunch of hard workers, like Graham.
This season’s defense doesn’t have anybody as dominant as Finney and started as the least experienced defense in several years, although Corlen Williams and Demontae Trawick, among others, are having quality seasons. And the Greyhounds have surrendered more than 21 points only once in the past six games.
“I'm not going to roll out D-1 players,” Rogers said. “I'm going to roll out a bunch of good high school players, and they're going to be good, good high school players.”
A family decision brought Jacquez Washington from Rutland to Jones County after his sophomore season. The uncertainty that followed was fairly quickly erased.
“As I remember, I was at home, laying across my bed,” said Washington, a linebacker. “I (saw) Coach Rogers on TV. He was standing right in front of the Barking Lot (student section). He was talking about all the stuff they were doing. When I found out I was going to Jones County, I was really excited.”
He left one program yearning for simply a non-losing season to one that had intermittent tastes of quality seasons.
In Gray, the success has been a long time in coming. Entering Friday’s game, the GHSFHA site has Jones County at 293-402-13 all-time, the Greyhounds winning 42.3 percent of the time. But support has exceeded the winning percentage. The Greyhounds went 9-3 in 1991, followed with a 15-69-1 stretch that included consecutive 0-10 seasons until broken by a 7-4 season in Jeff Lee’s third season as head coach, in 2000. A 9-3 mark followed in 2001, and then eight straight non-winning seasons.
Jones had one losing season, three 5-5 seasons and two winning seasons, most coming in front of a mostly-full home side hoping to be on hand when the Greyhounds got over the hump.
On came Rogers, and soon enough, that hump was history.
Graham is quite sure the status wouldn’t be the same had Jones stayed, citing a negative atmosphere around the team combined with a wing-T offense that the Greyhounds weren’t inspired by, a reason Singleton stayed away.
“I could never have seen Jones County coming to where it is now,” said Graham, who still had a 5-5 mentality early in Rogers’ first season, which changed after beating Northside. “We've definitely gotten to be more than what I ever could have expected Jones County could be.”
This run is only the second time in program history that the Greyhounds had three straight winning seasons. The first time was from 1987-89 when they went 19-13 under John “Bubba” Williams.
Jones County had peaked at nine wins only twice in 2001 and 1991 until going 10-3 in 2014.
The counter to that is the number of winless seasons since Jones County started playing a full schedule, in 1948: four. And there have been five one-win seasons in that span.
In the past three years, all under Rogers, the Greyhounds have beaten the No. 1 team in the state (Northside in 2014), the No. 2 team in the state (Houston County in 2015), gone 2-1 against Warner Robins and came within maybe two feet of reaching the Class 5A semifinals in 2014.
This class will have played at least 12 games in two of its four high school seasons. The three previous 12-game seasons were in 2001, 1991 and 1988,
Along the way, the sleeping giant of a fan base is no longer sleeping and has turned Jones County into one of the top Friday night atmospheres in the area.
“People started coming from everywhere,” Graham said.
Added Washington, “This is the best fan base school I’ve ever been a part of. They will support us to the fullest.”
Buford’s visitors’ side is likely to be full of purple and gold as the Greyhounds and their fans hope to do what hasn’t been done since Dec. 4, 2004, when Charlton County won 35-20 at Buford in the Class 2A title game.
No matter when the season ends, however, the stamp of this senior class will continue.
“They always told us, a coach-driven team can be good, but a player-driven team can be great,” said of Rogers and his assistants, notably Jimmy Dudley. “It kinda made you realize it wasn't just the coaches that have done it, it's us, too … . from how we started to when they first got here to how we've come to be now and how I know it's gonna be.”