Adam Clack remembers his last year as head coach at West Forsyth vividly, but not always fondly.
His 2016 team was the best one he had during his three-year tenure leading the Wolverines, finishing with a 7-4 overall record. But even four years later, he still thinks about the missteps he took in leading that team, and the effect those missteps may have had on his players. While the 2016 Wolverines made the playoffs, they fell in the first round, and to this day, he wonders what could have been.
“I felt like I made a really big mistake with the last team I had at West Forsyth, because I felt like I just pushed them too hard, too early,” Clack said. “It was a great group of boys -- they loved to work. It's kind of like a good sled dog: They're not going to know when too much is too much.”
Now the head coach at Milton, Clack has made it a point to learn from that experience, and last year, his hindsight helped him lead the Eagles to a Class 7A state title. As Clack and every Forsyth County coach knows so well, football is as much a game of chance as it is a game of talent. A successful season can be such a delicate thing -- So much can derail a once-promising year, from missed plays to injuries to other factors that the casual onlooker wouldn’t always think about.
North Forsyth certainly felt an unlucky streak last year, going 1-4 in games decided by four points or less. For Forsyth Central, they felt just as unlucky two years ago. The Bulldogs are coming off their best season in almost two decades, but that came after an absolute low point on paper – an 0-10 season in 2017. Central’s problem that year wasn’t talent, though – it was luck, or the lack of it. Their turnaround 2018 season was almost the opposite, which gave the Bulldogs an entirely new perspective.
“It can be humbling at times,” Central coach Frank Hepler said. “It can teach you some things at times. There’s six plays in that 0-10 year, we go 5-5 to 6-4, maybe 7-3. Same (thing) this year. The Denmark game, we’re inside the five, what, five or six times. We could be 8-2. But then you turn around and you look at the North game, we lucked out there a couple of plays. You look at the South game… (We) learned from the year before where we didn’t win the two overtime games where we should have made some plays.”
But bad luck can
extend beyond just the scope of a single game, with injuries to key players
always threatening to derail once-promising seasons. To South Forsyth coach
Jeff Arnette, the coach presiding over the county’s longest active playoff
streak, keeping players on the field has been a must, as the War Eagles learned
“If you look at the times in my career (that) we’ve been in a deep playoff run, we’ve been healthy,” Arnette said. “You’ve got to find a way to stay healthy. I think any coach will tell you that. Those years that you’re more healthy than others, you’re going to have a better shot.”
For coaches, pressing the right buttons at the right time can also make or break a season. For Clack’s state champion Milton team, resting when they needed to was instrumental, even if it hurt in the short term. After starting the 2018 season 3-0, the Eagles opted to make more of a breather during their bye week. Milton lost its next two games, but Clack doesn’t regret the decision.
“In hindsight, it was one of those times where I feel like we maybe came out a little flat, but for the long run, I think that was OK,” Clack said. “We needed to dial back.”
Sometimes, though, plays in games or conditioning aren’t everything. The strength of a team’s schedule could also have an impact on how successful an overall season is, and as the county’s coaches recounted at this year’s Forsyth Sports Media Day, Class 7A football can be unpredictable.
“I look at the board and I say, ‘Guys, we can go 0-10. We can go 10-0, too,’” Lambert coach Louis Daniel said. “You just don’t know. It is just that highly competitive in 7A football.”
Clack recalls his state championship group as having the most unique personality of any team he’s had, with plenty of characters making the grind of a long playoff run more bearable. That collective personality can affect a team’s mindset, which is what ties together the balancing act that is a high school football season. When an unpredictable situation arises, keeping that strong mindset can make all the difference.
“I think a season has a million little forks in the road, whether it's, ‘Hey, you got real hot, how do you control them after a big win?’ or ‘Hey, you dropped a couple of games,’ or ‘Hey, you've kind of gotten in a little rut,’ or you're in a situation you've never been in before,” Clack said. “I think we as a staff and as a team managed our mindset so well, stayed in the moment and just kept taking it one day at a time.”