Class A Blog: New Divided Top 5, Coachspeak with Telfair County’s Matt Burleson on the turnaround in McRae

By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC

Here’s the AJC.com Class A Blog Divided Top 5 after Week 4. The overall AJC/Georgia High School Football Daily ranking is in parenthesis, and as usual, here at Class A Blog Headquarters we don’t always agree with the AJC/GHSFD poll.

Also, as previously stated, we’ll start linking to the GHSA’s Power Ranking site after Week 6, when most teams will have completed half of their regular season (five games).  And check our conversation with Telfair County head coach Matt Burleson, who is quietly building a solid program down in McRae.

PUBLIC

1. Seminole County (8). The Indians are 3-0 after a 21-14 win over much-improved Clinch County (1-3). Seminole County RB Robert Speights scored on a 66-yard touchdown run and threw a 5-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Peters, while QB Alex Fudge scored on a 3-yard run. Next up is a visit to AA Pelham (3-0) on Friday.

2. Lincoln County (3). The Red Devils (1-1) were off last week. They will look to rebound from a 28-14 loss to Washington-Wilkes on Sept. 6, when they travel across the South Carolina boarder to face Ninety Six on Friday.

3. Trion (NR). The Bulldogs (3-0) traveled south to Marietta and made a huge statement with a convincing 42-7 win over Walker. Trion’s methodical ground oriented offense did most of the damage as Malik Martin, Devonya Farmer, Bradley Womack and Chandler Latham (2) each had rushing touchdowns. Trion will host Mt. Paran (2-1) in a big Region 6 crossover match-up on Friday.

4. Telfair (NR). The Trojans are 3-0 for the first time since 1994 after drubbing Baconton Charter 47-6. In two seasons, Telfair County has outscored the Blazers 88-6. After finishing 6-4 last season and narrowly missing the public school playoffs, Telfair County hopes to advance to the post season for the first time since 2004. The Trojans will host AAA Southeast Bulloch (1-0-1) on Friday.

5. Irwin County (9). The Indians (2-0-1) defeated East Laurens of Dublin 35-14, as the rebuilding job of head coach John Lindsey, now in this third season, continues in Ocilla. After finishing 3-7 in his first season, Lindsey guided Irwin County to a 7-4 record and a berth in the public school playoffs last season. Irwin County hosts Wilkinson County (0-2) on Friday.

Another half dozen to watch: Charlton County (2-1), Gordon Lee (3-0), Hancock Central (2-1), Johnson County (3-0), Marion County (2-0), Wilcox County (1-2).

PRIVATE

1. Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (1). As expected, the No. 1 Chargers (3-0) steam rolled Hapeville Charter 68-6 in a game that was 55-0 at the half. ELCA will take a week off before hosting Holy Innocents Sept. 27.

2. Aquinas (4). The Irish (2-0) took the week off and will return to action Friday when they travel across town to visit AA Josey on Friday.

3. Savannah Christian (5). The Raiders (1-0-1) took last week off and will head to Mt. Vernon on Friday to face Montgomery County (0-2).

4. Pace Academy (10). The Knights continued their impressive start to the season with a 39-6 drubbing of King’s Ridge Christian School in a game played last Thursday night in honor of Yom Kippur. Pace travels south to Macon on Friday to face First Presbyterian Day (0-2).

5. Landmark Christian (2). The War Eagles are one of only two teams in all of Georgia (No. 3 in AA Greater Atlanta Christian) with a record of 4-0 after they edged Mt. Paran (2-1) 14-7 last Friday. Landmark scored just one offensive touchdown – a 5-yard run by RB Darius Smith – but the defense made it stand up. The War Eagles will take a week off before opening Region 5 play at Mt. Vernon Presbyterian (0-3).

Another half dozen to watch: George Walton Academy (2-1), Holy Innocents (2-2), Mt. Paran (2-1), Mt. Pisgah (3-0), Prince Avenue Christian (2-1), Walker (2-1).

Coachspeak: Telfair County’s Matt Burleson.

About an hour southeast of Macon in the town of McRae (Population 5,600), Matt Burleson is building a football tradition out of red Georgia clay.

In 46 seasons of football the Telfair County Trojans are 150 games under .500, have won just two region titles (1992, 1993), have advanced to the playoffs just four times and have won eight or more games just twice (1992, 1993).

Still, with all of that negative history, Burleson, a former defensive coordinator at nearby Johnson County, saw something.

“They were in our middle school league when I was at Johnson County,” Burleson said. “They would lose a lot but I would look at them and say man they have some really good looking kids over there.”

His suspicions were proven when Rodney Moore, a fellow assistant at Johnson County, took the job as head basketball coach at Telfair. Moore told him that there were a number of great athletes at the school. They just needed to be coached up and taught the value and eventual payoff of hard work and discipline. So Burleson took the head coaching job, and brought Moore on as an assistant, when it became available after the Trojans went 1-9 in 2011.

He led them to a 6-4 finish last season, just missing the final playoff spot in the Class A Public School Power Rankings after a 21-0 loss to Region 2 champion Wilcox County in the final game of the regular season. The Trojans had gained respect, but Burleson said the turnaround wasn’t easy.

“There were times in that first spring practice where we couldn’t even get a play off,” he said. “At that point you’re thinking, what are we doing. But the kids kept working hard and got better every day.”

The big payoff from last season came late in the season when the Trojans hung on to knock off perennial Class A power Charlton County (29-21). It was the first win over Charlton County since 1993. In the four games in which the teams met prior to last season, Telfair County loss by a combined score of 177-7.

“It was Senior Night and the kids hung on and won the game,” Burleson said. “It was a big win for us and it let us know we were headed in the right direction.”

Telfair County lost 18 seniors off of that 2012 team. In fact, just four starters returned on each side of the ball and only two of the returning players had scored touchdowns for the Trojans. But in just two seasons, it appears that the new motto at Telfair County has taken hold of the team: “Best Effort Every Play – B.E.E.P.”

“We have that printed on everything we have around here,” Burleson said. “It’s our mindset. It’s the way we attack every game. The kids have worked extremely hard and have bought into what we’ve been trying to teach them.”

The result is a team that is 3-0 for the first time since 1994. Leading the way are center Jacob Smith (6-0, 285) and WR/OLB Teviest Howard (6-0, 175), both seniors, and massive junior guard Howard Williams (6-4, 320).

Burleson said the team’s strength is right where it needs to be in football, along the line of scrimmage. The Trojans are averaging 41 points per game while surrendering just 15. Still, Burleson said the team has a lot to improve upon.

“We have to cut out the silly penalties we’ve been getting because eventually that’s going to hurt us down the road,” he said.

Making those corrections on the field will be easier than changing the mindset of the program and the community, which has already taken place. In the Trojans’ two road games this season (Wheeler County and Baconton Charter), they had more fans in the stands than their hosts, thanks to a couple of local churches that allowed the school to use their buses to transport parents, cheerleaders and the band to the games.

“People aren’t used to it just yet, I don’t think,” Burleson said of having a winning football team. “But they’re starting to come around. Our crowds are getting larger. We’ve been getting great support.

“Our mentality has changed,” Burleson said. “We’ve gone from hoping that we keep it close and don’t get blown out, to thinking we can win the game, to now where we expect to win.”

Burleson said that confidence is tempered with a healthy level of respect.  “We respect every opponent we play,” he said. “We talk about playing 10, 1-game seasons, taking it one game at a time. We just want to make the dance this year, get in that top 16, and go from there.”

Now it’s your turn, Class A Blog heads. What say you? Until Thursday …

37 comments Add your comment

bigchipola

September 17th, 2013
5:56 pm

Great read i really enjoy your articles S.Thomas Coleman

dillpickle

September 17th, 2013
8:15 pm

Game of the week will be Mt. Paran vs. Trion. Mt Paran matched up well against Landmark…both teams have a sound defense. Trion is still untested…Walker a much different team than last year. Can Trion’s size match up against Mt Paran’s speed? I think Mt Paran will play much more aggressively during region play.

Jocotrojan

September 17th, 2013
8:20 pm

If the churches need to provide buses for the Telfair fans to go to Wheeler County… do they even have cars in McRae/Helena?

S. Thomas Coleman

September 17th, 2013
8:39 pm

Bigchipola:

Thanks for the love, and for reading and posting . . . and for ignoring the typos! They’ve been fixed.

STC

Eagles1

September 17th, 2013
8:48 pm

dillpickle, we played Trion well last year, and we were not a good team. I have watched some of Trion’s film and they are huge. It will be an interesting game. We will have to play mistake free.

Region6

September 17th, 2013
8:48 pm

A running back and a couple of receivers with decent speed will not make up for the complete dominance that Trion will have on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. MP will do what they always do when they play physical teams and end up committing a massive number of penalties. Trion by 2 touchdowns.

S. Thomas Coleman

September 17th, 2013
8:55 pm

Dillpickle:

Seminole-Pelham and Pace-FPD will be interesting as well.

STC

S. Thomas Coleman

September 17th, 2013
8:57 pm

Jocotrojan:

Wow! Taking a shot at the new community of your old defensive coordinator, huh? Wouldn’t it be interesting to see you guys hook up in the playoffs?

STC

82Dawg

September 17th, 2013
10:01 pm

Why is Fellowship Christian not even in the “others to watch”? They are 3-0 averaging 44 pt.s per game while giving up 12 pt.s per game….sounds like a little “sports writer favoritism” towards their son’s team (Mt.Pisgah) seeing how they have the same record and FCS is averaging more points while giving up less per game….Come on Man!!!

S. Thomas Coleman

September 18th, 2013
2:26 am

82Dawg:

Congrats to FC for being 3-0. However, the teams you’ve beaten are a combined 0-9. Lakeview Academy (0-2) hasn’t been that competitive in either of its losses, Towns County (0-4) has managed to go 0-4 and has been blown out in all 4 games, and Oglethorpe County (0-3) – traditionally one of the worst teams in Class AA (they are 15-35 over the last seasons) has lost its games by a combined score of 93-24.

Loosely translated: You haven’t beaten anybody yet.

And my son doesn’t play for Mt. Pisgah.

Just a little tip for you as a newcomer: The Class A Blog tends to be a cut above the rest. We have our share of fun trash talking and such, but most of the takes here are rooted in at least a fact or two. In other words, you have to be on your “A-game” here at the “Class A” Blog (kinda corny, but I thought it worked … Ok, maybe not).

But thanks for reading and posting. Do some research, check some facts and come back and join us sometime.

STC

Eagles1

September 18th, 2013
6:22 am

His son plays for OLM.

Landmark2012

September 18th, 2013
6:26 am

Landmark is the fifth best school in Private, which would put them 9th or 10th in Single A according to you…….? wow, you really do live in a closet. I suppose everyone is entitled to their opinion which clearly is all this is. No research, but hey, that’s all journalism is anyway

James

September 18th, 2013
7:01 am

Irwin County is the real deal. They have one of the biggest offensive lines i have seen in single A, and have a stable full of running backs. I really believe this year could be special.

S. Thomas Coleman

September 18th, 2013
8:07 am

Landmark2012:

First of all, having them as the 5th best private school doesn’t necessarily make them the 9th or 10th best team in Single A. Think a little bit.

And how’s this for research: Landmark is 4-0, which is a credit to them. As I said, they are one of only two teams in the entire state that can say that. However, the combined records of the teams they’ve beaten is 5-6. And if you do a little more research and look at those five wins by the teams Landmark has beaten, the combined record of those five teams (Montgomery County, Banks County, Jackson County, Mercy and Brookstone) is 1-12. Brookstone is the only team with a win, and guess what? Do a little more research and you’ll find that Brookstone’s win was against a Columbus team that is 0-2.

Hope that’s enough research for you.

Thanks for reading and posting.

STC

S. Thomas Coleman

September 18th, 2013
8:10 am

James:

I’ll be interested in seeing how Irwin does against Wilkinson County this weekend.

STC

Landmark2012

September 18th, 2013
8:14 am

Struck a nerve…..

bucket

September 18th, 2013
8:30 am

@ Landmark – who’s nerve actually got struck? You tried to call out STC for not using logic and research to reach an opinion and he clearly showed you differently. I think Prince should be in that top 5 because their only loss was on the road in Savannah to a good Raiders team and Prince played the game without 3 starters. But I’m not going to whine about them being excluded at this juncture because if Prince competes well in their region against the likes of Athens Academy and George Walton they can prove they belong in the top 5. STC never said Landmark wasn’t a good team and being ranked 5th at this point behind ELCA, Aquinas, SCPS, and PACE is reasonable considering who those teams have beaten thus far. If Landmark keeps winning they will be fine. There’s only 1 poll that really matters anyway and that poll comes out in December, not September.

JSP

September 18th, 2013
8:31 am

82Dawg, the opponent you play these days means more than the actual win. That’s a big reason why you’ll never see a Mountain West or MAC team play for the national title in College Football if they run the table.

Congrats on the great start. It does appear that you’re miles ahead of where you were at this time last year. That being said, you guys were 2-8 last year and not the least big competitive. Meaning, you’ll start closer to the bottom and have to win more to work your way to the top. Shouldn’t be hard to figure out. Looking out your schedule, you have Christian Heritage this week and Whitfield after a bye. Then begins a tough 4 game stretch. CH should be a good game and Whitefield isn’t probably at the bottom this year. I can easily see you guys at 5-0. However, don’t be surprised if you drop the next 4.

STC’s son also doesn’t play at Mt. Pisgah. If anything he probably hates Mt. Pisgah right now, considering they beat his son’s team on a last second field goal this past week. Our Lady of Mercy. Furthermore my son plays for Mt. Pisgah and considering we were a playoff team last year, we’ve returned a more athletic and deeper team, and we’ve beaten a playoff team from AA (on the road) in Model and playoff team in Our Lady of Mercy, I don’t see the problem in being ranked ahead of you. It also doesn’t help your cause when we beat you 55-0 last year and it was 41-0 at halftime and you guys turned off the score board. Still don’t think I’ve ever seen that other than in a pee wee game.

82Dawg

September 18th, 2013
8:32 am

STC…Got to play the games on your schedule….Pisgah’s opponents are not much better, 2-6. My bad on your son playing for Pisgah. Thought I remembered in earlier article something being said about that….I did research FCS is 3-0 averaging 42 pts while giving up 12 per game, opponents average lost 36 per game. Pisgah 31pts giving up 13, their opponents average lost was by 39 per game. Holly Innocents is averaging 20 while giving up 24 per game, their opponents lost by average of 35 per game. I just fill if you are mentioning these two FCS should get a little love as well. Not any difference in schedules. The other 4 seems to be right with exception of Walker. They had a nice run last year, time will tell.

82Dawg

September 18th, 2013
8:40 am

JSP…Can’t change the schedule during the year. As far as the score board last year wasn’t at the game but I can tell you from working it some at middle school games and soccer games we have had issues with it.As you know our stadium is new and small. Still working out the bugs. I really don’t think the score had anything to do with that. Guess we will have to wait and see what happens on Nov. 1st, won’t we. Don’t count your win just yet. New Coach, New A.D. New Team New Attitude.

Eagles1

September 18th, 2013
9:14 am

I love reading this blog!

Landmark2012, I have been around football for along time and I have to agree that Landmark is one of the top teams in the state. I was impressed with how well the defense was coached and how well the boys tackled in the open field. Rankings at this point are fun to talk about but really doesn’t mean a lot.

STC, you are correct on your facts. I would like to add this as for the teams we played, OLM is very athletic they remind me a lot of our team last year. I don’t think they have found an identity yet. I am not counting them out at this point. Brookstone is always well coached and solid. They are down athletically this year but I imagine they will make the playoffs.

Region6

September 18th, 2013
10:05 am

The missing component to all of this talk is whether it is backed up with knowing how the teams play. You get that from watching them live or on film. Most of the debate centers around Region 6, because nobody can really tell much from the games played so far. It will be interesting to see how the season shakes out when people go head to head. Some teams are much better than they have been in the past (Pisgah). Some teams are about the same (MP). The wildcard teams of Region 6 are who everybody should be watching out for (Christian Heritage). Even though I am partial to Region 6, I would be the first to admit that the the top private school teams of Region 5 (ELCA, Pace, Landmark, HI) are better than the teams in Region 6.

S. Thomas Coleman

September 18th, 2013
10:43 am

Landmark2012:

Not really. Just showing you what you can turn up when you do a little research. :)

STC

S. Thomas Coleman

September 18th, 2013
10:56 am

Bucket:

To be honest with you (and this will probably not sit too well with Landmark2012), I think Prince might be better than Landmark and I almost put Prince ahead of Landmark in the Top 5. But in the end I gave Landmark a ton of credit for being 4-0.

STC

LoveFridayFootball

September 18th, 2013
11:22 am

STC: this is one reason I don’t like the polls this early. I also don’t agree with the way the playoffs are set up. The power rankings determine the home and away teams. There MUST be a better way. Look at where ELCA sits right now in the rankings. Somewhere in the teens.. But I wonder how many teams if any that are ahead of ELCA in that poll could have beat Briarwood and played Clinch away and be 2-0 afterwards… Basically ELCA could go undefeated and have an away playoff game, yet be ranked #1 in the state.

bucket

September 18th, 2013
11:23 am

@ STC – at this point in the season I agreed with your decision to place Landmark ahead of Prince because of their undefeated record. Because of the use of power rankings in Single A every game matters and so the loss to SCPS hurts in that respect. However, that loss is not a bad loss if SCPS wins as many games as I expect them to the rest of the season. IF Prince takes care of business in Region 8 (no small task with GWA, AA, ACS), then they should score well in the power rankings at the end of the season. Barring further injuries I fully expect Coach Herron to have the guys ready for November/December and “They Only Remember December”!

bucket

September 18th, 2013
11:31 am

@ LoveFridayFootball – I agree with you that some tinkering is still required in the system. I mean no disrespect to Athens Academy because they went undefeated last year (and Prince still has to play them this year!), but there is no way they should have been ranked ahead of ELCA going into the playoffs. It will be interesting to see how the rankings change as the season progresses. If Landmark and PACE continue winning that will enhance the ELCA ranking assuming you guys beat those teams.

S. Thomas Coleman

September 18th, 2013
12:14 pm

LoveFridayFootball:

That’s why I don’t plan to link to the GHSA/MaxPreps power ranking page until everyone has played at least five games, and even then things really don’t start to get into focus until everyone has played about 7 games or so.

It’s well documented that I’m not a big fan of the Maxwell Rankings nor MaxPreps, which is the same outfit that ranks the metro areas of New York, Chicago, Seattle and Indianapolis ahead of Atlanta in terms of the quality of high school football. Basketball, perhaps, but football? No way!

STC

GAHSFBFAN24

September 18th, 2013
12:34 pm

@82Dawg, who are your top 10 private school football teams and where would you rank Fellowship Christian. A friend of mine was at the Fellowship v. Oglethrope Co. game last week and was impressed with Fellowship’s teams.

nourstuff

September 18th, 2013
1:37 pm

STC: a couple of us have asked for clarification on the power rating calculation for teams that tie, and thus far I believe 3 teams have tied higher classification schools. I know how to look at the GHSA formula, but I can’t interpret it with any clarity? Will you please look into exactly how the formula is being applied for both the teams involved and for the teams that play the teams involved. Thx

indianfan

September 18th, 2013
1:47 pm

yes STC the seminole-pelham game will be very interesting

JSP

September 18th, 2013
2:05 pm

82Dawg, I would just advise you to remain humble until you start playing some worthy competition. There’s no doubt you guys are an improvement over last year. Part of it has to do with the fact that you guys got out of running the triple option. Your QB was too good to be running that. I don’t expect us to beat you anywhere near as bad as last year. However, despite your win margin in the first three games, your current ranking is fair.

82Dawg

September 18th, 2013
4:06 pm

JSP…as I said Nov. 1st. will tell all….Not like Pisgah has beaten Savannah Christian, Prince Avenue or any great competition either. Just asking for the respect the boys are due. I will agree our QB didn’t need to be running the triple option, too good of a player for that. Glad the triple option has left with the old coach.

GAHSFBFAN24…STC’s top 5 are probably correct, I have no problem with them. Just think FCS should have been mention in the others to watch. Given our record and performance compared to some of the ones he talked about.

TCDAWG25

September 18th, 2013
5:35 pm

@ ALL never forget the champs, in the coming weeks a few teams will be reminded of the defending state champs.

mike

September 18th, 2013
6:58 pm

im a football player for Class A football, and id never thought id hear myself say this but pace is the real deal this year… you guys need to really keep an eye on them they can do some damage in their region

TrojanFan

September 19th, 2013
7:29 am

Go Telfair!! Great School and Great Kids.

FPD01

September 19th, 2013
12:47 pm

Hey STC, Whats your take on this weeks’ FPD vs Pace Academy? I think its a very interesting matchup because FPD has played 2 very good teams and Pace hasn’t played any close/tough games yet. Pace has a lot of hype this season, and when I watched vs Athens, they did look very good and fundamentally sound. Again, whats ur take/prediction?