After a 3-7 campain in 2017, the Greene County football team hopes for more success this season
This story appears in the 2018 Smith Communications Inc. Football Preview Section, available inside the Aug. 23-24 editions of Lake Oconee News, The Eatonton Messenger and The Baldwin Bulletin.
The coaching staff of the Greene County football team is technically new, but there are plenty of familiar faces throughout the program.
Following the dismissal of Robert Edwards last December, Greene County High School hired Larry Milligan as its head coach.
Milligan previously coached the team from 2002 to 2008. During that time, the Tigers went 52-28 overall and reached the postseason four-straight seasons from 2003 to 2007. Greene went undefeated in 2005 until it fell to Charlton County in the semifinal round of the playoffs, 34-33.
During the 2016 season, the Tigers won two playoff games – their first such victories in almost a full decade. Greene stumbled in 2017, however, going 3-7 and losing its last five games.
Senior quarterback C’Darius Kelley said Milligan’s reputation for making the playoffs – and winning there – preceded him.
“It feels good,” Kelley said about the opportunity to be coached by Milligan. “It lets you know that you're expected to win, you're expected to do well and go far. There's a little pressure but you want that. You want to be expected to win and go far. I like it.”
Milligan said regular playoff appearances and postseason victories are part of his long-term goal during his second term at Greene. Getting to that point could present challenges, though.
During the 2000 and 2001 seasons, the Tigers went 6-6 and 1-8-1, respectively. Milligan said the experience of taking over a program in that type of shape was an early lesson in learning to walk before you run.
“I thought to myself (in 2002), 'If we can get to .500, then maybe we can turn this corner and get it rolling,' and we did,” Milligan said. “We ended up 5-5 that first year. Then, the second year, we got a little bit better. I just think you have to build it slowly. Now, 5-5 would be very disappointing to me and my coaching staff and the kids, but, I think you have to build it as it goes.”
When he assembled his team of coaches in preparation for his return to Greensboro, Milligan called on old friends.
Jeremy Waller and Bob Finch coached alongside Milligan during his first tenure at GCHS. Joshua Nesbitt was arguably Milligan’s most talented player and helped lead the Tigers to the Georgia Dome for that semifinal game in 2005. James “Seed” Miller joined up with his former colleagues and player, too. His son, Jared Miller, also a former player for the Tigers, is on the staff.
Rounding out the Tigers’ coaching staff are Chris Thomas, Richard Lawson and Ron Minish.
Finch said there was a simple reason he decided to rejoin Milligan and Waller at Greene.
“I was in a good situation – I was at Commerce and I had a good situation there,” Finch said. “That's the town I grew up in and the school I played for. I tell people that this coach is the only coach I would have left Commerce for and this school is the only place I would've left Commerce for.”
Finch continued: “When he said he was getting the band back together, I said, 'Well, I'll bring my guitar and play along.'”
Upon overhearing Finch’s comment, Milligan said, “There's been a lot of bands to try that before.”
The Tigers’ coaching staff hopes to yield better results than some of those bands that try to recreate their glory days.
In order to do that, the coaches put more focus on the team’s weight training habits. Milligan said the Greene County Board of Education and GHCS principal James Peek helped make that easier.
“Our board of education made a commitment and gave us a little bit of money to help us upgrade our weight room and get it ready,” Milligan said. “Mr. Peek has made a commitment to getting all of our players in weight training (classes). That will be our emphasis. Our whole emphasis here will start with that weight room and die with the weight room.”
So far, the players have responded well to the increased workout load.
“The guys have been in the weight room getting a lot stronger,” Kelley said. “I've seen a lot of improvement. Without the weight room, it's hard to win football games on Friday.”
The Tigers open their season Aug. 24 at longtime rival Morgan County. They will do so with a certain degree of uncertainty – as will every team throughout the state.
There is no way to tell just how successful the Tigers will be in 2018. One thing is for sure, though: Milligan is aiming high.
“We always want to win,” he said. “Not being in the playoffs and not going deep in the playoffs would be unsuccessful in our mind. That's our whole goal. That's our kids' goal. When I came back here, my No. 1 goal, other than to develop young men, was I want to one day coach in [Mercedes-Benz Stadium, site of the Class A state title game]. I've never been there. I won't step foot in there until I get the opportunity to coach in there. That's my goal as an individual and I want that to be our kids' goal. I want them to strive to be there.”