By Gabriel Stovall
STOCKBRIDGE, Ga. — Steve Davenport is 2-for-2 on 7-3 seasons as head football coach at Woodland High School, which doesn’t seem bad, considering Woodland’s only had one other winning season since the program began in 2007.
But that 2009 campaign when program-founding coach Scott Schmitt guided the Wolfpack to seven wins has something Davenport has, heretofore, failed to grasp — a playoff berth.
It’s the reason why Davenport won’t spend a whole lot of time geeking and gawking at Woodland’s success in his first two years. Don’t take it the wrong way — he acknowledges the strides made in just his third season. But satisfied probably isn’t the best word to use to describe how he and his program feel about 7-3 success.
“Well, there’s no secret to any success,” Davenport said. “We work hard. We don’t have a whole lot of kids doing a lot of other sports, so we can dedicate a lot of time to football. These kids work hard and hold each other accountable.”
But here’s that whole not satisfied part.
“I do feel that way,” he continued. “I mean in retrospect, I think of a program that was 2-8 when I got here three years ago and you really had no idea what you were getting or what the player’s attitudes would be. But we obviously, as a program and community, are trying to make a name for ourselves. By now, 7-3 is nothing new to our guys.”
Neither is postseason disappointment. In 2014, Woodland played itself into a position where a Region play-in game win against Mundy’s Mill could have propelled them into their first playoff berth since the aforementioned 2009 season.
Mundy’s Mill beat Woodland 47-14.
Then last year it was Drew’s turn to disseminate heartache. The high-scoring Titans got everything it wanted from Woodland before the Pack were defeated 34-28. But worse than the defeat, Davenport said, was how he and his kids had to sit around and watch Drew do what Woodland felt they could’ve also done.
“We got a chance to watch Drew, and we watched them for three rounds in the playoffs,” he said. “It was painful to say the least. But to see how they played, and to know we probably played them just as good as anybody, yeah, it was hard to take. But it made us hungrier, and it gave us more confidence.”
That confidence showed up last Friday in a 55-6 drubbing of Union Grove. It was the third straight win for Woodland over the Wolverines — a program that had their number the first four years they played each other.
“To open the season against your rival makes it easy to do the preparation work and long hours over the summer, because the kids want to play that game,” Davenport said. “For it to be a first game, with the rain delays and all that, our kids played well. It was a bit problematic with the weather. Our kids got out of the bus ready to go, though, so we were pleased with every aspect of how we played that night.”
The challenge gets exponentially stiffer, though, this Friday as Woodland makes the trek to what is still regarded by many as the holy grail of Georgia High School football. Woodland’s Friday night tilt with Class AAAAAA No. 4 Valdosta is one that energizes the kids and concerns the coaches.
“This trip is not exciting for the coaches just yet,” Davenport said with a laugh. “Those kids down in Valdosta are pretty damn good.”
The Wildcats smacked rival Lowndes 38-13 last Friday in its opener, and appear to have a team more reminiscent of its powerhouse days, despite breaking in first year coach Alan Rodemaker.
Certainly it will be a barometer game, giving Woodland a chance to see how it stacks up with Georgia football’s gold standard. But Davenport also hopes it can be an educational and inspirational experience for his program, regardless of the scoreboard’s final tally.
Davenport said he’ll take his team on a tour of the Valdosta High School football Hall of Fame after the game to let his team soak up some of the historic pageantry of big time high school football lore.
“It’ll be a moment to allow our kids to get out of Henry County and take a peak into one of the proudest programs of the state,” he said. “It’s long since been the epitome of high school football. But when we finish, we get back on the bus and prepare for Tri-Cities the next week and then our region goals. Hopefully this experience will help us take that next step toward where we want to be, and that’s in the playoffs.”