Class 2A blog: Worth County 5-0 under 1st-year coach Hammond

Rams beat Berrien in Region 1 opener for best start since 1989

With their 56-46 win of Berrien on Friday, the Worth County Rams are 5-0 for the first time since 1989.

The win also marked the Region 1 opener for the Rams, who apparently have turned a corner under first-year coach Jeff Hammond after a pair of 4-6 seasons under Phillip Ironside, who stepped down after last season and is now an assistant at Osborne.

The Rams haven’t had a winning season since 2016. Under Ironside, they improved from 3-27 the previous three years but were still missing the playoffs. Hammond is hoping to change that this season, and he trusts that his team can carry out his vision.

“They’ve done a great job of buying into our philosophy and holding each other accountable,” Hammond said. “They’re playing with great energy and they’ve very physical. There’s an understanding that we’ll have to overcome adversity here and there, and we’re embracing that. We’ve had a pretty good start so far.”

The Rams went 4-0 in non-region play, opening with a 22-6 road win against Turner County, ranked No. 4 in 1A Division II. They also edged 1ADII’s Mitchell County 16-14, and beat 3A’s Upson-Lee 56-33 and Central-Macon 32-7.

Hammond said he wasn’t sure what to expect when the season began.

“Being new here and not playing a spring game, I was really curious about how we’d compete and how we’d handle the lows,” he said. “Nothing is going to come out perfect — there’s no such thing as a perfect game. Something negative is always going to happen. So, when you come to a place that’s been down, and they haven’t had a winning season in several years, you wonder how they’re going to handle it when things don’t go your way.

“This group has been, really, a lean-on-each-other-type team. Some games the defense plays lights out, while the offense plays not-so-well. Or vice versa. Against Upson-Lee and Berrien we played well on offense but not the best on defense. We’re still looking to put together our best football game.”

Region 1 has traditionally been one of the more competitive regions in 2A and that’s the case again this year. The Rams play traditional power Dodge County (1-4, 0-1) Thursday*, then top-ranked Fitzgerald (5-0, 1-0) the following week. The Purple Hurricane beat the Indians 20-12 last week.

*Game was originally scheduled for Friday

After Jeff Davis (0-5, 0-1) and Sumter County (1-3, 0-0), the Rams close the regular season with No. 4 Cook (4-1, 1-0).

“Dodge County is the best 1-4 football team I’ve ever seen,” Hammond said. “They’ve lost to three undefeated teams (1ADI’s No. 7 Bleckley County and No. 1 Swainsboro, and 2A’s top-ranked Fitzgerald) who are ranked high, and you can tell they’d like to have that West Laurens one back (a 14-12 loss). They’re a really good football team and a traditional power that’s not used to losing. They’re used to deep playoff runs and winning their region, and it’s going to be a really tough place to go and play.”

Hammond comes to Worth County as a long-time assistant, mostly in South Georgia, having made playoff runs with Colquitt County and Coffee, including three title game appearances with the Packers. He also coached Foley (Ala.) for two seasons and in his only other stint as a coach in Georgia, he went 1-9 at Spalding in 2019.

He said he’s taken the lessons learned at each coaching stop with him to Worth County.

“Spalding was a great learning experience for me,” he said. “We started a lot of freshmen and sophomore but we were competitive. Some of the best coaching I’ve done was that season, and I only won one game. But they competed and they got better. It took us longer to see the results from it.”

In Moultrie, he was on the staff of the 2010 Packers when they started 0-3, entered the playoffs 5-5 and reached the 5A championship as a No. 3 seed.

“It’s all about getting into the state tournament,” Hammond said. “Once that becomes the norm, then you figure out ways to win playoff games.”

Hammond’s long-term goal is for the Rams to be the consistent state power they were from 1984-1991 under Milt Miller, when they played in four state championships, reached the semifinals six times, won four region titles and won the 3A title in 1987.

“That’s the goal but we’re early in the process,” he said. “We’ve got to keep doing our thing, and in 2-3 years we should be competing on a state level.”

Hammond said this year’s team will go as far as the 3-3-5 formation defense, led by senior linebacker Taylor Fluellen (43 tackles, 10 tackles for loss), takes them.

“We’ve got to continue to get better at every position on that side of the ball and I think they are,” Hammond said.

Offensively, senior dual-threat Chip Cooper leads the way. He’s 71-for-119 passing for 815 yards and eight touchdowns to zero interceptions, and he has 69 carries for 325 yards and six touchdowns. Freshman Kaden Chester has 481 yards and six touchdowns 88 carries.

Hammond wanted to see improvement in the run game from this year’s team, and so far he’s seen that behind an offensive line that includes four new starters, including three sophomores.

“You see the growth,” he said. “We’ve had some rough moments and some really good moments.”

Hammond has the same three goals every season — make the playoffs, win region and win state. All three are still in tact.

“We just have to take it one at a time,” he said. “If you win three region games, there’s a good chance you’re a playoff team. Win four, and maybe you’re a No. 2 or No. 3 seed. Win five, and you’re a No. 1 or 2. Right now, we’re on Dodge County.”

For more from Hammond, check out Ep. 50 of The Class 2A Blogcast.