Until last year, the Rabun County Wildcats hadn’t had a winning season since 2000. They suffered four consecutive 1-9 seasons from 2007-10. Fridays in Tiger weren’t met with as much optimism during those times.
“There’s always been a lot of pride in our football program, but that pride had been lost,” Wildcats coach Lee Shaw said. “That happens during tough years. But now, the goal is believing again and becoming competitive.”
And that’s exactly what has happened since Shaw returned to his Alma Mater last season. They posted a 6-5 record last year and find themselves 5-0 this year as they head into a key Region 8-AA game against Jefferson. For Shaw, winning is nothing new – even at Rabun County. He enjoyed three winning seasons during his tenure as a player from 1981-84, and was an assistant on the 2000 team. He left the Wildcats following the 2001 season to start the Falcons program at Flowery Branch. By the time he left, the Falcons had grown into a perennial playoff contender and reached the state championship in 2008.
Shaw is now hoping to build the Wildcats into the same perennial contender.
“(Coming back to Rabun) was much like starting from scratch,” Shaw said. “You have to get everyone to buy in and do the little things they hadn’t been doing. You’ve got to get the community behind you, the support of administration, and get everyone hungry for success.”
The Wildcats are coming into their own at a time that 8-AA is wide open. With the Washington-Wilkes Tigers beating Jefferson last week, the Tigers are in the driver’s seat for their first region championship since 2006. Rabun County’s season will be shaped these next two weeks, as the Wildcats play defending state-champion Jefferson and Washington-Wilkes on the road in back-to-back weeks beginning this Friday with Jefferson.
Washington-Wilkes and Jefferson combined to beat the Wildcats 96-19 last year.
“If we can close the gap and play them better, those are the kind of games that gets this program better,” Shaw said. “Last year, we played Jefferson good for a half and then they dialed it up. Hopefully, we can play four quarters this year and get Rabun County back to competing at a high level.”
So far, the team appears to have closed the gap from a competitive standpoint. Shaw said the defensive starters have yet to allow a point and have only played one full game, when they shut out Commerce, 28-0. They’ve rested the second half in all other games. Offensively, they’re playing the same spread option offense Shaw perfected at Flowery Branch, when his sons Jaybo and Connor quarterbacked the Falcons.
How realistic for the Wildcats is a region title this season?
“It’s certainly the goal,” Shaw said. “We’re playing good football and we’re more competitive than last year. It will depend on how the flow of the games go on Friday nights. Do I think we’re ready? We’re getting there. The goal is the region championship, but you’ve got to beat Jefferson or Washington-Wilkes and you’ve gotta beat them on the road at some point. If you don’t beat them, you don’t deserve a region championship.
“There’s no more moral wins in Rabun County. That ended when I came back.”
Adam Krohn covers all things Class AA football. Have a question or tip? Want to see more coverage of your team? Want to drop a line to compliment how awesome the Class AA beat coverage is? Send Adam a message on Twitter @AdamKrohnAJC and follow him for the latest in Class AA coverage.