I don't know how many games the Thomson Bulldogs will win this season. I don't know how far they might advance in the playoffs or even if they will be in the playoffs. What I do recognize after four games is that coach Luther Welsh and his staff may be doing their best coaching job yet since his return in 1999.
I mean no disrespect to the athletic ability of the current crop of Bulldogs, but frankly, in my eyes, they don't look as good "on the hoof" as most of Thomson's past teams. They are playing just as hard as ever, but they just aren't as lean and swift right now as they have been in the past. That's nobody's fault, but just the way it is. Athleticism among schoolboys runs in cycles, and to me, Thomson is just not loaded with super athletes right now.
On Thomson's open date, circumstances put me in Gwinnett County to watch Madison County High School play Dacula High School. These are both AAAA schools that weren't exactly loaded with athletes either, but their skill position players were bigger and faster than Thomson's.
The difference I saw between those teams and the Bulldogs was in how hard they played. I feel safe in saying that the top three athletes on each of those teams would be lethal football weapons if they played for Coach Welsh and his staff. On the night I saw them, if they got the ball they played interested, otherwise they rested.
Thomson has played four football teams so far that, while not great, really were not bad teams. There were stretches in all four games that Thomson could have executed better, but they never took any plays off. Between motivating them to hustle and encouraging them to conduct themselves with some class, this coaching staff is doing a great job.
As for those of us in the stands, we need to remember the old axiom that high school coaches have to work with what they have. Unless you are in metro Atlanta or in a city school system, you don't have the luxury of recruiting. Thomson's coaches could not get away with recruiting if they wanted to. Besides, it would be against their nature to do so.
Before we start screaming that our high school coaches need to utilize all of the strategies that we see in college and pro games on television, we must stop and remind ourselves that these kids are only skilled enough to do so much. We should also think about the time and repetition needed in practice to get good at the simple basics of the game before demanding a diversity of offensive plays and defensive coverages.
Coach Welsh is an old-fashioned coach that believes in playing physical, execution, blocking and tackling. He is smart enough to know that if his team can master these facets of football, he's going to win more often than not. He also knows that if they don't master them, they are going to lose some games that they shouldn't. In other words, he ain't trying to fool anybody with cute formations and exotic sounding defenses. That might work against the sloppy opponents but get you blown away by the strong ones.
The game in Hephzibah is the latest case in point. Thomson's offense had trouble in the first half against a defense loaded to stop the run. Coaches Welsh, Mark Daniel, Brad Smith and Willie Williams recognized this and waited until the perfect moment to spring one of the most basic of all football plays on the Rebels - a screen pass.
This screen, good for a long touchdown by James Bonner, put the Bulldogs on top for good after a long Hephzibah scoring drive to start the third quarter. The defense, playing with a secondary rotated around and patched together with duct tape, was also having trouble. Thankfully coaches John Barnett, Michael Costello and Curtis Williams did not panic. They adjusted on the fly to cover for injured players and Thomson won the game.
I pay to get in just like everybody else and enjoy second-guessing coaching decisions, too. It is a hobby for anybody that is a football fan. We must not forget, though, that it is not a hobby for Coach Welsh and his staff. When things get tough in a game it will pay to remember that experience is on their side, and they want to win even more than we do. That thought sure helps keep my underwear from getting knotted up during the games.