Thanksgiving is known for several things in America: turkey, shopping, parades, in-laws and above all else — football.
However, for Rockdale County football fans, they will have to travel to DeKalb County or Athens to find any live action on the gridiron thanks to the first round of the GHSA playoffs.
Salem ended its season in the regular season, but Rockdale and Heritage continued on to the postseason with a chance to keep playing into December.
Unfortunately, Rockdale and Heritage’s opponents had different ideas and the season concluded even before the turkey is carved. It does, though, allow us to reflect and give thanks for another football season.
The Bulldogs had a season to be thankful for considering all the changes that happened over the past two years.
At this time last year, there weren’t many positives from Rockdale’s most recent season, in which they had won just one game, had discipline problems and didn’t have a coach after Michael Etheridge was told he wouldn’t be back with the football team.
With a new start, things seemed like they could be different. Boy, did it get different. But in a bad way. Rockdale brought in Columbia High coach Mario Allen to replace Etheridge and it proved to be an abysmal move.
Allen didn’t make it to one game with Rockdale as he was fired for ethical violations, including recruiting, illegal practices and other allegations. Allen was let go in April, leaving Rockdale just four months to find a new coach, get him and his staff in place and get the team ready to play.
Rockdale brought in Venson Elder, an assistant from Peachtree City who had never held a head coaching job. He came in and saw things were worse than he thought.
Instead of just getting ready for a new season, Elder had to build from the bottom up.
To start things off, Rockdale snapped a 13-game losing streak on Sept. 28 and would go on to win two more Region 2-AAAAAA games, good enough for its first playoff appearance in three years.
The Bulldogs were bounced from the playoffs by Langston Hughes, but they got the chance to see how quality AAAAAA teams are made, through hard work in the offseason.
That’s Elder’s next task, getting Rockdale on the track and in the weight room to develop a team that will take time but has shown promise in his first season. Heritage should be thankful that its football moved from a successful team, one that reached the second round in 2011, to a successful program. In his fifth season, Chad Frazier has built something with the Patriots. Heritage has now reached three straight postseasons, for the first time, won a region championship in ’11, for the first time and hosted a home playoff game last year, for the first time all under Frazier’s watch.
The program continues to churn out strong defensive players. When its star defensive lineman Ryan Watson moved on to play for Air Force this season, others stepped up such as Air Force commit Michael Radford, who the Patriots plucked out of the band’s tuba section, and other Division I recruits such as Dystin Moore and Chase Alford. That’s the type of turnover and development that can keep the Patriots viable in Class AAAAA for years to come.
Heritage continued to add to its winning ways this season, finishing 8-3, with a four-game winning stretch to open the season and big win over Clarke Central, Apalachee and Rockdale.