This is the seventh in a series of stories on high school football teams in the Bi-City area. Coming Saturday: Shaw
By DAVID MITCHELL
When Randy Grace took over a Pacelli team that had gone winless in its final season under Bryan Eason, he had a long road ahead of him.
The number of players involved with the team had gone down significantly, there wasn't much consistency or continuity, and intensity essentially had disappeared.
Now, in just his second offseason, the team appears to be on another level.
"These guys want to be out here now," Grace said after a rain-shortened practice last Tuesday. "You can see it. Before, those guys would have been thrilled to get out of practice early. Now, you can see they're upset, and some of them are even sticking around in the weight room."
With a young roster, Grace's Vikings picked up a 22-6 win over Macon County in 2011, their only win of the season. But that, Grace said, was a starting point.
Now, the team, still young, is eyeing more in 2012: a winning record and a playoff appearance. But Grace is still just taking it one day at a time.
"I want to win one first," he said. "After we win one, then we can see what happens."
For now, the team appears to be doing everything the right way.
Intensity in practice has been a point of emphasis, as has following what Grace called a "brutal" weight training program.
The school's athletic teams have instituted an eighth period, an hour after the final bell during which all athletes are required to attend weight training before practice.
Practices have been physical.
"We're old school," Grace said. "We're coming out and going full speed every time."
And, so far, the players have bought in.
"Even in our middle school program," Grace said. "We started that, and, last year, it went 4-2. Our junior varsity went 5-1. And these kids playing on Friday night -- we started eight freshmen on defense and five on offense last year.
"The future looks bright, but we aren't playing for the future. We're playing for now."
Pacelli added a quarterback during the offseason in Wyatt Peterson, formerly of Columbus High, who should help in that goal.
The 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior put up big numbers in Columbus' spread offense but will be relied upon differently in Pacelli's option.
Grace said one of the most significant qualities Peterson will bring to the team is his leadership and desire to win.
"The great thing about him is his attitude and the fact that he wants to be a part of something," Grace said. "That's something you can't coach. He loves being in the locker room with the guys. He loves being in the weight room. He loves hanging out with the guys on the weekend. Not to mention he has great athletic ability. He's just a pleasure to coach."
Peterson said that he came to Pacelli because he wanted to win, a sign of the faith he has in the direction of the program, considering the team won just once last year.
"I want to win games," he said. "That's what we focus on here, and we all buy into it. We really want to go to the playoffs."
Thomas Wilson, a sophomore safety who led the team in tackles with 67 as a freshman, has the same impression of the team.
Practice is more intense, he said, and the Vikings have shown more commitment to doing what it takes to succeed.
"We have more commitment and heart," he said. "We need more, but I think it's getting better."
With two-thirds of the team still underclassmen, the 2012 season will be a difficult task. But Grace sees the potential and is excited about what his team can do.
"From where we were to where we are, it's about a thousand miles," he said. "And we've still got a million more to go. But we've made a ton of progress."
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571
Head Coach: Randy Grace
Region: Region 4-A
Last season's record: 1-9, 1-9 in Region 4-A
Last season's playoff record: 0-0
Aug. 31 at Crawford Co. 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 14 Stewart Co. 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 20 at Baconton Ch. 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 28 Central-Talbotton 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 5 at Brookstone 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 12 Marion Co. 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 19 at Greenville 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 Dooly Co. 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 2 at Schley Co. 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 9 at Hawkinsville 7:30 p.m.