Class 3A Blog: No time to bemoan the draw for Parson and Rockmart

Biff Parson took over Rockmart’s football program in 2016 after the departure of Bin Turner, and since then Rockmart has witnessed a revival of its program. And whether the turnaround was due to Parson or just timing, the Yellow Jackets have been on the rise.

Parson coached at Banks County from 2013-2015 before his arrival at Rockmart, and in his first season, the Yellow Jackets reclassified from 3A to 2A and began a stretch of quality football not seen at Rockmart since the 1950′s, when the Jackets won the 3-A title in 1950 and advanced to three semifinals and two titles games between 1952 and 1957.

Its recent history might not be as impressive as the stretch seen 65-or-so years ago, but in Parson’s first season, Rockmart improved from a 2-8 record in 2015 to a 9-3 record and second-round exit in the 2A playoffs. In 2017, the Yellow Jackets won the first region title since 1988 and exited in the second round again. In 2018, Parson coached Rockmart to the championship game where it lost to Heard County. Last year, another second-round exit ended the season for the Yellow Jackets.

Rockmart moved up to 3A this season and is coming off a 48-35 victory against an upset-minded White County in the first round of the playoffs. Its prize for that victory? A meeting with top-ranked Cedar Grove, the defending state champions, in the second round. Cedar Grove is coming off a 28-12 victory against Region 8 No. 2 Monroe Area.

“My own opinion is, if you are going to be the best, you have to beat the best,” Parson said. “The last two years, they have been the best. I feel our bracket might be the toughest road, because if we take care of business this week, next week we likely will have Crisp County.”

The unique bracket layout in the bottom-right quadrant is the product of Cedar Grove’s forfeiture of four regular-season games, which put the Saints as the No. 3 seed from Region 5.

“It is what it is,” Parson said. “You can’t get caught up in the ‘woulda-couldas’ of it all. We just have to focus on Rockmart and really play the best football we possibly can play each week.”

And quality football is what Rockmart has been playing.

The Yellow Jackets are a run-heavy program averaging 272 yards rushing and 86 yards passing. The offense is led by senior Javin Whatley, an underrated quarterback, who can, according to Parson, do anything.

“He can play it all,” Parson said. “He really can. And he loves the game of football as good as anybody I have ever coached in high school. And that is rare these days.”

Whatley clearly is the front-runner from a strong group of Rockmart runners, although he would not tell you that.

“He’s got a great group of seniors around him and players on his program around him that support him,” he said. “Obviously, I want all the success he can get. But he is a humble kid, and he’ll credit everybody else before he takes credit himself. So that’s what makes it even more special.”

Whatley is 41-of-90 passing for 879 yards and 10 touchdowns. But he leads a backfield that has accounted for 41 of the program’s 58 touchdowns. Whatley has rushed 152 times for 1,223 yards and 14 touchdowns, leading nine Rockmart players that scored on runs this season. Senior Jai Penson has 48 carries for 252 yards and nine touchdowns. Junior Keyshaun McCollough has 52 carries for 371 yards and five touchdowns. Sophomores Lanear McCrary and Jojo Haynes each have four rushing touchdowns.

“We run a kind of unique style of offense,” Parson said, “something that I had never learned or played in before Rockmart. We just evaluated the talent here and knew we had some kids who could run, so we piggybacked off what Fitzgerald was doing but we kind of made it our own here. We run four running backs at a time in the game, sometimes two, but we are going to be as good as we can be, being basic. We want to give our kids a chance to use their skill-set. When you have kids who can run, just get the ball in their hands and let them do what they do best.”

That basic approach to a ground-and-pound offense led Rockmart through the regular season at 8-1, with a victory over 4A then-No. 7 Cedartown 21-10 before it entered 6-3A region play and went undefeated in its new home. The only loss came against Class 5A then-No. 5 Rome in the first game of the season.

If Rockmart wins against Cedar Grove, it will be the second time the Yellow Jackets have advanced past the second round since 1988, when it advanced to the semifinals.

“That second round is like our nemesis,” Parson said. “I feel like sometimes you get a bad draw, but that’s how the state of Georgia is, there’s good football. You got to play them at some point whether it is the second round of the fourth or fifth round. We are going to prepare our best and give it a good shot. That is just the bracket, and 3A ...we feel like it’s one of the toughest classifications.”

And will the preparation pay off?

The Yellow Jackets – and the rest of the state and classification -- will find out when Rockmart plays at home Friday at The Rock.

“It’s a great place to be” Parson said. “And we are enjoying this ride.”