At the same time, with change comes starting over. And it’s never an overnight work of magic, especially when it comes to rebuilding a football program.
So when first-year West Georgia coach Daryl Dickey addressed his team and a promising fan base at UWG’s spring scrimmage, which marked the final day of spring practices Saturday at the Observatory Field on the West Georgia campus, there was a mixture of optimism and realism in his voice.
And, basically, one very obvious observation: “We’ve got a long ways to go,” he would say over and over, something his players echoed in their own right.
“I think things looked real good (Saturday),” junior linebacker Ray Mitchell said. “Both sides of the ball, offense and defense, but like coach Dickey said, ‘We’ve got a long ways to go.’”
With a hodge-podge offensive line currently in the trenches due to a mere lack of numbers up front until the fall recruits arrive, the scrimmage was rather limited in the traditional out-and-out, heads-up play, but Dickey was able to work on a number of things, something he’s tried to do all spring with the 15 days allotted by NCAA regulations.
“It looked like we’ve had just 15 days of practice,” Dickey said. “That’s what it looked like. We’re short on lineman and we’re trying to find ways to make plays offensively, so we’ve got a long ways to go and we haven’t been out here but 15 days, so I’m looking forward to the next 28.”
Senior wide receiver Jimmy Howard, who was honored as last season’s Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year on Saturday, awards voted on by the players, said the transition process from last season with former coach Mike Ledford to the current coaching staff has gone fairly smoothly this spring.
“Yeah, for these 15 days, we had a new coach, a new system and new plays and everything,” Howard said. “The first three days everybody was struggling, but after the fourth day everything went well.”
Howard said the most noticeable difference in the transition period has been the emphasis on discipline, something Mitchell, who was honored as the 2007 Defensive Player of the Year on Saturday, totally agreed with.
“It’s kind of hard at first trying to get to know the coaches and trying to figure out the direction that they’re trying to take us in, but after a couple days, we kind of transitioned pretty good,” Mitchell said. “They instilled a lot of discipline, a lot of teamwork and also basically just working us to be disciplined and to make sure everybody understands that.”
West Georgia, which opens the 2008 season on Aug. 28 at Samford, is coming off a 2-9 season, including a 1-7 finish in Gulf South Conference play, ending the six-year run of Ledford, who has since moved on to take over as head football coach at Central High School.
Dickey is now trying to rebuild the once strong program into a perennial contender again in the rigorous GSC, something he realizes will take time and a lot of hard work.
That began this spring, but he said the important part now lies on the players, as, first and foremost, they have to take care of business in the classroom these final weeks of the semester and then come to camp in shape in the fall.
“It’s important that they work hard between now and August,” Dickey said. “We need to come back in shape and ready to go. That’s going to be really important so we don’t have to take time off getting them in shape, so that’s going to be a real big key is what kind of condition are we when we report, how many people are here during the summer and working and studying. And then trying to find a way to put it all together in the fall.”
The Wolves will add Dickey’s first recruiting class to the product that was on the field Saturday, which most notably needed help up front. Dickey signed five lineman right off the bat, many of whom may get thrown into the fire right away this fall.
“We’ll be trying to piece it together and put it together at that point and time,” Dickey said. “These guys that are here will have a jump on it because they’ve had 15 days of teaching and learning systems and how to communicate and how we’re communicating with them, so that gives them a little bit of a jump.”
Another issue he stressed was academics, saying too many guys are teetering the fine line between not being eligible in the fall. He said these next two weeks of the spring will be huge in that regard.
“We’ve got to have a big academic push and these guys have got to finish strong,” he said. “We’ve got too many people on the bubble right now and we’ve got to get off the bubble.”
Mitchell agreed, noting that the team is already facing enough adversity with a change in staff and basically an entire new look.
“It’s crunch time these next two weeks,” Mitchell said. “It’s going to be a big factor in who’s going to be coming and who’s not going to be coming back next season. I pray that everybody comes back next season because we need every guy out here.”
As for his first spring in Carrollton, Dickey said he has enjoyed the area and making his family part of the West Georgia family.
“We love Carrollton and look forward to being here,” Dickey said. “We love the university and it’s great people and we’re just trying to provide them with a good service.”
The players are also upbeat about a new start and took a positive spin from Saturday’s strong turnout and overall enjoyable day.
“It’s real good to see the community get behind you knowing the past of the school and the past of the program and that we’re trying to build ourself and reshape our image and also try to build up the program to where it should be — championship caliber,” Mitchell said.