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PREP FOOTBALL: Spalding High School coach Nick Davis starting to see the fruits of his turnaround campaign

Fifth-year Spalding High football coach Nick Davis has turned the Jaguars program into a region contender. (PHOTO: Gabriel Stovall)

Fifth-year Spalding High football coach Nick Davis has turned the Jaguars program into a region contender. (PHOTO: Gabriel Stovall)

By Gabriel Stovall

GRIFFIN, Ga. — According to Spalding football coach Nick Davis, if you want to gauge the readiness of his Jaguars squad for Friday’s big Region 4-AAAA contest against Eagle’s Landing, check the hair on his players’ arms.

And do it on game day at about 3:18 p.m.

As Davis addressed his team after Wednesday afternoon’s practice, he rattled off the stakes involved in the matchup of undefeated Region title hopefuls.

A win will give Spalding its first 4-0 start in school history.

A win will give Spalding pole position for the Region 4-AAAA championship.

A win will give the Jaguars another capstone victory, adding yet more shreds of evidence to the remarkable turnaround job Davis has done for the newer high school in his home town.

After he threw out that list is when he stated the barometer he’d be using to see how serious this year’s team — particularly his crop of seniors — would be about winning against Eagle’s Landing Friday night.

“You go to school and go to class and take care of your business in the classroom,” Davis said. “But by about 3:18 on Friday afternoon your hair ought to be standing up on your arms.”

That’s the kind of fire Davis grew up with, during his playing days at Griffin High back in the late 80s. He wants that same kind of mid-line obsession with the game of football to overtake his bunch now.

“What are you going to do when the night before when you’re really ready to play,” Davis asked his team. The question generated some laughter and a few responses from players who already knew where this line of questioning was headed.

“You’re going to have your uniform and your clothes and everything laid out on your bed the night before,” Davis said. “You’re going to go to bed thinking about all the plays and running through your mind how you’re going to come out and make plays.”

Davis’ intensity is part of the reason why his Jaguars are on the cusp of making program history.

No Spalding football team has ever started a season with four straight wins — not even that 12-2 bunch that finished the 2003 season with a Class AAA semifinals loss to Peach County in the Georgia Dome.

And the potential accomplishment is not lost on Davis, nor his seniors — the first bunch of seniors the fifth year coach has guided from freshman year.

“I know it’s a huge opportunity for these seniors,” Davis said. “Starting out from where they came from in ninth grade, and where the program was then, and to accomplish last year what we did, and to this point this year, it’s been a lot of hard work and changing of the mind as to how we do things.”

When Davis showed up, he inherited a program that — after an upstart 9-3 campaign in 2002 and the aforementioned 2003 Georgia Dome season — had not enjoyed a winning season in eight years. And it took Davis another four years before he broke through with a 6-4 finish in 2014.

The team that ended their hopes for a state playoff berth last year? Eagle’s Landing.

Davis said he believes, though, that his team is more psychologically prepared to handle the trappings of success. Take the LaGrange win two weeks ago. Davis said he didn’t think his players fully understood what it meant to go down and beat a traditional Georgia power on its home turf.

But the Jaguars followed that win up with a 37-0 drubbing of Walnut Grove, proving that they allowed no room for a big game hangover, and that they’re ready to make the jump from also-ran to region contender.

“We feel like now we deserve to be seen as one of the better teams in our region and even in the state,” Davis said. “That wasn’t always the case when I got here. We played second fiddle, not only to our in-town rival, but everybody. We were the homecoming team.”

Not anymore. Not only has Spalding won its first three games, but they’ve dominated them, outscoring its first trio of opponents by a combined 102-16.

It doesn’t get easier from here, though.

Starting with Friday’s big matchup with an undefeated Eagle’s Landing squad that boasts one of the state’s top players in Antonio Gibson, the Jaguars will play three formidable Region foes over the next four weeks, including an October 2 date with Griffin, then No. 9 Jonesboro the following Friday on Spalding’s Homecoming Week and capping the gauntlet region tour with a road trip to Riverdale on October 23.

With that schedule in mind, Davis knows he and his team are still a long way away from setting a ton of program milestones. But for the first time in his five years, he said he believes he’s got a team that can achieve at the level he envisioned upon his arrival.

“If we can stay healthy, continue to stay hungry and not listen to outsiders talk about how good we are,” Davis said. “And I say that because our kids ain’t used to hearing that. I want them to feel good about how they’re playing, but at same time you don’t want that to get to their heads because you can run off a string of L’s quick.

“But our goal is to just get in the playoffs, and you know, from my experience, once you get in the playoffs, play well and get a little lucky, you never know. You could look up and be in the Dome.”

Follow on Twitter @crescent_buzz for live coverage of tonight’s Spalding-Eagle’s Landing game from Memorial Stadium in Griffin.

Coach Nick Davis said the key to Spalding's program turnaround has been the buy-in he's gotten from his current class of seniors. (PHOTO: Gabriel Stovall)

Coach Nick Davis said the key to Spalding’s program turnaround has been the buy-in he’s gotten from his current class of seniors. (PHOTO: Gabriel Stovall)