LAKEVIEW-FORT OGLETHORPE WARRIORS
Coach: Todd Windham (13-28 here; 53-82 overall)
Returning starters (O/D/K): 8/8/2
Remember these names: The Warriors have the skill-position players to give defenses trouble, led by quarterback Daniel Deocampo (Sr., 5-9, 165) and running backs Bubba Cruz (Sr., 5-10, 200), Nate Long (Jr., 5-9, 200) and Pooh Harden (Jr., 5-9, 160). Each also will play some on defense, where the team will count on lineman Kelly Payne (Sr., 6-2, 245).
Will be a memorable year if: The Warriors can get an early win and put last year’s 0-10 season behind them. Windham was forced to play more youngsters than he would have preferred last year because of widespread injuries, but this team should benefit from the early experience those players were able to obtain.
Aug. 26 vs. Ringgold at Finley Stadium
Sept. 2 Heritage
Sept. 9 at Model
Sept. 16 at Gordon Central*
Sept. 23 North Murray*
Sept. 30 Chattooga*
Oct. 7 at Dade County*
Oct. 21 at Sonoraville*
Oct. 28 Calhoun*
Nov. 4 Region play-in game
* Region 7B-AA game
No football coach is prepared for an 0-10 season, and for Todd Windham the winless 2010 campaign was a serious eye-opener in a lot of ways.
The Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe coach, who had led the Warriors to the Georgia playoffs the year before, saw a perfect storm of events come together: heavy graduation losses, key injuries and a lack of team chemistry.
Windham understands there is nothing he could do about the first two, but he quickly took steps this year to make sure the last one doesn’t surface again. To that end the Warriors opened training camp at Jacksonville (Ala.) State University, where afternoon temperatures on the artificial-turf field swelled well over triple digits.
The week was more about how the team reacted to hard work and adversity than X’s and O’s. Though Windham admitted it was a tough, sometimes frustrating week, the camp seemed to be a success.
“The intangibles of discipline, commitment and bonding — all those things you hope to see — we saw those at different times during the week,” Windham said. “That’s about as important as the football aspect of it. I mean, we could have stayed here and practiced football, but I think it was something else we were looking for down there. I think we found a little something, but only time will tell.”
Junior running back Pooh Harden saw a different team step off the bus at the end of camp.
“Alabama was hot, so we’ve got nothing to complain about,” he said. “You’re going to see a whole team busting our tails. We’ve got to put the 0-10 thing behind us. We can’t get to the future unless we do. We’ve got to come out hard with a chip on our shoulder.”
Echoed senior running back Bubba Cruz: “After this camp I felt the coaches made it clear that if you aren’t coachable, we aren’t going anywhere. I felt we made some major improvement at camp, and people are going to be surprised at how much this team has changed.”
Windham wants to see change, sure, but he doesn’t want his team to forget 0-10, no matter how painful the season was.
“I don’t think we want to forget it, because that can be the fuel we need to try and improve this year,” he said. “We’ve got to take ownership of it and let that be our motivation. What I would really like, and this is something I told them, is that at the end of every game if the opposing team says, ‘That’s not the same team we played last year.’ That would be a credit to these kids.”
The LFO program was so unaccustomed to reaching the playoffs back in 1998 — in fact, the Warriors had never made the postseason — that no one could believe they were still alive with one game to go in the regular season. That happened to include coaches.
Head coach Mark Mariakis, whose team had lost its first two games and then won seven in a row, was facing Northwest Whitfield, which had started 7-0 but had lost two straight. Then-Northwest coach Ron Wheeler believed his team already had clinched a berth — and even had told Mariakis that. However, Wheeler later realized the upstart Warriors were indeed still alive and their game would decide the fourth playoff spot.
LFO defeated the Bruins 16-13, setting off a wild, but comical celebration in which students tried in vain for 30 minutes to bring down the LFO goal posts. And when Mariakis traveled to top-ranked Creekside to exchange game tapes, the Creekside coach was shocked.
“When I showed up he said his team was playing Northwest Whitfield,” Mariakis remembered. “I said, ‘Coach, we just beat them and you’re playing us.’ He checked it out and said, ‘Well, I just sent five coaches to scout Northwest.’ No one could believe Lakeview had made the playoffs.”
Not only did the Warriors make it, but they played the highly favored Seminoles to the wire before losing 13-8, with the home team scoring in the final minute.
“We even had a touchdown called back,” Mariakis said. “We watched film later and it looked like Tim Brodie had a foot down on a pass in the end zone, but we didn’t get the call. Still, what a great team and experience. One other thing I remember is getting several letters from Creekside folks telling me how impressed they were with us.”
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...