By Gabriel Stovall
McDONOUGH, Ga. — In the psyche of young athletes, It’s often fashionable to use the disappointment of a previous disappointing season as fodder to get amped for the next season.
Union Grove’s Alex Petry doesn’t like fashion.
Just in case you hadn’t heard, the Wolverines have a new football coach in former Hampton High athletic director Craig Melton. And Melton didn’t have time to get his feet wet in his new position before he saw one of his new leaders emerge.
“We were in morning workouts one day, and Petry pretty much stepped up and said, ‘Listen, don’t dwell on the past,'” said rising senior defensive end Sean Bean. “He said he was tired of us using last year’s 3-7 season as a landmark to base everything out of. He told us to pretty much just drop it and let’s move on to the next season.”
Petry makes no apologies for his straight forward rebuke to his team. He said he felt like it was something that needed to be said — something that had to happen for the betterment of the 2015 squad.
“We were just talking about last season A good bit at the beginning of the year, and that’s when I kind of just stood up, you know, out of what I was feeling,” Petry said. “I said that, yeah, we need to learn from our mistakes, but put the past behind us and let’s strive for the future together as a new unit.”
And there will be plenty of newness when the Wolverines take the field for their season opener in about 3 1/2 months.
New head coach. New coaching staff. New quarterback working behind a new — and apparently lightweight by Union Grove standards — offensive line.
The freshness is to be expected with the new coaching regime. But according to Melton, some things in the Union Grove program are going to stay the same.
“We’ve got some new pieces and new things to work in,” Melton said, “But we’ve still got those hard working, smart, just traditional Union Grove kids. The thing about this place is that it’s a special place. This place knows how to win. If we add to that the coaching that we want to bring to the table, I have no doubt that we’ll be absolutely fine.”
Perhaps the biggest change that Union Grove will incur during the 10-day spring football session is the installation of a new offense that Petry says will be quite the departure from what Wolverine football fans may have been used to under former head coach Paul Burgsdorf.
Melton brought in Jamarcus Johnson from 2013 Class AAAA champion Griffin to coordinate the offense. Johnson coached the Bears’ offensive line, and will be counted on to bring a fresh perspective to how the Wolverines will try to put points on the board.
“He’s definitely going to bring an added dimension to what we’re doing here,” Melton said. “It’ll definitely be a new identity that people are going to see.”
Without giving away too many crucial details, Petry, who plays tight end and linebacker, said he sees the vast differences already just three days into spring ball.
“I see us doing a lot of stuff out of our base formation this year instead of running a whole bunch of different ones,” he said. “It’s very strict packaging. One package has pretty much comprised all of our plays so far.”
It may sound simplistic, but Bean — who also plays left tackle — believes the paired down offensive attack will help them offset what they lack in size in the trenches.
“We’re definitely smaller up front than we have been in previous years,” he said. “But the way I look at it, with this new offense we’re putting in, we’re speeding up the tempo, and that’s going to help a lot, considering our size deficit. It should allow us to catch some teams off guard, run plays faster, you know. We may not be the biggest, but if we go out and give our 100 percent execution, we should be able to get the job done.”
Melton acknowledges that the offensive line has to “improve dramatically” before the season comes. But if they do, he believes it can pave the way for some of Union Grove’s athleticism to be able to make plays.
“Skill wise, I’m really, really pleased with the kids we have here,” Melton said. “I don’t think skill will be an issue with this team at all.”
Rising senior Jake Kaufman looks like the heir apparent under center with the graduation of three-year starter Jonathan Sloan. Wideout Khalil Milledge looks to be a difference maker on the outside, along with Devin Tumlin and Petry at tight end.
“We’ve got so much good skill, it’s hard to peg one or two without leaving anyone out,” Melton said.
But more than the talent, Bean said he sees a lot of cohesiveness on the 2015 version of Union Grove football.
“Last year definitely hurt us, but it also sets the bar for this season, and we don’t want to dwell on the past because we’ve got a lot of good things and a lot of chemistry on this group that I honestly think will set our tone,” Bean said.
Perhaps such preseason superlatives are why Melton is still excited about his new sideline gig as he was the day he first got the call.
“It really feels like a dream for me to be here,” Melton said. “I took a step away from the game for a year, but in my heart the whole time I knew what I was supposed to be doing. I’m so excited with what this team could become. To be back out here at this place, I’m still pinching myself. I really am.”