The 2016-17 Clarke Central High School varsity football team has made improvements from their record last season of 4-6 by finishing with an overall record of 7-5. The Gladiators also earned a place in the Georgia High School Association 8-AAAAA playoffs for the first time since 2013.
“The improvement (this season) started with the coaches. It started with bringing in talented coaches,” senior linebacker Byron Spraggins said. “I think we have improved with commitment. A lot of kids show up and not miss practice which is valuable time.”
According to junior quarterback Jack Mangel, the new region gave the Gladiators an advantage in their season.
“I feel like this year, with the new region, it was a little bit easier,” Mangel said. “Last year everyone was a playoff team (in our region). This year was a little easier, but still a challenge.”
After two games into the season, a win and a loss, head coach David Perno noticed what he believed to be a key game in the season for the Gladiators-- the game against Gainesville High School on Sept. 2.
“I think kind of the turning point for us was the second half of the Gainesville game. It is funny because the turning point for us was in a loss,” Perno said. “The second half in Gainesville, showing the toughness and the competitiveness and showing that we could persevere on the road gave us some confidence.”
Immediately following their loss against GHS, the Gladiators turned their season around with the wins against North Oconee High School and cross-town rival Cedar Shoals High School.
“Our number one goal is (always) to beat Cedar Shoals and we did that,” defensive coordinator Justin Jones said. “You definitely want to be the best team in your city.”
In addition to meeting their goal of beating CSHS, the Gladiators also met their goal of advancing to the playoffs.
“I was happy that we were able to get to the playoffs and win a playoff game because those seniors had not won a playoff game since 2013, so that is unusual,” Perno said. “It was good for (the seniors) to really reestablish their significance.”
The Gladiators played their final game of the season on Nov. 18 where they lost 37-13 to Stockbridge High School during the second round of the GHSA 8-AAAAA playoffs.
“We definitely wanted to make the playoffs and we did for the first time in a few years-- even more importantly winning a playoff game,” Jones said. “(The playoffs) were a new territory for us as a program, especially having not won a playoff game since 2013. Making the state playoffs and winning a playoff game really set a foundation for us and for the program and things to come. We are going to get a lot better.”
Looking back on the season, Perno expresses that the overall improvement of the team should not be measured by their record.
“I feel like we turned it around more than our record shows,” Perno said. “Hopefully next year, and that is the beauty of all those loses, is that next season we have a shot at those teams for some redemption, and that is what we are hoping on.”
Jones believes the improvements made this season are just the start to even more improvement to come.
“This season was just the beginning and I really, really do believe that,” Jones said. “We have got our players believing that, our coaching staff believing that and we want the community to know that this is not going to be the Clarke Central they have been accustomed to in the past.”