The Rome Wolves are back on a new gridiron and rearing to go in 2020. After a 9-3 2019 season, ending with a 25-17 second-round playoff loss at Warner Robins, the Wolves realign to Region 5-6A.
Head coach John Reid, entering his sixth season with the Wolves, was recently named by Maxpreps as the top high school football coach in the state. Reid is expecting big things from his squad in 2020.
“Our expectations are always the same: have fun doing what we do ... and play every down as hard as we can,” Reid said in a phone interview. “People may find it hard to believe, but our goal isn’t so much as state champions and all that stuff, we just try to see how many downs we play as hard as we possibly can.”
Since the end of 2019, Reid said Rome has graduated two of its top defensive linemen in Jorden Neal and Raquon Jones, its entire secondary and offensive line.
“We are going to be a young team,” Reid said on the 2020 roster. “It’s going to be challenging as young as we are, so that’s got me excited. We’re going to have to play some sophomores and probably a freshman or two have a chance at playing.”
Winning back-to-back state championships in 2016 and 2017, Reid said there’s a lot of pressure and prestige that comes along with being a starter on either side of the ball.
“If we would have a freshman that starts, it would be based on a need at a position or a kid’s really going to have to be a pretty good player,” Reid added. “It’s a lot to ask, especially with a tough schedule.”
While the Wolves might be overall young, they will be returning their starting quarterback in rising senior Caleb Ellard. They also return running back EJ Burks and receivers Donta’ Foster and Jaquavious Wise.
“Just being a part of Rome football,” Reid said. “I think the kids love it, enjoy it and it’s a big deal to them and our community.”
The Wolves will also turn to a new kicker after Alonzo Rodriguez graduated. Rodriguez, a two-time Special Teams Region Player of the Year, was a perfect 59-of-59 on extra point attempts and 98% of his kickoffs go for touchbacks.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly ending sports across the nation in March, schools have had limited interaction with their varsity teams. Under GHSA guidelines, Rome football slowly phased in more on-campus conditioning and Reid said workouts had been well-attended.
“Our kids have been excited and I think determined to do a good job,” Reid said. “I think the kids got a greater respect and appreciation once they didn’t get to do anything like this for three months.”
Reid said he and his staff spent a lot of time going into great detail over everything from the weight room to the practice field.
“How they’ve spent time making a plan and implementing a plan is difficult,” Reid said. “There’s a lot of challenges to keep bars and benches and people clean and sanitized in the weight room. That’s been impressive with the coaches and ... they just take all the challenges and move on.”
Now back to full practice, Reid said the entire program has been working with the expectation of a complete season.
“Kid’s are pretty excited about it,” Reid said. “That’s the best part about football is these kids get to get out. You have some precautions you have to take ... those things are kind of becoming habit now.”
Rome’s regional competition in 5-6A will feature some new faces and familiar foes. One of those is the Carrollton Trojans, who bested the Wolves in a tight-knit 24-20 defeat in 2019.
Reid said there’s a “pageantry” to Rome football, as the team marches across the bridge at the convergence of the Oostanaula and Etowah Rivers and takes the field at Barron Stadium under the watchful eyes of a blowup wolf head.
“There’s a lot of high school kids that are in high school that were in elementary (school) in 2015 that have been going to games,” Reid said. “They expect victory, so I think that’s neat.”
With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the atmosphere at Barron Stadium will look like in the fall and how different will it be from year’s past.
One change coming is all spectators will be required to wear face masks. Social distancing will also be prioritized.
The Wolves are scheduled to open their season against the Rockmart Yellow Jackets on Friday, Sept. 4, at Barron Stadium.