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Powell has transformed Georgiana

I covered a Georgiana football game for one of my earliest assignments as a reporter with the Greenville Advocate. 

This was in 2012 so, as was the case in every game with one exception, it ended in a loss.

I don’t remember much about 2012. The world was supposed to end, according to some Mayan doomsday calendar.  Also, remember Gangnam Style? And ostensibly, some other stuff happened that I’ve forgotten.

But what I remember very clearly is the crushing sense of disappointment from that Georgiana sideline.  As someone who also played for a football team that went 1-9 during his junior year, it was a familiar sensation.

That feeling didn’t just stick with me, or even just with the members of that 2012 team.  Georgiana’s current head football coach, Ezell Powell, was also watching from a distance.

He told me in a postgame interview Friday that nearly everyone who talked to him about taking the head coach position at Georgiana in 2013 said that he couldn’t do it. 

He was told “the kids won’t listen,” and other excuses.

But whereas most people looked at Georgiana in that 2012 season, myself included, and saw hopelessness and despair, Coach Powell saw the spark of something much greater.

“I knew it wouldn’t be easy,” Powell said to me after last Friday night’s win. “But I watched these kids come back week-in and week-out and get beaten. So I knew they loved to play the game of football.  They were just looking to be pushed in the right direction.

“I tell them that I walk by faith and not by sight, and that’s what I want them to do. I want you to trust in God and your ability and work hard at what you do, and we’ll let the results speak for themselves.”

The Panthers were still very clearly in their early stages in 2013.  The team climbed to 4-6, a feat which remains a marked improvement over their previous season—and in fact, better than their previous two seasons combined, if we’re counting.

The hint of promise grew much clearer in 2014, when the Panthers made their first playoff appearance since 2009.  Still, the light faded in the first round when the Panthers narrowly fell to Notasulga by five points.

But if 2013 and 2014 were threats, the 2015 season was a promise.  The Panthers finished the regular season with a 9-1 finish—the best in two decades—and reclaimed the region championship. 

Their only loss was to Greenville—a Class 5A school, and a particularly talented iteration of the Tigers team with now-Auburn defensive star Marlon Davidson at the helm.

The team fell in the third round to Maplesville, though they came closer than anyone had that season to defeating them (eight points).

Believe it or not, that eight-point difference from two years ago is the closest anyone has come to beating them since.

In 2016, the Panthers achieved regular-season perfection with a 10-0 finish and the team’s second region championship.

And as of this past Friday, the Panthers have done it again with another 10-0 regular season finish and the team’s third straight region championship.

To recap, in the span of five years, the Panthers have gone from 1-9 to a pair of consecutive 10-0 seasons.  It’s a story that would make the writers of Friday Night Lights blush.

It’s a story that also has a clear and definite starting point—the hiring of Coach Powell.

The 2017 Panthers are a team that wins not because their coaching staff has told them so, but because they believe it themselves.  And as anyone who has seen Georgiana’s blistering speed on Friday nights this season, there’s little reason why they shouldn’t.

I don’t know how far the Panthers will go in 2017.  I’m a reporter, and not a fortuneteller, so it would be irresponsible of me to claim that the Panthers will finally walk away with a championship this season.

But it doesn’t matter if I believe it.  I’m pretty sure they do.  And the belief in themselves that Powell has established will last long after this year’s champion is decided.