Winning and producing top-notch teams and players is nothing new at Darlington. Tommy Atha enters his 21st season as the head coach at the school but has served as a coach for the football program for 30 years. While some people might get tired of the same job, the enthusiasm still comes through Atha’s voice as he talks about the upcoming season. 

“One of the things I love about being at Darlington is that I can say as a coach I’ve seen a lot of football here in 30 years,” Atha says. “But unequivocally there is just as much excitement about our football team in 2022 as there was in 1993.” 

Excitement might be the word for the year when talking about the 2022 version of Darlington. The Tigers reached the state quarterfinals last season, marking the 15th consecutive trip to the playoffs for the Tigers. That coupled with a crop of solid returning players and a new region which promises to be competitive should have the fans at a frenzied pitch when the season kicks off. 

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A lot of it starts with the new address in Region 7A Division 1 with Armuchee, Chattooga, Coosa, Dade County, Pepperell, and Trion. Most of the schools are long-time foes, but the Tigers hadn’t faced some of them in a year or two because of differing regions and classifications. 

“I think this is a really competitive region. It’s a region with a lot of teams that have great support and a lot of good teams from top to bottom,” Atha says. “I’m glad we don’t have to travel to Marietta and Atlanta every other week. Getting to play these local teams is going to make these games more exciting.” 

The Tigers not only face a tough region schedule but also boast a super competitive non-region schedule, including a trip to Florida as well as games against Class 4A Sonoraville, Christian Heritage, and Class 4A Northwest Whitfield. 

“I’ll be honest. We’ve always prided ourselves on playing good people away from our region to help us get better prepared to play our region opponents,” Atha says. “We’re going to play some talented, well-coached teams before we play any of our region games, and we think that’s going to work in our favor when it comes time to play in the region.” 

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While the Tigers lost some talent from last year’s quarterfinal squad, Darlington still has plenty of players to lean on. Atha quickly points to three senior linemen as literal foundations for this year’s team. 

“Everything starts on the line of scrimmage, and we always take pride in our lineman. We’re excited about this group this season,” he says. “We have three seniors on the line, Briant Powell, Gus Gammage, and Gatlin Hancock. All three of these kids are difference makers for us.” 

Atha also noted several other players to watch out for including Eli Thompson, Jack Good, who will play both linebacker and quarterback, Hyland Thomas, who is coming back from a tough knee injury last season, and Bowden Owens, who plays running back and defensive back.  

“I think Bowden Owens is a kid that will really get people’s attention this year,” Atha says. “Eli Thomason can be a difference maker, and Jack Good has a chance to really be a big force for us on both sides of the ball this season.” 

When asked what it would take for the Tigers to make another repeat trip deep into the playoffs like last season, Atha doesn’t pump the brakes. But he does mention that there are a lot of factors in having a great season. 

“There are a lot of things that have to fall into place unless you are just overwhelmingly better than other teams. You have to stay healthy because we don’t have a lot of depth,” Atha says. “We just need to believe in ourselves and take things one step at a time. If we trust the process hopefully good things will happen.” 

An injury while running at Auburn ended Jim Alred’s long-shot hopes of possibly competing in the Olympics, so he turned to writing and has been crafting award-winning stories across multiple mediums ever since. Along the way he’s been chased by a grizzly bear, worked as Goofy at Walt Disney World, been nominated for two Emmys, interviewed celebrities like Tiger Woods, Bo Jackson, Bill Clinton, coaches his daughters in cross country and soccer and can often be found running with his wife, Tara, around Rome.