Brad Waggoner closes out his first season as Decatur High head coach Friday against St. Pius X. It's Senior Night, with the game starting at 7:30 p.m. in Decatur Stadium.
But if Waggoner feels any melancholy about missing the state playoffs for only the second time in nine seasons overall as a head coach, he isn’t showing it.
“On one level it’s tough to swallow [missing the playoffs],” he said Wednesday afternoon during practice. “But the truth is I’m really excited about this game Friday night. I think it’s very important for several reasons.”
First it’s the final game for 13 seniors, at least four of whom – Terez and Perez Cowan, Terryon Robinson and Andrew Brown – will continue their careers in college. Second, it’s a chance for Decatur, 5-4 overall and 2-3 in Region 6-AAA, to finish with a winning record, something the Bulldogs have done only once in the last six seasons.
Third, and most important for the 80 percent of this team returning next year, Waggoner sees Friday as sneak preview for what he hopes eventually becomes habit.
“This is going to be every bit like a playoff game,” he said. “We’re playing a top 10 team and a possible number one seed, and we’re playing at home. You can’t get any more of a playoff atmosphere than that, and it’s something we’ll feed off of during the entire off season.”
Beating St. Pius X, 7-2 and 4-1, will be no easy chore.
Pius is ranked sixth in this week’s Maxwell Ratings, one of three Region 6-AAA teams in the top 10 (Decatur is 31st out of 59 AAA teams). On Friday the Golden Lions are playing for both a number one seed and home field advantage in round one of the playoffs.
Pius, which rarely throws the ball, runs a Georgia Tech-like option featuring three backs including the quarterback. In last week’s 24-17 win over Blessed Trinity, junior tailback Branden Mitchell rushed for 105 yards and senior fullback Ryan Braswell had 104 as Pius racked up 323 yards total offense, all on the ground. The workhorse Braswell has totaled 1,063 yards on the ground this season.
Meantime, Waggoner will switch back to sophomore Devontae Carter as his starting quarterback Friday. Carter started the first six games and mostly played very well. But he’s appeared in only one quarter since injuring his pelvis against Woodward Academy on Oct. 5.
“I think I’ve had more fun with these guys than with any team I’ve ever coached,” Waggoner said. “Just watching their development and knowing that so many are coming back has been exciting. I can’t believe the season’s almost over. Personally I wouldn’t mind playing the whole season over again because I think you’d see some different results.
“But I guess,” he added, “they won’t let us do that.”