War Eagles look to improve on 9-2 campaign
The Putnam County War Eagles closed out spring football practice last Friday in a game scrimmage against West Laurens at Al Reaves Field. Although the score wasn’t officially kept, the big victory could come in the fall when the hard work of the spring and summer will show up on the scoreboard.
Head coach Shaun Pope, heading into his fourth season at the helm of the War Eagle program, has gotten his team into the playoffs the past two seasons, but the results were bittersweet and 2021 has been dedicated to improving playoff results from the first round forward.
In 2019, Hapeville Charter knocked off Putnam and last season, Early County came to town and dispatched the War Eagles 48-7, leaving an indelible impression on the returning players and the coaching staff. With a 9-2 record in tow, Pope suggested a season record was not near as important as advancing past the first round in 2021; a lofty goal but yet a realistic one.
“Our program goal is the same as it is everyday; get better and be the best we can be every day. The two games we lost in 2020, we were whipped physically and I don’t think you have to remind our young men of that, they are well aware,” Pope said. “They have really worked their tails off in the weight room to prevent that from happening again. Our strength gains are increasing daily and this is by far the strongest team we’ve had since I’ve been in Putnam County.
“We have to transfer that to the field and I think we definitely saw that in the game Friday night against West Laurens, a team that’s been a consistent playoff contender in AAAA.”
The game against Laurens provided Pope some insight into the retooling of his team for 2021 on the field but also on the sidelines with his coaching staff that includes new defensive line coach in Jimal McBride.
“We’ve established a very strong coaching staff. We are very fortunate to have men that love kids and love coaching football,” explained Pope. “I’m very grateful to be a small part. I also realize I’m getting old because I now have a former player of mine on staff in Coach McBride.”
Graduation depleted a solid group of seniors and Pope knew finding the next man up to fill those voids would be a work in progress beginning this spring; especially along the offensive line.
“Yes, we lost some very good young men but I’d like to think we have our program in good enough shape to where it’s next man up,” reiterated Pope. “We will miss the leadership qualities of the seniors but someone else will hopefully step up and keep it rolling.”
The War Eagles return a juggernaut offense, capable of scoring on any play with exceptional team speed, a passing game that can stretch the field and a running game that is capable of keeping opposing defenses in the box to stop the run.
Returning is All-Region tailback Cedrion Brundage and All-Region quarterback Gerald Kilgore. On the outside, Putnam can attack with a trio of big play receivers in Malik Thornton, Jalen Kilgore and DJ Bland, all with lightning speed.
Bland will return as the team’s punter and new to 2021 will be placekicker Tino Reyes from the War Eagle soccer program, who is known for a strong leg. He will have some big shoes to fill in replacing Jose Hernandez, a clutch field goal kicker that will be moving to the collegiate level to kick.
“We will keep the same schemes. We are very multiple on offense and defense so we will do what’s necessary and put our guys in the best position to be successful,” said Pope on Monday. “Tino Reyes has come out this spring and has a very strong leg. He handled the kicking duties in the spring game and did a phenomenal job. We have a very strong rising ninth grade class. Some of those guys proved to us in spring practice that they’re ready to push for playing time and possibly starting spots on Friday night.”
After the GHSA mandated “dead week” in the first week of June, Putnam will go back to work and Pope said this summer workout program will be very different from the 2020 pandemic summer with workouts likely four days a week including continued weight room etiquette and strength and conditioning drills.
“I think our guys are hungry,” he said. “They got a little taste of competing for a region championship last year and know now what it will take to get past that point. Every repetition everyday must be the most important thing to them. It is a process over product. It’s a great time to be a War Eagle.”