Out behind Upson-Lee High School these days you’ll hear the popping of shoulder pads, the shouting of assistant coaches, and the groans of hot and tired football players as the Upson-Lee Knights prepare for the 2015 high school football season. The weather seems hotter these days, but as I look back on my football coaching days in the 1970s, it was always hot during pre-season football practice.
As Coach Tommy Parks and his Knights look forward to their 2015 season-opener against the Pike County Pirates on September 4 at Matthews Field, they have high aspirations and expectations. They want to win every game and can probably, at this point of the season, make a strong argument that they will.
With a solid group of seasoned veterans returning, like quarterback Kalen Puckett, defensive lineman David Marshall, receiver Qua Harris, running back Quay Reviere, center Logan Gulley, and defensive back Shamare Bailey, the Knights have good reason to expect success. They are now in their second season under Coach Parks and should be more attuned to his system and his expectations.
If the Knights do expect to “win ‘em all,” and I’m not trying to put any added pressure on this group, they clearly have to win the first one. That first one, as I said earlier, comes against a team that is quickly becoming one of the Knights’ biggest rivals. The Pirates from Pike County are a quality foe and one that will give the Knights some idea of what kind of season they can expect.
The history between these two schools is only three games old. This game has opened the Upson-Lee season for the past three years and the Pirates quickly got the Knights’ attention in 2012 when they handed Upson-Lee an emotional 40-39 defeat in a double-overtime classic.
Upson-Lee learned their lesson; however, as they came back in 2013 to win 28-21 and then ran roughshod over the Pirates by a 41-7 margin in 2014. So the young series stands at 2-1 with Upson-Lee having the advantage.
Upson-Lee’s all-time record in season-opening games is 17-6. Those six losses came in 1995, 1996, 1997, 2008, 2010, and 2012. In five of those six seasons the Knights finished the year with a losing record and in the other, 1995, they finished with a 5-5 mark. So history shows that winning the season’s first game is very important. On only four occasions have the Knights won the lid-lifter and gone on to post a losing record. Those years were 1998, 2006, 2009, and 2013.
So as a new school year approaches and the Knights get ready to start their 24th football season, it seems like just a short time ago when the 1992 Knights of Coach Tommy Perdue kicked off a new football program at Upson-Lee with a 14-13 overtime victory over the Riverdale Raiders in the first game in UL history. It turned into a rainy, sloppy night, but it set the stage for a winning year, 6-4, in that inaugural season.
And by the way, for you historians, 2015 will mark the 63rd season for football at Matthews Field. The stadium opened in 1953 with R.E. Lee losing 19-18 to Griffin in a driving rainstorm. Lee went on to have a losing season so, again, winning that opener is important.
As is the case with all Knights’ fans, I look forward to a successful season with hopefully a playoff berth attached to the end. And it all begins with a win in that season-opener!
Jim Fowler is a sports columnist and retired teacher and coach who worked in the local school system for many years. He is a founding board member of the Thomaston-Upson Sports Hall of Fame and is also the statistician for the Upson Lee football team, and has written a book about the history of football at R. E. Lee High School.