rain and wet grass weren’t going to stop the future of North Forsyth High
School football from getting their work in.
The teams on North’s soaked practice field on Tuesday afternoon were more linked to the Raiders than any other middle school squads that came before them. In their minds, if the rain didn’t stop the varsity players from practicing, why should it stop them?
Their presence there was a part of something that could change the future of Forsyth County teams — a feeder system different from what is currently available to the area’s rising young talent.
The idea to start that kind of program was not a new one for North. It’s been in the works since the current regime came in.
“From what I know about the program, it's something that's been talked about for several years now,” seventh-grade head coach Justin Lynn said. “It took time to develop a plan. I know since (varsity head coach Robert) Craft got here, the way he explained it to me is he's been a part of many successful programs and all of these teams that he's been associated with had feeder football programs. From the day he got hired at North Forsyth, I believe he was in discussions with athletic directors about being able to do this at some point.”
Two years after Craft’s hiring, that plan has finally come to fruition. The Raiders’ feeder sixth- and seventh-grade teams will begin play this fall as part of the Georgia Middle School Athletic Association, with North planning to add an eighth-grade team for the 2019 season. The new teams will be in a region with squads from Milton, Cherokee, Etowah and Roswell, among others.
It’s a stark contrast to the current system that all the Forsyth County schools currently abide by. The current public middle school teams in the county only play each other and are not tied to any particular high school. Players are often separated into different varsity teams by the time they make it to high school age.
Forsyth has seen feeder systems before – just not in football.
“(Players) are looking for a more competitive advantage,” sixth-grade head coach Frank Szakacs said. “If you just look at other sports in our county, travel baseball is a primary one where we have multiple travel baseball teams and they've grown into more of a feeder team around the high schools. You've got club lacrosse, you've got basketball, you've got feeder basketball at all the schools. Why not have it in football?”
What North gains from the middle school teams is a streamlined path to the varsity level. The same verbiage and system being taught to the sixth- and seventh-graders is the same that the Raiders’ varsity team uses on Friday nights. That allows the players to be more ready once they reach their freshman year. In addition, the connection to the high school allows the middle school teams to use North’s resources.
“In the youth level, we were only able to practice a couple of days a week,” Lynn said. “We didn't have a great model to be able to watch film with the kids. We've got all of that (which) the high school offers now.”
The question now is whether or not the rest of the county will follow suit and adopt the feeder system model. Szakacs and Lynn can’t speak for any other teams, but they definitely see the feeder system as a competitive advantage for anyone who decides to run them. With Forsyth’s varsity teams often struggling against teams outside their region in the playoffs, the prospect of getting experience against strong talent outside the county early on is an attractive one.
“I think the ultimate goal is to have all the schools in the county (do this),” Szakacs said. “The county's growing so quickly, so the opportunity to have other options and choices to play at a very high, competitive level is the ultimate goal."
The players and the coaches aren’t entirely sure what this new feeder system will be like, but they’re confident it will be for the best.
“We don't know what to expect because we haven't seen the talent that we're going to go up against, but we know we're going to play better talent week in and week out.” Lynn said. “We know that's only going to make these kids tougher, more ready for high school athletics and competitive sports. We're open to the challenge and (we'll) take it to the next level and see what these kids can do from there.”
Correction: North Forsyth is not the first county school to place a team in the GMSAA: Lambert and South Forsyth both had teams that later disbanded. The Forsyth County News regrets the error.