Laney coach Lemuel Lackey has the highest winning percentage of any active public school coach in either Richmond or Columbia counties.
And it could be better.
In seven seasons leading the Wildcats, Lackey is 49-29 and has never had a losing campaign. He could have 60 or more wins if he padded his schedule with cupcakes, but that’s not Lackey’s modus operandi.
“Ultimately, I’m trying to build a program,” he said. “I think the biggest thing behind trying to build a program is you’ve got to play quality opponents. And you’ve got to make sure those opponents are helping you get to that next level. If you don’t know what they look like when they come here in the playoffs, it’s going to be difficult.”
Lackey served as Laney’s defensive coordinator when the Wildcats advanced to the state semifinals in 2002 and 2004. Last year, Laney made its deepest playoff run in nine seasons and almost knocked off the team that eventually won the state title. Some of the Wildcats’ 2013 success was because of its schedule, which included five teams that advanced to the playoffs.
This year, Laney’s schedule might be tougher. Three of the first four non-region opponents – Dublin, Westminster (Atlanta) and Elbert County – advanced to the 2013 playoffs. Then on Oct. 3, the Wildcats open their region schedule against Washington County, which played in the Class AAA title game a year ago.
“That thing’s tough,” Lackey said. “This may be the toughest schedule we’ve put together.
“You’ve got to see what that playoff football looks like, so when you get there you’re not surprised by it. And we’ll take our lumps, because our kids have to grow.”
Junior linebacker Rashad Muhammad added: “If we play tougher opponents, it gives us a better look. If we play easy opponents, it gives us a false look and makes us seem that we’re something that we’re not.”
Laney was 2-1 last season when it played host to Washington County. The Golden Hawks routed the Wildcats, 38-0. After the defeat, Laney reeled off eight consecutive wins en route to its first region title in nine seasons.
In the state quarterfinals, Laney faced a Lovett team that had only one loss – an overtime defeat to Washington County. The Wildcats, toughened up earlier in the season by their schedule, proved to be a tough out. Laney led by 13 at halftime before eventually losing by two.
“That loss was big, because mentally we thought we were ready,” Lackey said of the defeat. “It was an emotional loss, because they took everything from us. Then we go play the same Lovett team that goes up and down the field on them and play well.”