WAYNESBORO, Ga. --- People would come up to Eric Parker this summer, folks who wanted to discuss the upcoming football season in Burke County, and they'd say things like this:
"Coach, what were you thinking making this schedule?"
Parker smiled when someone asked him that same question one day this week, as he watched his junior varsity grind through drills on the practice field.
"We lost three games (last season) to three teams that played physical, hard-nosed football," said Parker, whose Class AAA team will play four Class AAAA schools in addition to powerhouse programs such as Thomson, Washington County and Baldwin in the region.
"I don't think it takes a rocket scientist to figure out we needed to toughen up our schedule."
Already placed in a tough region -- Washington County and Thomson have combined for eight state titles -- here's how Parker approached his nonregion schedule.
Larger schools Statesboro and Effingham County were obvious choices, since they were relatively close and would create a big gate.
Parker then wanted to fill the other two nonregion slots with smaller schools that would still provide a test -- he mentioned Jefferson County and Laney, where he coached for 10 seasons before coming to Waynesboro -- but was stuck when those teams were placed in an 11-team region. They had no spots for nonregion games.
Brunswick (seven wins last year in Class AAAA) and Ware County (Class AAAA's preseason No. 1) both called looking for games, and Parker said yes.
He hopes to use the early games -- the Bears open their region schedule Oct. 3 at Baldwin, a top-five team in Class AAA -- as a measuring stick for his players, showing them one day where he hopes to bring this program.
"I want them to look at it and see this is the level of football we want to play at, and here's where we are," Parker said.
Like it or not, Parker has already increased Burke County's expectations. The Bears went 8-3 and won a share of the region title in Parker's first season, the first time in 10 years the Bears had won or shared the region.
They return 13 starters, including big-play receiving threat Terrell Brigham, who is now the starting quarterback.
Brigham should be helped by returning running backs Brandon Brown and Rodney Moye. Parker also feels his team is the deepest at wide receiver.
So he will line up his spread offense against 10 teams that went a combined 65-42-1 in 2007. Burke County's opponents last year were a combined 53-62-1.
"If we were going to do something to help us (make the playoffs consistently), we were going to have to do something drastic," Parker said. "If you look at our schedule, it's (a) pretty drastic (change)."
Reach Matt Middleton at (706) 823-3425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
BURKE COUNTY BEARS
COACH: Eric Parker (second season; 12th overall)
CLASSIFICATION: GHSA Region 3-AAA
LAST YEAR: 8-3, lost 43-12 to Worth County in the first round of the playoffs
STARTERS BACK: 6 on offense, 7 on defense
NOTABLE: Parker helped Burke County capture a share of its first region title in 10 years.
BOTTOM LINE: Parker is trying to inject an elite-program culture and has muscled up the schedule. If the Bears don't get worn down by the larger programs in the first four weeks, they should be on track for their second consecutive playoff berth.