By Jonathan Deal
The motivational intro video played before each Athens home game this season is a microcosm of the turnaround by the football team over the past three months.
The video begins with senior captain Johnnie Anderson in a dark locker room reciting an inspirational monologue meant to serve as a reminder and inspire his team before each game.
“Last year was a disappointment,” Anderson says in the video. “We didn’t fight hard enough. We didn’t give it our best effort. We didn’t give it our all. This year, we are out to change all that.”
So far, Athens has changed all of last year’s problems. The players are fighting harder, giving their all every Friday night and having fun.
The Golden Eagles won their eighth game last week at Center Point. That’s five more wins than last season.
“Leadership,” said Anderson about the difference between the two seasons. “To see the work we’ve put in the offseason until now. Everybody is doing their job. The senior class, we lead by example.”
Anderson will start his 45th game for Athens tonight. The senior, who has been a starter since he stepped on campus as a freshman, is relishing the possibility of playing his last game in Golden Eagle Stadium.
“It’s paid off facing a lot of good teams through the years. It’s given me a lot of experience,” said Anderson. “I have to take what I’ve learned from previous years and put it into action this year and tell my teammates about what they should expect.”
Anderson is a big reason why Athens is 8-3. A team captain, Anderson leads a defense giving up less than two touchdowns per game.
From his safety position, the senior has four forced fumbles, three interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Anderson has also scored several touchdowns as the wildcat quarterback on offense.
He is one of several defensive starters that line up on special teams for the Golden Eagles.
“That’s something we work on quite a bit,” said Athens head coach Allen Creasy. “I tell the guys, there are three phases to every game — defense, offense and special teams.”
The extra preparation on special teams is paying off. Anderson got his fingertips on a Center Point punt last week with less than a minute to play to set up Bram McGrady’s game-winning field goal.
Against Pleasant Grove, Athens will need to be near perfect in all three phases. The Spartans are averaging 41 points per game since DeJuan Feagan took over at quarterback.
Feagan excels on read-option plays. Containing the diminutive quarterback will be the key to the game for Athens.
“Our main goal is to get pressure and contain the quarterback,” said defensive lineman Brian Sulcer. “Especially this week.”
Sulcer leads a defensive line that has been successful getting pressure on quarterbacks this season. Against Center Point, the senior had two tackles-for-loss, a sack and an interception return for a touchdown.
“We knew we would be good coming into the season,” said Sulcer. “We’ve met our expections.”
Athens can continue to meet its expectations with a win against Pleasant Grove. Kickoff from Golden Eagle Stadium is 7 p.m.