Georgia high school players home for the holidays

Justin Rogers and the Colquitt County Packers, ranked No. 2 in 7A, head into the playoffs as a No. 1 seed following a 7-0 regular season.
Justin Rogers and the Colquitt County Packers, ranked No. 2 in 7A, head into the playoffs as a No. 1 seed following a 7-0 regular season.

Credit: Adam Krohn

Credit: Adam Krohn

This season, all playoff teams must stay put for Thanksgiving with finalists playing through Christmas

If your high school football team plays the Friday of Thanksgiving week in a typical season, that means you’re in the quarterfinals and two victories from the state championship.

This year, with the start of the GHSA football season delayed two weeks because of the coronavirus, all playoff teams must stay put for Thanksgiving because the first round of the state playoffs begins the next day.

The same thing holds true for the Christmas holidays. Teams that make it to the championship games will play Dec. 28-30 at Center Parc Stadium (formerly Georgia State Stadium) in Atlanta.

“If your team gets to that point, I think the families will understand, and no one will be complaining,” said Colquitt County coach Justin Rogers, whose Packers, ranked No. 2 in Class 7A, finished the regular season 7-0. “It will be something to get excited about.”

As far as cancellations of potential travel plans, Norcross coach Keith Maloof downplayed the postseason schedule’s impact.

“I’m not sure there’d be as much travel as there would be in a normal year, anyway, because of the pandemic,” Maloof said.

Rogers and Maloof, whose Blue Devils are 9-0 with one game remaining and ranked No. 3 in 7A, have had to prepare past teams for a game the week of Thanksgiving. Rogers twice took Jones County to the quarterfinals (2014, 2017), and Maloof has been there three times with the Blue Devils — in 2006, and when they won back-to-back state titles during the 2012-13 seasons.

Both noted the unique nature of preparing for a game that week. Rogers said in a normal practice week, the players come straight from school to practice, but during Thanksgiving week he accounts for the school being closed. In years' past, it was a given for teams to gather on Wednesday for a team feast. But this is the Year of the COVID, and some teams will opt not to eat together.

Maloof said his team will be one of those opting out of the meal. Rogers said his team will eat together, with protocols in place.

“It’s something I’ve always done,” Rogers said. “Thanksgiving is a time to remind us that we’re blessed here in Moultrie to be as successful as we’ve been, and we understand that. There’s a lot to complain about, but there’s a ton to be thankful for.”

Then there’s Thanksgiving Day. Rogers and Maloof prefer doing early-morning walk-throughs so that the players can spend the rest of the day with family. Rogers noted that in a lot of cases, extended family will show up to watch the practice, which on that day is more heavily attended than most — in a usual year, anyway.

“(Football on Thanksgiving week) is unique, and I’m glad everyone who made the playoffs this year gets to experience it,” Rogers said. “It’s a neat thing, and so many communities that have never done it before will have the chance to this year. I think you’ll see a lot of excitement.”

One such community is in Homer, where the Banks County Leopards play. Founded in 1958, the Leopards have advanced in the postseason once, in 2016, when they reached the second round after their opponent forfeited before the game was played. Despite being 1-8 heading into the final week, the Leopards automatically have qualified for the playoffs because they play in Region 8-2A, which shrunk to four teams when Riverside Military announced the cancelation of its season in May.

Despite a disappointing season that has included season-ending injuries to their starting and backup quarterbacks, as well other key starters missing time, Leopards third-year coach Jay Reid said the team is resilient and looking for a playoff victory.

“I’ve always said that once you’re in the dance, it’s anyone’s game,” Reid said. “Once you punch your ticket, you never know what could happen next — especially this year. I hate to say it, but there could be a situation where a state champion is crowned not having played in a state championship game (because of an opponent canceling because of COVID-19).”

Maloof is doing everything in his power to make sure his Blue Devils don’t have to forfeit their season once the playoffs begin.

“You’ve got to be on your toes everyday with this COVID-19,” he said. "It’s real, and it’s hard to navigate. I’ve been telling these young men and their families to separate as much as possible, and that’s typically not what you do, especially this time of year. We can’t control everything, but we’re doing things individually, on a daily basis, as coaches and players, like masking up and not staying together in groups for too long.

“We’ve just got to control what we can control, and that’s the biggest thing. We want to keep ourselves safe to hopefully make a deep playoff run.”

About the Author

In Other News