Easily lost in the fast start for Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe's football team is that it's actually a byproduct of the way the Warriors ended last season. LFO won four straight before losing to eventual state champion Calhoun followed by a narrow loss to Adairsville in a postseason play-in game, ending its 2011 season.
But a close-knit group of 13 seniors, many of whom had started since their sophomore year, and an infusion of energy with five new assistant coaches have helped LFO race to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2004, when the Warriors finished a program-best 11-1.
"We finished strong last year, and that proved to ourselves that we can play with anyone," said quarterback Trey Silmon, who threw just seven passes in an injury-shortened season last year with no touchdowns and two interceptions but has completed 76 percent of his passes for three TDs and no interceptions in 2012.
"We just have a bunch of guys who have played ball together for a lot of years, and we really like each other. That's a big part of it, and something hopefully the younger guys can learn from. When you're playing for guys that you like, you give an extra effort that can help you win games."
While the defense is allowing just seven points per game, the biggest change has been on offense, where Silmon and his experienced teammates quickly adjusted to new coordinator Houston White's variety of no-huddle sets. After stepping down as Hixson's head coach last spring, White immediately recognized the LFO offense would have speed (two players run sub-4.5 40s and four others run in the 4.5 range), size (the line averages 275 pounds) and experience (8 offensive starters returned).
He wasted no time in devising a plan in which the Warriors go no-huddle on every snap but can line up in everything from a spread look to an old-school I-formation with an H-back.
"He crammed it all on us, then went back and broke it down step by step and made it real simple," said lineman Jok O'Barr. "I like it because you can see it wearing on defenses. When we go from one formation to the next in the same possession, you can see them looking to their sideline asking for help from their coaches because they don't know what to do. That's a good feeling."
An offense that didn't score its fourth touchdown until the third game of the season last year is now averaging four TDs per game. Roddaze "Pooh" Harden already has doubled his rushing output of a year ago with 604 yards and five TDs, and every player but one who carries or catches the ball for the Warriors is a senior.
And the defense, under the direction of head coach Todd Windham and with seven returning starters, has two shutouts already.
After rushing for more than 300 yards (against just 27 passing yards) in a win over Catoosa County rival Heritage, then running it 37 times and throwing only six passes to beat Dade County, the Warriors beat Adairsville for the first time in program history by throwing for 185 yards last week.
Most teams develop an offensive identity as either a team that uses big plays to score points in bunches, or one that relies on methodical, time-consuming drives to both score and keep the ball out of the opponents' hands. But LFO is the rare team that has shown it can do both, with nine TDs of 35-plus yards this season, as well as seven scoring drives of 12 plays or more.
In last week's win over Adairsville, the Warriors had two TDs of 30-plus yards but also had a 12-minute advantage in time of possession. And the Warriors also didn't run more than three consecutive plays with the same personnel grouping in the game, forcing the defense to account for a variety of formation and player changes on each drive.
Tonight LFO hosts Gordon Central, the only other unbeaten team in Region 5-AAA, and the only two undefeated teams in their classification that aren't state-ranked.
"This whole group of seniors has played a lot of games together, and it's great to see them mature and have success like this," Windham said. "They've won enough close battles now that they expect to compete and win every game, and as a coach that gives you a lot of confidence every week."
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...