Originally created 07/25/02

It's not the same anymore



Whatever happened to the good old days? You know, when men were men, and upstanding Southern teenage boys went out for the football team.

You remember those days? Back then, kids didn't hold down jobs to pay for dates, cars and shopping sprees at Abercrombie and Fitch. Back then, kids could care less about playing in 109-degree heat indexes or wearing sharp uniforms. Back then, kids didn't play soccer or run track, and coaches didn't coddle their players.

Back then, all kids did was show up for two-a-days, buckle up the chin strap and knock the snot out of each other.

Maybe you hadn't noticed, but, well, times have changed. Monday was the first official day of football practice in Georgia. By the looks of the half-empty practice fields around Richmond County, it appeared somebody forgot to let the players in on the secret.

At Butler, there were a couple dozen players, 28 at the most. At Josey, the turnout for new coach Barney Chavous' first workout was somewhere in the mid-20s.

The lone exception was Hephzibah, where the Rebels' have parlayed their first trip to the state playoffs last season into a glorious windfall.

More than 80 players were on the field for new coach Todd Booker's first two sessions of two-a-days. Want to know the last time there were 80 players on the sidelines for a Hephzibah football game? Try never. At least not as long as we can remember.

Most coaches around here can only dream about having 80 players in the preseason. Remember when coach Larry Campbell used to reel them in like that at Lincoln County? Well, those days are long gone. Two-deep at every position? History. Half his players lining up on both sides of the ball? Reality. Even for the legendary Campbell, who enters his 31st season just four wins shy of surpassing Dan Pitts and becoming Georgia's all-time winningest coach.

"There's just so much for kids to do nowadays," said first-year Richmond Academy coach Jamie Echols, whose numbers are up from 47 last season to about 60 - including freshmen. "They work to take their girls out. They play football on video games. They play soccer and basketball, and think they have to specialize in that one sport."

Campbell predicted this would happen. He saw it coming years ago. Back in 1997, as he was approaching career win No. 300, he often bemoaned the loss of several players to the afternoon shift at Hardee's. He lamented how dads just didn't expect their sons to spend their Friday nights on the field at Buddy Bufford Stadium anymore, about how Red Devils tradition just isn't what it used to be. He even blamed the proliferation of central air conditioning for the declining numbers. He shuddered at the notion of having to make his practices, well, fun.

"Used to be football was all they had," Campbell said. "Now you're competing with a lot of other factors. You can't discipline them, and you have to keep them interested. You have to lighten it up for them."

Fun? There's no fun in football, right?

"Well, you do kind of have to make it fun," said Echols, who played at Westside in the late 1980s. "We joke around with them and make practices as creative as we can. That's just the way it is."

So much for the way it was.

Reach Rob Mueller at (706) 823-3425.