By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
For a guy who has won 470 football games and 11 state titles, Lincoln County head coach Larry Campbell always seems to have something to lament about. This spring is no exception.
“We just don’t get to get that much work in during the spring because our kids are playing baseball or golf, and those teams are doing quite well right now,” Campbell said of this week’s spring football workouts. “Then we have kids going on a class trip to Philadelphia and proms, and plays, and academic nights and all that sort of thing that kids need to do in high school. So we’re without some key people we need [in football]. It’s hard when you have a school as small as ours.”
Campbell said he and his staff use spring to get the rising ninth graders up to speed, and so all is not lost. Still, Campbell said next year he will be among the handful of coaches that will ask permission from the Georgia High School Association to play an extra scrimmage game in August. A new rule creating the process was passed recently but will not go into effect until next season.
But Campbell said he has an even greater concern these days. He believes the public-private school split in Class A is hitting schools in the wallet.
“I think it is having repercussions that no one thought about when they voted on the split,” said Campbell, who was not a fan of the split. Instead, to offset the advantages he and many other Class A public school coaches believe private schools have, Campbell wanted private schools to have their enrollments multiplied by 1.5, which would, conceivably, bump the larger private schools into Class AA.
“What we have now is not working that well,” Campbell said. “It’s taking a toll financially.”
Campbell claims that the money Class A teams receive from the state finals at the Georgia Dome is now divided among four teams instead of two, and that total amount was increased by just one percent by the GHSA. Also, during the playoffs, public schools, particularly his, have to travel farther to face another Class A public school.
“For baseball, during the week we’ve had to travel to Emanuel County to play ECI (Emanuel County Institute, a two hour trip). We split the first two so we had to go back to play the third game,” Campbell said, Thursday evening, while riding the bus with the baseball team back to Lincolnton from Soperton, where the Red Devils split the first two games of the quarterfinals series. They will make the two hour, 15 minute ride again this afternoon for Game Three.
“If we win then we’ll have to drive all the way up to the Tennessee boarder to Chickamauga to play Gordon Lee,” Campbell said. “Our golf team went up to Ringold for the sectionals and will have to go to Moultrie for the final four.
“That’s a lot of money right there,” Campbell said. “I don’t think people knew exactly how much travel would be involved because of the split. It’s hurting our bottom lines [financially] and nobody wants that. Something will have to be done.”
On the football field, Campbell is not quite as solemn as he has been in the past, though he concedes the team has hole to fill. The Red Devils lost two all-state receivers/defensive backs to graduation in Zireycus Letman and Jalen Franklin, and linebacker is a concern.
“We don’t have a linebacker in sight right now,” Campbell said, “especially that inside linebacker spot. Someone will have to emerge there.”
But 1,300-yard rusher Mikey McIntyre returns, as does quarterback Ben Turner, who threw for 1,500 yards and ran for another 400. Three linemen return as well, including Andy Ray Wengrow, who missed almost all of last season with a broken leg.
Still, as always, Campbell doesn’t see this team as one that can win Lincoln’s first state title since 2006.
“Seminole County and ECI are loaded,” Campbell said. “I don’t think anybody will be able to touch either one of them.”
LINCOLN COUNTY RED DEVILS
2012 record: 11-2; lost to Dooly County (10-7) in the Class A Public semi finals
Starters returning: 4 offense; 3 defense
Key returning players: RB Mike McIntyre (5-7, 190); OL/DL Andy Ray Wengrow (6-2, 250); RB/DB Jamar Norman (5-11, 180); QB Ben Turner (5-8, 160)
Key players lost: WR/DB Jalen Franklin, WR/DB Zireycus Letman
Spring practice dates: (Three days per week) April 29-May 17
Schedule: Aug. 23 vs. McCormick, S.C.; Sept. 6 at Washington-Wilkes; Sept. 13 at Ninety Six, S.C.; Sept. 27 vs. First Presbyterian Day; Oct. 4 vs. Warren County; Oct. 10 vs. Aquinas; Oct. 18 at Georgia Military College; Oct. 25 vs. Twiggs County; Nov. 1 at Wilkinson County; Nov. 8 at Hancock Central.
Outlook: Every preseason Larry Campbell gets out his violin and spins yarns about how his teams lack this or that. But at season’s end the Red Devils have almost always racked up double-digit wins and made a deep run in the playoffs. Campbell’s teams are always talented and among the most well-coached in the state, regardless of classification, so look for more of the same in Lincolnton this season.