Inside Preps: Different Vibe at George Jenkins
Thu. October 25, 2012 at 4:09 a.m. | By Solange Reyner
Kids taunt and tease.
But the rattling I hear at the Lakeland-George Jenkins volleyball game about how stinky Jenkins' football team is will likely stop after last Friday's game.
I don't think Lakeland fans have much ammo this time around because Jenkins gave Lakeland a run for its money and had its fans shaking in their boots.
Lakeland eventually won, 30-27 in double overtime.
If you haven't been to a Jenkins-Lakeland volleyball match, then head over today. The fans are entertaining, to say the least, and they get pretty pumped for the contest, or at least to rip into the fans on the other side.
Both times I've attended matches between the district foes, Jenkins' fans have cheered "cheaters, liars" referring to the preseason fiasco last year when three football players who transferred from Jenkins to Lakeland before the school year started were ruled ineligible by the FHSAA for falsifying information to do so.
Lakeland fans have retorted "0 and 10," referring to Jenkins' record last year.
Time for a new cheer.
The Eagles are 3-5 overall, 1-1 in the 7A-7 district and could be the surprise team from Polk to secure a playoff berth.
They could have been 5-3 had they outlasted Lake Gibson and Kathleen.
Both were close games, and Jenkins was beating Kathleen 18-6 on Sept. 7. They eventually fell 20-18. That game was proof that Jenkins was going to be tough to beat.
And after big losses to Winter Haven and Lake Wales, Friday's game was proof that Jenkins has come a long way.
An unbiased observer emailed me earlier this week: "I saw Jenkins three or four weeks ago, and it doesn't even look like the same team... so much better."
The turnaround is simple to explain.
Four starters from last year's team — John Liptak, Austyn Groves, Tanner Reeves and Trent Rains — returned with the energy to want to help turn things around, and the coaching staff has rallied behind head coach Eric Gallon to help him build something special.
"He's corralled us all together from Day 1," said defensive coordinator Robert Odum. "We already had a plan before the season started and that was mostly him putting it into place. We didn't have to scramble."
The key now is to not fall off, said Gallon, who is in his first year as head coach.
The Eagles play Ridge Community on Friday in another district match-up.
They lose and they're out of the postseason.
"Last year, we played Lakeland pretty tough and wound up getting beat 38-0 to Ridge the following week," he said. "Week in and week out, we preach to them what the game of football is all about and how you're going to have highs and lows. We have to prepare and compete and understand our assignments week in and week out."
The players aren't the only ones who need to be reminded of that message.
"As coaches, we can't let up, either," Gallon said.
"That's something we talked about as a staff this week, too."
Jenkins hasn't been to the playoffs since 2005. Regardless of whether this is the year they make it back, they've made significant improvements from last year.
They have to decide whether they'll be contenders or pretenders.