VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) - Only a few high school teams are still practicing at this point.
Valdosta is happy to be one of them. The Wildcats will try to win the program's 24th state championship Friday night in the Class AAAAAA title game against Tucker.
The Wildcats got in their final practice at the high school this season Wednesday afternoon. They'll hit the road for Atlanta Thursday morning. Head coach Alan Rodemaker says practice this week, much like the last few weeks, has been really good.
"We haven't had a perfect practice every time, but our kids are always ready to practice. They're ready to go to work," he says. "It's fun. Most coaches this time of the year just want to keep on coaching because the kids are more focused than they are throughout the whole year. We've had a lot of fun over the last two or three weeks."
"Everybody's focused in. Everybody's locked in," says senior TE/WR Jontae Baker. "I think everybody's ready."
Rodemaker says most weeks, he and the Wildcats embrace the rich history Valdosta football has developed over the years. But 18 years without a state title can create some restless fans.
That's why the Wildcats' focus is solely on Tucker this week.
But Rodemaker admits winning a state title would be very gratifying for his players.
"These kids have heard since they started playing football, 'You guys aren't as good as us.' All their grandfathers, fathers, uncles, and brothers have [championship] rings on their fingers, and these guys don't have that yet," Rodemaker says. "If we're fortunate enough to win the thing, no one can ever tell them they're not good enough."
State championship week is always a weird one for coaches.
Teams usually make travel plans that are much different than the ones they're used to. Plus, there's the whole Georgia Dome factor.
Coaches often worry about how the players will react to stepping on a massive stage like the Dome. Luckily for the Wildcats, neither of those concerns is exactly foreign.
The Wildcats made a long trip to Dalton last Friday night for the state semifinals, and many of the Wildcats played in the Georgia Dome for the Corky Kell Classic to open the 2015 season. Rodemaker believes both of those experiences will help his team adapt Friday night.
"[Playing in the Corky Kell] really helped prepare us. Hopefully, they won't be awestruck when they walk into the building," he says. "With us playing in Dalton last week, the itinerary, the agenda was exactly the same. I think playing out of town really helped us prepare for this experience."
The Wildcats will leave for Atlanta Thursday morning, and fans will be holding a send-off for the team at Valdosta High at 10:00 a.m.