The Milledgeville Missiles broke the huddle and lined up on the football, running backs trailing the quarterback and five linemen flanked by wide receivers. They proceeded to run an offensive play against a scout defense, then headed back to the huddle to start again.
While this is a familiar scene from football practices all over the country, it hasn't been as customary in Milledgeville the past few seasons.
But the numbers crunch the Missiles have experienced recently – thanks to very few boys in already small classes – has eased up this fall. Three years removed from having just 18 players in the entire program, and 2 years after forfeiting a game due to injuries and health issues, the Missiles' numbers are back on the upswing.
"This is the first time since 2005, I think, that we've been able to have separate practices with the varsity and fresh-soph," fifth-year coach Jason Wroble said. "We can practice at full speed and with full lines – instead of going with half-lines and running our specific-direction plays, then switching – and it's really nice. It's something that most teams take for granted, but we're thrilled to have the ability to do it."
After seeing the program grow to 30 players last year, the Missiles have 38 guys between the two levels this season, with the players split pretty evenly between the two squads. Not only can they have separate practices, but Milledgeville will also play a full slate of fresh-soph and varsity games each week; in the recent past, it's been varsity-only.
But it's not just about sheer numbers this year; it's the experience that accompanies it. With players having to play varsity from Day 1 as freshmen during the past few seasons, the Missiles are stocked with 3- and 4-year starters in the lineup.
"We've got a lot of experienced players with a lot of knowledge to teach the younger kids," Wroble said, "and now, the guys who went through the lean years have other guys to lean on."
Milledgeville lost just three players – half of the boys in the class of 2013 – to graduation, and bring back 13 guys who started at some point or another last season.
That means not only are there more players on the team, but they're also seasoned veterans.
"It's not good that we had those numbers issues," senior Devin Biller said, "but it's definitely a good thing that we have so much playing experience from it. It's going to make a big difference, having so many guys who can step in and know what's going on and help us turn the corner."
Last year, the Missiles' goal was to snap a 20-game losing streak coming into the season; they did that with a 39-20 victory over Durand in Week 6. That has Milledgeville thinking a bit bigger this preseason.
This year's mantra isn't about winning one game, or just being competitive. It's about helping the program start the ascent back to the heights it reached in 2008, when the Missiles played in the Class 1A state semifinals.
"We've had the experience of winning, and it's time for us to get this program back into the swing of things," senior Daniel Walker said. "We have a lot of trust in each other, and responsibility and ownership of this. We just want to follow the lead of the classes that came before us, and keep passing that on to the guys who will come after us."
And there will be even more of them. Wroble said the seventh-grade class is rather large, and the Missiles of today want to make sure they leave something behind for the players of tomorrow to build on.
Milledgeville's players believe they have the physical tools and mental toughness to do just that, and are ready to turn some heads, open some eyes and have their opponents take some notice.
"We're harping all the time, there are no excuses this year," senior Kameron DawTyne said. "We all have experience, we all know what we have to do on the field, and now we just have to put it into motion on Friday nights."
Missiles on the mend
• Milledgeville has seen its numbers from from 18 in the entire program in 2010 to 38 this season, enough to play a full varsity & fresh-soph schedule. The numbers crunch forced the Missiles to forfeit their Week 3 game in 2011.