MORE EXPERIENCE, MORE HARD WORK, AND SOME RETURNING PLAYERS that are beginning to help change a mindset have Woodland coach Brandon Haywood super excited about the upcoming season.
The Wildcats finished 1-9 in 2022 but had several games that were close and Heywood understands the process of building the program.
“My mentor told me that when you’re taking over a program that has not been built on winning that there are really four phases. The first phase is to create a sense of competitiveness. The second phase is to lose small. The third phase is to win small, and the final phase is to win big,” Haywood says. “I don’t believe in moral victories. And sometimes it’s tough to find a positive after a loss on Friday night, but we finally are starting to see a sense of confidence in our kids that hasn’t been around in a while.”
That confidence and work ethic has shown in the offseason and this summer, as the squad prepares for the 2023 campaign.
“I think the summer is going extremely well. We are 180 degrees different as a team from this time last year,” Haywood says. “Just seeing the players in the system and understanding expectations. We’re getting some good senior leadership from a lot of kids. I put together as many seven versus seven games as I could to compete and a couple of OTA-padded camps. Right now, we are trending in the right direction. They are buying into what we are putting out.”
The Wildcats also have some good experience coming back with five returning players who earned all-region honors in 2022.
Those five players: Isaiah Livsey, Sam Carlsen, Kwadrus Wilson, Dylan Carver, and Zach Wiggins are all going to be counted on to play big roles this season.
“Isiah is a great running back, and we’re trying to find different ways to get him involved in the offense and try to create some matchup problems for opposing defense,” Haywood says. “Carlsen is a big offensive linemen. He’s been getting some looks from colleges and has really been excelling this summer.”
Haywood notes that Wilson might be the best defensive lineman in the region, as the interior defender recorded 60 tackles from his position.
“He’s destructive, and he’s really hard to block,” Haywood says. “We want to find different ways to get him more involved to create matchup problems.”
Dylan Carver an inside linebacker, who is a bit smaller than the typical linebacker size, makes up for his smaller size and weight by being a sparkplug on the field.
“Carver is known around the region as small dynamite. He is probably the smallest inside linebacker around, but he plays with a huge chip on his shoulder,” Haywood says. “The one thing people can’t measure is how big this kid’s heart is.”
Wiggins, a defensive back and wide receiver, rounds out the list of five returning all-region
players and the rangy defensive back with good hands helps the Wildcats on both sides of the ball.
“As coaches, we’ve tried to put these players in a lot of tough positions this summer just because region play is going to be a fight for our life in every game,” Haywood says. “And we’re not taking it easy in non-region play, because we have are starting off with Lassiter in a preseason game. We will see where we are.”
Haywood says he hopes to see the squad compete in the first couple of games and hopefully set the tone for the remainder of the season. The Wildcats open the regular season with East Paulding before taking on three Floyd County schools in Coosa, Model, and Pepperell and then facing Osborne before region play begins on Sept. 29 with a big away game at Cass.
“It’s always hard to take over a program. I think we are doing a better job this year by changing things offensively and defensively to fit our players better,” Haywood says. “We look and evaluate what we can do to help them, and that’s just letting them do what they are best at. I think we are doing a good job trying to utilize their skill set.”
Putting kids in the right positions, growing the right mindset, and continuing to build the program are all checkmarks on the list Haywood is using for the Wildcats.
“I’m just excited for the season. It’s always good to be in a spot where there are some low expectations. Everything the players have done might have surprised them,” Heywood says. “It’s no surprise to us. That’s one of the components we are building. Losing is a trait, but winning is one too. That’s what we’re aiming for.”