SOCIAL CIRCLE, Ga. — If you’ve come to know Social Circle football after 2009, the next sentence may put you in a slight place of high school football shock.
The Social Circle Redskins were once postseason regulars.
Check the record books. Under head coaches Ken Stoudenmire and Troy Morris, the Redskins ripped off nine straight playoff appearances while competing in Region 8-A. From 2001 through 2009, Social Circle was a postseason qualifier, actually winning a first round game in a 21-0 shutout of Aquinas back in 2005.
That year, the Redskins finished 7-4-1. And it still marks the only time Social Circle has won a playoff game in school history. It’s also one of only two winning seasons the program has had after the 1986 Gary Mackey-coached team that finished 9-2.
So being competitive isn’t exactly something new for the school’s football program. It just feels like it sometimes.
“It’s been a long, hard, dry spell around here,” said fourth year head coach Chad Estes. “When I came here, the first thing I said we had to do is get competitive again. So that meant we’ve almost had to really start the program from ground zero.”
Some may say that’s exactly where Redskins football was when Estes arrived in 2014 to take over a program that had gone 3-47 in the last four seasons before he arrived, including three straight 0-10 campaigns — the last of which came in Estes’ first season.
“We had to try and change the mindset,” Estes said.
That started to happen in 2015 when Social Circle began the season 2-0 with wins over Strong Rock Christian and Temple. That’s something hadn’t happened at the school in over 30 years. Estes followed up the 2015 campaign with a 3-7 2016 season where, even in losses to tougher opponents, the coach started seeing signs of turn around.
Estes knows good football. Just before arriving at Social Circle, he spent several years as an assistant, helping to build a solid program at Monroe Area. Before that, he had moderately successful head coaching stops at Mundy’s Mill and Salem. At Salem, he never had a losing season, guided two teams to seven-plus wins, and saw the 2007 squad find a playoff berth.
But Social Circle was a different kind of challenge that would require much more leg work and a lot of time and patience. That’s why Estes says winning over the town’s fans was just as important as gaining the trust of his new players.
“We wanted to work to get the community and school system rallying around us and supporting us,” he said. “And, I’ll tell you, they’ve definitely responded. And I think we’re starting to see the fruits of it all now. I know the last two years we’ve been very competitive. Now we’re just trying to get over the hump.”
And for Estes’ ball club, getting over the hump means only one word: Playoffs.
As the team ended its Red and White Under the Lights event last Friday — an event where fans had the chance to come and watch the team practice — the team huddled up to hear final words of instruction and encouragement from their coach.
When Estes called the team in for one last huddle before going back to the locker room, the team broke the huddle shouting “Playoffs” before jogging off the field. And Estes isn’t shy about saying that Social Circle getting back to the postseason is no longer just a nice, warm, fuzzy thought.
“That’s my expectation,” he said. “I’ve been doing this, I’ve been coaching football for a long time. I had a chance to help get Monroe Area on a good run before I came here, and that’s the same goal I arrived here with — to turn this program around and get into the playoffs.”
Estes says he likes his talent, too. Although he recognizes that competing in Class AA ball will mean the Redskins will have to develop more of a nasty streak.
“We’ve gotta get more physical,” he said. “That’s the bottom line. This game is tough and physical. It’s a collision sport. We’ve gotta get more physical and play faster.”
Offensively, Estes said he’ll look to senior quarterback Jackson Will to “manage our team on offense.” Will being back as a second year starter gives the Redskins more comfortability on the offensive side of the ball.
On defense, it’s senior linebackers Micah Thompson and Levi Spurling who Estes will look to to help shore up a unit that played hard in 2016 but was leaky at times, surrendering over 31 points per game. Estes was also high on junior Tate Peters, who’s a bit of a slash player for the Redskins.
“Tate’s a dual threat guy who plays safety for us, but he’ll also be playing a little slot receiver for us, and we’ll put him at quarterback as well,” Estes said.
He went on to emphasize the quality of the players in his program, and how he believes they can be cornerstones to greater success.
“We’ve got some good players,” he said. “We really do. We’ve got a lot of good kids who are working extremely hard, and as coaches we just want to get them to play at the highest level they can. If they practice that way, they can play that way.”
Estes will take his bunch on the road to Johnston High in Gainesville, Friday August 18 for the season opener, with hopes of starting the season off with a win for the second straight year. Social Circle defeated Johnson 19-14 in 2016’s opener, and a similar result this year could give the Redskins the early season momentum needed to make that coveted playoff run — something he feels his team is getting closer to each season.
“It’s something that hasn’t happened in a long time around here,” Estes said. “But I think we’re well on our way. Now whether or not that happens this year, I don’t know. But that’s the goal, and I think we’re closer than what we’ve been.”