The story of the Rockmart Yellow Jackets of 2018 reads like one of a fairy tale. As 2019 gets underway next week with the start of the regular season, it is the mission of the Jackets to write a new story, and one with a happy ending.
The team loaded with senior talent came together in a perfect storm to beat Cedartown, go undefeated through to the state title game, and having to settle for second best last December in the Benz, when Heard County pulled off a win over the Jackets.
A loss that Rockmart head coach Biff Parson said stings a little.
Yet their mission remains the same: beat Cedartown, win region, get to the state title game.
As the season gets ready to start, Parson said the team is geared up and reloaded for the start of the season with players like Junior Javin Whatley who will take over as quarterback and many more ready for another run.
When the Jackets took the field earlier in the month at midnight for their opening practice, Parson said it felt good to get the team back on the field as fans watched from the stands. For the team, it marked not just the time when they can put on pads and helmets and really get down to business but also to build off their previous success
“We’re at a stage as a staff that we aren’t ever talking about rebuilding,” Parson said. “It’s about just reloading. We have a lot of bullets in our chamber.”
Rockmart comes into the year having finished big, but also experienced loss in the process. The Jackets having finished 14-1 for the season with a loss to Heard County in the state Class AA title game after having won over them in a forfeit during the regular season in a non-region game.
“Our kids do have a bad taste. To finish 14-1 in everybody’s eyes is a great season. And it was a great season,” Parson said. “It was fun. As a football coach, you want to be able to play in Game 15 and win Game 15. Unfortunately we didn’t make that happen. These guys have a sour taste in their mouth. And they have come out and worked everyday with that in mind.”
So too does the loss of senior leaders like Dylan Bailey, Markus Smith, Zabrion Whatley and many others to graduation with the Class of 2019 not help either.
Yet the Jackets aren’t having to look far afield to fill those key roles, Parson said.
Parson said the Jackets are trying to take on the identity of being their own team this year even with new faces taking on roles.
There’s a bunch of new people in the backfield taking on roles like Javin Whatley, moved over from a wing position to quarterback where he naturally plays and “can do so many things that we’ve not been able to do before on offense.”
Parson also pointed to a loaded group of running backs — especially three freshmen who will get playing time this season — as just some of the talent coming to the gridiron.
“We’ve got a number of guys that we called shadow kids, that sat behind Dylan and Markus for the past three years and now they get their opportunity to show their skill level,” Parson said. “We feel like we’re better in some spots, and we feel like we’re equal in some spots. We feel like we’ve got to find some people in some spots.”
Then there’s veterans like Juke Boozer and Reed Couch, who came up with big plays in 2018 and are expected to be leaders on and off the field as seniors this year.
“The team is taking pride, and the we have a good bunch of leaders in our senior class,” he said. “We have a good bunch of juniors too. We feel really good about it.”
Depth is available to Rockmart this year, with veterans too like Paine Culver who will stay at the safety position or Jai Penson.
“We’ve got a group of linebackers for the first time in two years,” Parson said.
But first things first: Rockmart wants to also taste the sweet victory of a Cedartown win again.
Rockmart heads to Cedartown this year for the annual Battle of Polk County rivalry game when the two teams face each other on August 23, coming hot off the heels of a pair of scrimmages meant to help prepare the Jackets for another tough year ahead. They won last year by just a touchdown thrown by Dylan Bailey late.
The first of those is a rematch between the Jackets and Bremen. The two teams last faced each other in the Class AA playoffs when Rockmart took a second round home 25-23 win over Bremen. The Jackets hold a 7-10 record against the Blue Devils in 17 games historically, and won in their scrimmage last year in a 17-16 finish. They faced each other after press time to open preseason play on August 9.
The Blue Devils headed up by Davis Russell went 9-3 before their season was cut short by Rockmart in the playoffs.
Rockmart also goes up against Temple in the second and final preseason scrimmage of the year. In regular play, Rockmart holds a 4-0 advantage over the Tigers in play from 2006 through 2009.
Currently under the leadership of Scotty Ward, the Tigers last year went 1-9 over the entire season and only earned a win over Kendrick.
After they play Cedartown, Rockmart host Central for their second game of the season on August 30, which will be the second in a series between the two teams after they didn’t play for several seasons after Rockmart moved down in classification and Central moved up. Last year, the Jackets took a 51-7 win over the Lions.
Rockmart when they played in the same region had a 1-3 record over four seasons against Central.
The biggest test of the year will come when Rockmart faces off for a third time in a year against the Heard County Braves, who Rockmart first won over in a halftime forfeit last season due to weather with a 33-0 score going into the locker room as a thunderstorm moved into Rockmart.
Rockmart wants revenge after a 27-6 loss at the Benz in the title game to Heard County, and in three total games the two teams have played against one another the Jackets sit at 2-1 overall. They previously played in 2016 in their first time on the gridiron against each other, with the Jackets securing a 42-0 win against their Class AA foe.
The difference this year is that the Jackets travel to Heard County — a more than hour drive to Franklin for the team and fans alike.
There’s more on how the Jackets are looking in region play on Page D5 of this year’s Pigskin Preview, but the long and short of it is this: the Jackets are looking good to win another region championship, which would mark their third in a row in 7-AA.
Rockmart after all hasn’t lost a region game since 2016, when Pepperell took the 7-AA crown in a 31-10 loss in Lindale. The Jackets under Parson are 32-7 overall, and look to continue to improve this year. That includes playoff appearances in the last three years under his leadership as well.
Here’s some additional statistics for the fans to keep in mind as the season starts: in 7-AA, Rockmart has only lost that lone game to Pepperell in the past three years. In 5-AAA when Bin Turner helmed the Jackets, they went 2-3 and 1-4 in two years in that conference against foes like Bremen, Cedartown, Central, Coosa, and Pepperell.
In the driver’s seat and accruing wins for the record books is where Rockmart wants to stay.
“This is a product of what they’ve put into this program. The blood, sweat and tears that they’ve given up that is part of buying into the standard,” Parson said. “You create a culture that has been successful. It’s their duties as seniors to go out with the opportunity to go out as the group that has the most win in four years in Rockmart history.”
Ultimately for the Jackets, it still comes down tot he same thing no matter what.
“We want to win Game 15, and be region champions,” Parson said.