Chris Slade led Pace Academy to its first state title in school history.
CHRIS SLADE WON’T BE POSTING ANY PRESS CLIPPINGS
or top- 10 lists on his bulletin board any time soon. In fact, he’d
much prefer to start the 2016 season much like his Pace Acad-
emy team started last season’s playoffs — under the radar.
“When you win a state title, everyone starts telling you
Slade said his team found solace in its identity, which in-
how good you are,” said Slade, who led his Knights team to a
program-first Class AA state title last December. “It’s all talk.
Nothing we did last year will help us this year. We still have to
go back out and train and prepare all the things that we did to
get back in that spot. I don’t want my guys to see any polls or
rankings, because we’ve got to work hard for what we want.”
Pace Academy ( 13-2 in 2015) opened the postseason as a
No. 4 seed last year, then proceeded to knock off Darlington,
Screven County, Macon County and Greater Atlanta Christian
en route to a 42-21 state title victory over Fitzgerald at the
Georgia Dome in Atlanta.
cluded a strong rushing game (207.4 rushing yards per game),
combined with a defense, predicated on attacking the football,
that yielded 21. 5 sacks and 14 interceptions.
“We’ve got to find a way to stay humble,” said Slade. “Once
you can get into the playoffs, anyone can win, as we saw. The
main thing is staying focused and locked in. No one’s bigger
than the team. You work and train hard because nothing’s
bigger than us.”
Slade gave much of the credit to his coaching staff for
managing his 50-strong team throughout an 18-week season
to make sure his Knights didn’t suffer any undue fatigue.
That was part of the reason Slade said he never felt concerned when Pace fumbled on its two opening possessions of
the first half in the AA title game. Instead of losing its momentum, Slade’s team tacked on three more touchdowns down the
stretch to open up a comfortable lead.
“It didn’t make a difference where we were seeded, because
you’ve got to play the best teams anyway,” said Slade. “
Whether you play them in the first or second week or the third week
or the championship, you’ve got to take care of it. As a [No.] 4
seed, you’re supposedly not the better team, but once you’re in
the tournament, anything can happen.” Jim Dickerson has led Clinch County to three states titles during his tenure.
CLINCH COUN TY
JIM DICKERSON HAS A SAYING ON HAND FOR WHENEVER HIS
Clinch County team faces hard times.
“You can get bitter, or you can get better,” said Dickerson, who wanted
to motivate his Panthers players following last year’s regular-season loss
to region foe Irwin County. “I think this team chose to get better.”
Dickerson’s team ( 13-1 in 2015) rebounded from the early loss
to rattle off 10 straight victories en route through the Class A-Public
playoffs, including a revenge state title game win over rivals Irwin
County at the Georgia Dome to secure Clinch County’s first title since
2010. The win allowed Clinch County to earn its sixth state title, and
third under Dickerson since he took charge of the program over a
decade ago. Dickerson said he and the local community in Homerville
set a high bar for the football program each year.
“It’s a passion down here in south Georgia,” he said. “Kids are
expected to achieve. If you have high expectations, kids will usually live
up to them. But if you have low expectations, they’ll live up to that, also.”
But when Clinch County’s chances of earning a region crown fell away,
Dickerson said he used that adversity to hand his players a “life lesson.”
Rather than focus on the negatives, the Panthers retooled their focus
on fundamentals and came out of the experience with the belief that
they would hold the advantage if they met with Irwin County again.
“You have to reset your goals,” said Dickerson. Sometimes the
results aren’t what you want, but that doesn’t mean you give up. The
old football saying is that the team lost has a huge advantage from
a motivation standpoint. They took themselves to the woodshed and
gave us a chance to redeem ourselves.”
Clinch County entered the playoffs as a No. 2 seed from Region 2-A
and proceeded to knock off Dooly County and Johnson County before
engineering a comeback victory over Commerce in the semifinals
to reach the title game. Bolstered by a little luck on the injury front,
Dickerson’s team pounded out nearly 300 rushing yards against Irwin
County and led from the second quarter onwards.
This season, Dickerson is hoping to rebuild his lineman corps, which
took a hit through graduation. The Panthers will return seven starters,
on offense and defense. Regardless, Dickerson will hope to infuse
next year’s team with the same ethos of team chemistry he says
helped the Panthers in their latest title run. He said he often feels
gratified when he spots players spending time with each other outside
practice, either catching dinner together or hanging out.
“It’s really special,” he said. “We preach family a lot. To see that
come to fruition, that’s great.”