“I remember a couple years ago when we were never picked to win … when we were [other teams’] homecoming game every week,” said Whitley.
The Tigers went 2-8 in his first year at the helm. Wins and losses were secondary then as Whitley and staff sought to put championship-caliber building blocks in place.
The program’s journey to relevance brought them to a Nov. 16 date with Worth County in the opening round of the Class 4-A playoffs.
On paper, Stockbridge has the talent to defeat all comers in the postseason — but only if it takes an age-old gridiron mantra to heart.
“It’s not exactly a new idea, but we try to take the approach of taking things one game at a time,” said Whitley. “We have a chance to win it all … but the only way we can do that is by focusing on [that week’s opponent].”
That even-keeled approach allowed the Tigers to bounce back in a big way after a season-opening shutout loss to M.K. King as some Stockbridge faithful panicked in its wake.
The Tigers reeled off nine straight wins en route to earning their third consecutive playoff berth.
The team looks to follow the same formula responsible for its success to date — playing good defense and special teams while not turning the ball over on offense.
Regardless of how things pan out in 2012, Stockbridge is set up for a bright near-future and possibly beyond.
Nine starters on defense will be back next year, including junior middle linebacker Cameron Gordon and stalwart defensive ends, junior Timarcus Cullins and sophomore Titus Davis. Safety Javon Brandon, a junior, will also be back to wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks and receivers.
The Tigers figure to have six offensive starters return for more gridiron glory in 2013 as well. A talented group of underclassmen back-ups, including freshman quarterback/running back/special teams standout Malachi Brown, also figures to make more noise.
“We’re a young program — we’re very excited about where we’re going,” said Whitley.
As is the nature of prep sports, Whitley also faces the bittersweet task of parting ways with a senior class featuring the likes of safety Corey Hall.
“We came here together — when they were ninth graders,” said Whitley. “When they arrived, Stockbridge wasn’t the place to be … our school had never been to the playoffs. We changed that.”
Stockbridge topped Worth County 27-14 in first round Class 4-A play last week. The Tigers will next play host to Wayne County Friday night.
Union Grove beat Bainbridge 21-14 last week to advance to the second round of the Class 5-A playoffs. The Wolverines will play at Ware County Friday night.