Woodland's highly anticipated season gets underway Friday


The Woodland High football team is primed for one of its best seasons ever.

The Wildcats have the strongest and deepest senior class they've had in years, showed progress last season and looked good in its preseason scrimmage against Adairsville.

However, while it may appear the Wildcats have the makings of a winning team on paper, the real test will begin Friday at Southeast Whitfield in the season opener at 7:30 p.m.

"It's very important for all the teams in the state of Georgia [to win the opener]," Woodland head coach Plott said. "Everybody wants to win their first game. It just kind of gets the momentum going. It changes the mood in the school, obviously. It's real important."

Southeast Whitfield hasn't had much success as a program since it began football in 1975, but the Dalton school has seen improvement over the last four years, making its first state playoff appearance in 2014. Since then, Raiders head coach Sean Gray has had his teams at .500 for two years before improving to 7-3 last season out of Region 6-AAAA, the Raider's second-best mark in program history.

Southeast Whitfield was in Woodland's first region when the Wildcats began football back in 1998 and 1999, with Woodland winning both games convincingly.

This year, Southeast Whitfield lost a large class to graduation, including its quarterback and top two receivers, but Plott said he still expects a challenge.

"They did have a large senior class," he said. "They lost a lot of guys who contributed last year. I want to say they had 24 seniors. It's hard to replace all those guys, but they've got athletes. They've got good linemen. They're a good football team."

Plott said the Raiders run their offense out of a spread formation and feature tight end Zac Cole. Quarterback Adam Sowder also has impressed the Woodland coaches, as has running back Christian Gillespie and a big offensive line. Gillespie, a junior, averaged nearly eight yards per carry last year.

On the other side of the ball, the Woodland coaches have prepared for Southeast Whitfield's defense to be in a four-man front.

"It's real similar to what we'll run. They'll have two inside linebackers, two outside linebackers, four defensive linemen," Plott said of Southeast's defense. "They played a Cover-3 most of the time. They're very active, physical. They run to the ball and seem to be well-coached.

"The secondary, I think coach Gray thought that would be the strength of their defense this year. They have a lot of guys returning there, it seems like."

Besides scouting Southeast, Plott also had some work to do in the film room this week watching his own team. For a 37-10 rout over a perennial playoff team in Adairsville, Plott thought his team made too many mistakes when asked immediately following last week's scrimmage.

There were too many turnovers and pre-snap penalties for Plott's liking. A second look at the film, however, made the coaches feel better about what they saw — at least on the defensive side.

"Defensively, there wasn't quite as many mistakes as I thought," Plott said. "There was one with our 2s where a guy came open down the seam for the touchdown pass. And there were the unforced errors, if you want to call them that, the jumping offsides and all that stuff. We are working to clean that up and make sure we know our assignments. One of the things that we always look for is, are we aligned right, can we get in a good stance and do we know our responsibilities, and we're still trying to fix that."

— DTN staff reporter Nicholas Sullivan contributed to this report.