Bill Shanks

Thankful for all things in sports

Kirby Smart, left, is in his first season as Georgia’s head coach.
Kirby Smart, left, is in his first season as Georgia’s head coach. AP

As we celebrate Thanksgiving and truly give thanks for the great blessings in our lives, it’s also worth mentioning a few sports items we are thankful for this warm November.

We must be thankful for this week in college football. Call it “hate week,” “rivalry week” or whatever. This is why we love this sport. It’s state rivals facing each other with bragging rights on the line. Our neighbors may be our enemy, if just for a day.

Georgia football fans must be thankful for the coaching change that happened December. It was time to move on, and first-year head coach Kirby Smart has the Georgia program on the right track. It won’t happen overnight, but it is, in fact, happening.

Georgia Tech football fans better be thankful for the health of the players. Last year was a disaster, with injury after injury to give head coach Paul Johnson an excuse for a horrific season. This year, they are back on track, at least compared to a 3-9 season.

We can all be thankful for high school football, which is the lifeblood of sports in communities all across this state. It never fails to entertain us year after year.

Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is thankful for new center Alex Mack. He has protected Ryan well, helping the Falcons have the best offense in the NFL. Mack stopped the revolving door at center the past few years, which coincided with three-straight non-winning seasons.

Falcons fans should be thankful for the injection of youth into the defense. Vic Beasley has improved dramatically in his second year, while former Clemson teammate Grady Jarrett is also thriving. But the rookies — Keanu Neal, Deion Jones, De’Vondre Campbell and Brian Poole — are the ones giving this team a potential solid defense.

The Hawks should be thankful for Dwight Howard. They finally have a true center, and so far, Howard is not the problem-child his critics said he would be in Atlanta. Will Howard make the Hawks better in April once the playoffs roll around? We’ll see.

Mercer should always be thankful for Bobby Lamb and Bob Hoffman, two coaches who are very good at what they do. They have put Mercer athletics on the map with two solid programs.

The Braves have a lot to be thankful for, particularly the new manager who will be full time once the 2017 season rolls around. Brian Snitker is a tremendous upgrade from the perennially lame duck Fredi Gonzalez, and Snitker will prove it next season.

They should also be thankful that general manager John Coppolella started the rebuild two years ago. The Braves didn’t have a farm system then, but now it’s one of the best in the game. They now have a future. We saw the beginning of the fruits of that labor late this past season.

We’ll soon be thankful for young pitchers named Sean Newcomb, Patrick Weigel, Max Fried, Kolby Allard, Touki Toussaint, Mike Soroka and others. We could go on and on, as the Braves are loaded with pitching prospects who should make the next decade of baseball much better than this one.

I’m thankful for National Signing Day, spring training, trade deadlines, Bobby Pope columns, tailgating on a fall afternoon, FM radio and the chance to talk and write about the teams I follow every single day. I’m also thankful to you, the readers of this column and the listeners to my show, for giving me the best job of anyone I know.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on “Middle Georgia’s ESPN” – 93.1 FM in Macon and 99.5 FM in Warner Robins. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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