Photo by Derrick Mahone
Henry County first-year coach Joe Dupree hasn’t been shy with his Warhawks this summer. He’s trying to get them back to the state playoffs despite losing nearly 30 seniors to graduation.
McDONOUGH — What first-year Henry County football coach Joe Dupree walked into has been well-documented — the coaching staff overhaul, the loss of 28 seniors, the reliance on young and inexperienced players.
So what the Warhawks endured over their first three games — the 0-3 record, the 4.3 points per game on offense, the 35 points per game allowed on defense — might have been expected.
Despite the struggles, Dupree’s message never wavered. He continued to preach playing four quarters with focus, consistency and intensity, which finally produced results last Friday.
A 50-yard Hail Mary pass from freshman quarterback Will Thomas to Darius Amos gave Henry County a thrilling last-second 22-20 victory at Luella in a non-region game.
It gave Henry County its first win of the season and a much-needed infusion of confidence, which Dupree said has carried over to practice this week.
“[Practice] got a little bit of change,” Dupree said. “Winning the way we did was a confidence-booster. A lot of guys believe in what we’re doing and in themselves.”
Henry County will need that confidence going forward.
The Warhawks start region play this Friday against Central-Macon (0-4). That’s Dupree’s part of the state. He was a top quarterback recruit out of Southwest-Macon. Before coming to Henry County, he was offensive coordinator at Middle Georgia power Westside-Macon.
But after Central, the Warhawks encounter a brutal run against No. 1-ranked Peach County (4-0), No. 6 Carver-Columbus (3-1) and a much-improved Jackson (3-1) team before ending the season against Dupree’s alma mater and Pike County.
So, Friday’s win against Luella came at just the right time.
“I hope [the win] helps them understand that if you play like we played Friday for four quarters, it gives us an opportunity to win,” Dupree said. “Going into our region schedule, that’s important this time of the season.”
Henry County would like to be healthy, too, but that’s getting complicated. Starting quarterback T.J. Freeman injured his ankle in the first half Friday and didn’t return. Dupree said Freeman’s ankle is still swollen, but he’ll return to practice today and the starting job is still his if he’s healthy enough.
If not, then Henry County caught a glimpse of the future Friday in Thomas. He played the entire second half and displayed a poise and ability that belied his youth and inexperience.
“He played like he had been there before,” Dupree said. “His body language was calm, cool and collected. He just went out and did what we needed him to do. I was real proud of him.”
Indeed, Dupree has relied on a roster full of youth and inexperience after the likes of Chris Moody (South Carolina), Dalvin Tomlinson (Alabama), Jonathan Jean-Bart (Georgia State) and others graduated. Then promising defensive lineman D’von Isaac, one of the few returning seniors with varsity experience, transferred to Alpharetta over the summer.
That left the Warhawks with an experience deficit that was tough to overcome early on.
“I think it’s been a shock,” Dupree said. “For so long they’ve had good athletes and been able to win. Now we’re depending on them. I think it’s been a shock.”
But after Friday, after Henry County found a way to stay in the game against a Class AAAAAA school and win, Dupree said he likes the direction his team is going.
“Those guys have worked, worked and worked to get better. The game is starting to slow down for them,” Dupree said. “I knew when I took this job it was going to be a struggle with these young guys. I’m excited about the opportunity. The guys are really disciplined.”