Washington-Wilkes football is getting talked about again.
“This is a place with great tradition and Washington-Wilkes should be in that top group of teams,” said Robby Robinson, starting his fourth season as the Tigers’ head coach. “That’s just what it’s supposed to be. It’s good to have us back up there. I’m proud of our kids for working so hard and getting us back to that level.”
With a 10-2 campaign that reached the second round of the Class AA playoffs, the Tigers stemmed the tide of three consecutive losing seasons since former coach Russell Morgan left after 2008. The Tigers dominated rival Lincoln County and suffered their only losses to Class AA championship finalists Jefferson and Calhoun.
“We knew we were going to be an improved team,” Robinson said of a squad that was young but talented. “I think that might have surprised a lot of people what we did. We’ve got 17 starters back, so we feel good.”
One of the smallest schools in Class AA with half of the enrollment as 2012 state champion Jefferson, the Tigers are ready to show they can play beyond their limits. If that wasn’t proven last season on the field, that message was certainly delivered this summer during a 7-on-7 camp in Statesboro, Ga.
With 16 teams, many from larger classifications, involved, Washington-Wilkes went undefeated.
“We went 11-0 and we beat some 5-A teams out of Atlanta,” running back Jalen Turner said. “I’m pretty sure that woke up the state of Georgia.”
Said linebacker Tomarkus Young: “We surprised a lot of people. People thought they were going to run over us, but we’re back.”
Washington-Wilkes hasn’t won a state championship since claiming four from 1960-67 under head coach Charlie Davidson, who had the field at Tiger Stadium named after him in 2010. The Tigers have reached the state final six times since then, losing each time including most recently in 2005 to Lincoln County in Class A.
But this team – even with only seven seniors – has a chance to rewrite the script.
“Our goal is to win a state championship, but I don’t know if we’re quite there yet,” Robinson said. “I think we’re one of the top 15 teams in the state before the season starts and with a few breaks you just never know.”
The Tigers are loaded with returning talent. The most significant loss was quarterback Buck Robinson (the coach’s son), but that only opened the door for a new emerging star – 6-foot-4 sophomore Deandre Harris.
“He’s going to be a really good quarterback and set a lot of records here before he’s graduated. He’s going to go through some growing pains this year like all first-year starters, but he’s got all the intangibles in the world,” Robinson said.
Harris has an experienced offensive line to protect him and plenty of weapons to take the pressure off, most notably Turner who combined for 1,100 yards rushing and receiving last season.
“Jalen is a prospect – he makes a lot of plays at receiver, running back, punt returner,” Robinson said. “We utilize him as much as we can. So skill-wise offensively we feel real good. We’ve got a lot of firepower.”
The defense is equally stout, with the only concern in the secondary where Robinson lost a safety unexpectedly during the off-season. But the Tigers are strong and experienced up front and at linebacker, where Young returns as the leading tackler.
“I just play my heart out – try to give it all for my brothers and everything (because) I’m just trying to bring the ‘Dub’ back,” Young said. “We’re just bringing a little spirit back. The town loves football and we’ll go give it all we can trying to get a state for it this year.”