For the first time in school history, the Athens Drive football players will be able to walk from their locker rooms to their stadium. The new venue, located right behind the school, will be ready for an Aug. 19 kickoff against Cardinal Gibbons.
No player will miss having to get into a bus to ride to Williams Stadium, located about a half-mile behind the school on city of Raleigh-owned land, and they’re not the only ones.
The new stadium is fully wheelchair-accessible, a major problem that ultimately pushed the project over the top years ago. The pressbox is wide, the scoreboard is large and the views are great from all angles.
“It’s got its own identity,” said first-year head coach Jeremy Fullbright. “In this county, a lot of this construction looks the same no matter where you go, but I feel like ours has a unique flavor to it.”
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Athens Drive would want to get onto the field as soon as possible even without a new stadium, if nothing just to erase the memories of an 0-11 season that included a coaching change and several blowout losses after a 28-27 loss in the opener.
“The kids are very hungry, very excited,” Fullbright said. “There was instant buy-in from the seniors, juniors and sophomores, and the freshmen have fallen right in their steps.”
How is the team and Fullbright adjusting to each other?
Fullbright was hired in January and brought over from Knightdale, where he was an assistant, to teach at Athens for the second semester. The head start was thanks to the work of late principal Dr. James Hedrick, who passed away last week.
“He set us up for success with that,” Fullbright said. “Any situation you go into, it’s not just always just breaking old habits, but it’s changing good and bad into what your new systems are. We were able to do that but slowly but surely and in a real natural way because I was able to see the kids every single day.”
Is there pressure to snap the 11-game losing skid?
Athens will celebrate once it’s over, but for now the Jags are somewhere in the middle: moving on, but remembering what to improve.
“It’s not so much to just drop everything and forget it, but you’ve got to learn how to help yourself grow from it and not let it impact you negatively,” Fullbright said.
What will be a team strength?
Last year’s team was forced to play a number of underclassmen, which means even though this year’s team is young, it has experience. A microcosm is the offensive line, where all five starters played last year but only Bryce Void, a two-way player, is a senior.
Athens has good receivers in Xzavier McNeil and Sam Enders. R.J. Ruffin and O.J. Flowers are competing for the quarterback spot.
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Last year: 0-11 (0-7 Southwest Wake 4A)
Five-year average: 4-8 (3-5)
Preseason N&O rank: Unranked
Offense: Multiple spread
Coaches: Jeremy Fullbright (HC/DC), Ben Goudeau (OC), C.J. Stephens (QBs), Anthony Saunders (RBs), Will Nassif (WRs), Gerrard Everett (WRs), Jonathan Pugh (OL), Aaron Lesane (DL), Darrell Crews (ILBs), Jimmy Ray (ILBs), John Van Dyke (OLBs), Robert Clemons (DBs)
Contributors: David McMillan (Sr., RB), Isaiah Henderson (Soph. RB), Xzavier McNeil (Sr., WR), Sam Enders (Sr., WR), Bryce Void (Sr., OL/DL), Syncere Bagley (Jr., OL), Gabe Brew (Sr., DL), Terrance Lowe (Jr., DL), Khalil Khatib (Sr., LB), Justin Smith (Jr., S), Xzavion Carter (Jr., CB)
The main number: 4 – with Fullbright’s hiring, four former Leesville Road assistants under now-Enloe coach David Green have gotten head coaching jobs in Wake County: Fullbright, Joe Kilby (former Apex coach), Chad Smothers (former Leesville coach) and Jason McGeorge (former Heritage coach).
Aug. 19 vs. Cardinal Gibbons 7 p.m.
Aug. 26 at George Washington (Va.), 7 p.m.
Sep. 1 at Grimsley, 7 p.m.
Sep. 9* at Apex, 7 p.m.
Sep. 16* vs. Fuquay-Varina, 7 p.m.
Sep. 23* at Middle Creek, 7 p.m.
Sep. 30* vs. Panther Creek, 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 BYE
Oct. 14* vs. Cary, 7 p.m.
Oct. 21* vs. Holly Springs, 7 p.m.
Oct. 28* at Apex Friendship, 7 p.m.
Nov. 4* at Green Hope, 7 p.m.
Note: *Conference game.