The Lakeside High commons area was quiet Wednesday shortly before the final bell rang.
Panthers football players filed in silently into the auditorium, many no doubt knowing the news before coach Jody Grooms slipped in behind them before the doors closed.
Grooms, Lakeside's football coach the past three seasons, told his players Wednesday he would be leaving to become the head football coach and athletic director at Wayne County High in Jesup, Ga.
Grooms said he received an offer Tuesday morning. His hire was approved by the Wayne County school board Tuesday night.
"I've always considered myself to be a builder," said Grooms, who led the Panthers to their first region title and back-to-back winning seasons. "They seem to have some support and a very hungry community."
Grooms, whose overall record at Lakeside in three seasons was 20-12, drew attention to himself and the program in 2007 when he ran an illegal play. Grooms lost his position as athletic director as punishment.
The search is on for Grooms' replacement. Lakeside principal Jeff Carney said early Wednesday morning he had received several phone calls.
Carney said he hoped members of the current staff would be interested. Grooms and assistant head coach Jarrett Troxler were noncommittal Wednesday about the staff's future.
Wayne County school board chairman Kent Fountain said Grooms' hire was the only one approved Tuesday. Wayne County schools superintendent Morris Leis said only that Grooms was the high school's next football coach and that Grooms was in the process of assembling a staff.
"It's way too early," Grooms said. "This is an attractive job now. I've got some guys on staff that I know would be interested in becoming a head coach. This is a good situation for someone to get their start. You saw these kids; they are great kids."
Grooms earned $77,796 during the 2009 fiscal year, according to the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts. His deal at Wayne County High, the only high school in the county, is believed to be much sweeter. Leis said Grooms' contract had been approved but not yet signed as of Wednesday.
"It was almost to the point where he would have been stupid to turn it down with what they are offering," Carney said.
Grooms' three-year stint at Lakeside has left the community divided between those who label him a cheater and those who call him a miracle worker. He will probably be remembered as much for the illegal play as for leading Lakeside to its first region title.
During the final game of the 2007 season, a Lakeside player not in the game came off the sideline during a play to attempt to catch a pass.
Grooms was stripped of his athletic director title, fined and suspended the first two games of the 2008 season. The Panthers went 7-3 that year and narrowly missed a playoff berth. In 2009, Lakeside won its first region title and first state playoff game in a 10-2 season.
"There were probably pro-Jody people and con-Jody people," Lakeside Touchdown Club president Kris Hardy said. "But anybody that knew Jody was a pro-Jody person. The people who were con-Jody didn't know Jody."