The Crisp County Cougars football team is coming off a runner-up finish in Class AAA.
Photo: John Amis/For the AJC
Photo: John Amis/For the AJC

‘Take advantage of every opportunity’

Each week we explore one question that affects Georgia high school sports with five coaches. 

At Issue: Has it been possible for you to turn the coronavirus pandemic into a life lesson for your athletes?

The Skinny: The Crisp County Cougars football team is coming off a runner-up finish in Class AAA after losing to Cedar Grove in the championship game in coach Brad Harber’s third season as head coach in Cordele. Harber took over in 2017 and has led the Cougars to a Region 1-AAA championship each year, before last season’s championship appearance.

The 2019 season might not have ended the way coach Harber, his players and fan base wanted, but a large returning group of starters and young players had generated a lot of excitement around spring football.

The coronavirus pandemic ended those plans, but Harber said the adversity has provided teaching moments.

Harber: “We talk about it within the program all the time ... always telling the back-ups and younger guys that they are an ankle turn away from being a starter. You have to take advantage of all your opportunities at practice. But I think the biggest teachable moment (with this situation) is that this game is going to end for all of us someday. And you don’t ever know when that’s going to happen.

“The big thing is it really makes you appreciate the time with the players, because I certainly miss our players, man. I miss being around the coaches. I think hopefully everybody will come back from this with a great appreciation of the daily things that I think all of us take for granted. I mean I'm included in that. Where sometimes things get aggravating, or the long hours and all that kind of stuff, but it really slaps you in the face about how much you've missed the kids and missed the coaches. This is crazy.

“I think that’s probably the biggest thing is just take advantage of every opportunity you have. Because you never know when something like this is going to be taken away from you. And (this situation) reinforces that at any moment. This game ... this game is going to end for all of us anyway. But you know, sometimes it is just not when we want it to happen. I think we should come out of this thing with a greater appreciation of it all. I’ll also be happy when we get back to whatever normal is going to be.

“Obviously, I’m worried like every other head football coach or any other coach in the country. I don’t know if we’ll come back to school. I don’t know if we’ll have spring football. When we come back, the first thing that’s going to be taken care of are these guys’ academics. We’re missing all that seat time, and I know that everybody’s trying make up the time, but certainly that’s got to be the No. 1 thing when we get back. I mean, obviously and selfishly, I’m worried about the football end of things. But being realistic with everything, we’ve got to think about all the guys’ academics. 

“I am really proud of the guys, though. They’ve taken the ACT and SAT, but now all that’s been backed up. We had 12 players take the LSAT a couple of weekends ago, and that was right before everything shut down. Luckily, we got to get that in. Then we’re fortunate we have everybody returning. We graduated some players, but we have a lot of returners coming back. It’s going to be interesting. It’s not going to be easy on anybody’s front, but it should be a little bit easier with as many guys as we have back.

“I’ll tell you what’s the big deal right now: I don’t know if we have a projected time when we will come back to school, and that's a big thing. The students (are scheduled to come back) back April 7 and teachers on April 6, but there again, we don’t know. ... Right now, I think every football coach was kind of heavily involved in the off-season program with the lifting and workouts. I normally try to get to know the eighth-graders a little bit at this time. They come over and lift some weights and do some agility stuff. This a crucial time where I really start building those relationships with the players, not only the guys we have returning, but the guys who are coming up from the middle school. You kind of figure out where they fall into place.

“The other big thing is the recruiting. We have some kids here who are being recruited. And all the visits and all that kind of stuff has come to a halt. Then there’s professional development for the coaches. This is the time where we had been invited to go see spring football practices, go to chalk-talk sessions and clinics. All of has come to a halt. It's been really weird, but everybody is in the same boat. And I think the biggest fear anybody has is the fear of the unknown. You know, we don’t know how all this stuff is going. I just mopped and sprayed down the weight room, and we've got the field house all clean. You know, we try to keep the, ‘Stay ready, so you don’t have to get ready mentality.’ ”

AT ISSUE: Teaching adversity

• Chan Brown, Parkview baseball coach
• Brad Harber, Crisp County football coach
• Clark Meyer, Westminster girls soccer coach
• Josh Sagel, Lambert lacrosse coach
• Burt Waller, Starr’s Mill golf coach

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