The waiting game is nearly over for the Carrollton High School football team.
Following a long offseason and extended fall camp compared to the past two years, the Trojans are finally set for lift-off upon making the short trek over to University Field on the campus of the University of West Georgia for Friday night's 2018 West Georgia Kickoff Classic.
Participating in the event for a third straight year, there will be a different feel this go-around with Class AAAAAAA East Coweta serving as the opponent and the game bumping back to Friday with an 8 p.m. start.
Regardless of date, time or opponent, third-year Carrollton head coach Sean Calhoun is certain of one thing — his troops are fired up to finally take the field and officially begin the journey into the 2018 campaign.
"We took it to them hard last week because in my eyes it was, 'How do we make up for a game?' There were a lot of other people that played and I don't want people to get a leg up. So it was trying to make up for that physicality, for that conditioning. So we did a lot of best-on-best last week, extra conditioning that we don't normally do," Calhoun said. "Last week was really good and we've had a solid week this week. Been kind of up and down. We've got to find ways to get a little better and do the easy things easy and find a little more consistency."
One area where the No. 5 Trojans (0-0) will look for a lift is in the back end of the defense, where a slew of linebackers lead the way in the middle of the arsenal with junior Kevin Swint, sophomore Chaz Chambliss and senior hybrid Jacob Cotton all returning, while a young secondary features a veteran presence from senior safety Reid Dedman and senior cornerback Charlie Lanier bringing a primarily new unit of play-makers up to speed.
"They're growing and slowly becoming one unit. Are they there where we want them yet? No, sir. But they need to be all on one accord on Friday night come 8 o'clock," Calhoun said. "Each game night is when they want to come and be on the same page. I tell you this, the biggest thing that I don't have to instill in them is for them to go full speed. It's for them to play hard. We talk all the time that if you play hard, you're going to put yourself, more times than not, in a situation to become successful or at least a chance to win a game. That group is doing that. We've got some seniors in the linebacker group and some seniors in the DB group that have taken charge of that room. It's been good to see."
Entering his third season starting on the defensive side of the ball and transitioning to middle linebacker this fall, Swint has been encouraged by the way the defense is improving through the first stages of fall leading up to Friday night's opener.
"I think it's playing out really well right now. The spring and summer, we came together really good. I think the chemistry is there. We're filling in all the young spots. I just feel like the energy is there going into Game 1," Swint said. "I think it will stay there the whole season, so hopefully we can keep it going."
Serving as somewhat of a hybrid between the linebackers and secondary is Cotton, who worked his way into a prominent role last year and is now a leader on the back end of the defense.
Cotton thought the work the team put in between the Aug. 9 scrimmage against Bremen until now has been a big boost in preparing for the Indians (0-1).
"Last week we had an off-week, but it was one of the hardest off-weeks we've ever had," Cotton said. "It was great preparation and it continued this week. I think as a whole defense, we know what's coming before they even run it just based on how they're lined up."
In the secondary, the Trojans have plenty of new faces, but returners such as Dedman and Lanier are hoping to steer the ship in the right direction.
"The secondary is young. This is my first year fully starting, but I've been here for three years. It's a young secondary, but they're hungry as I've ever seen. So I think we'll be real good," Lanier said.
And knowing that this is his final season opener donning the Black and Gold, Lanier is fired up about the opportunity to do so on such a stage as the West Georgia Kickoff Classic.
"I don't want to leave. I'm happy to be here. I love coming to practice every day, seeing all the coaches that have been here forever and my brothers out here and all my friends," Lanier said.
Looking ahead to Friday's matchup, the Indians are coming off a 36-34 setback to Kell in the Corky Kell Classic on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Now in Year 2 of the John Small era at East Coweta, the Class AAAAAAA program is looking to build off last year's 5-5 finish that featured a 5-2 start before three losses to end the season.
The Indians went 1-4 in Region 2 play, but suffered a pair of two-point setbacks and another by seven points.
Calhoun noted how the loss to the Longhorns — where they staged a huge late rally — was somewhat symbolic of what the Indians experienced last year and he believes East Coweta will be a team to reckon with in 2018 as it continues to improve and turns the corner.
"You're talking about a team that did almost everything right with yards and points and big plays and this and that and came up a little bit short on the scoreboard," Calhoun said. "You're talking about a bunch that had to get an onside kick to put themselves in a position to succeed and they got it. So just little things like that. It's a bunch that knows how to play. Obviously, they made a couple of mistakes that they know they've got to fix. They're going to be a very tough opponent to beat, for sure."
The Indians are led by Georgia Southern commit Gerald Green, who rushed for 115 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries against Kell, while quarterback Nate Cronic completed 12-of-38 attempts for 184 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions.
The Carrollton defense is hopeful of creating more East Coweta turnovers come Friday night, and Swint said it's all about the defense focusing on fundamentals and playing at a more physical rate than its opponent to get the job done and put win No. 1 for the 2018 season in the books.
"It's just playing sound football. It doesn't have to be glitz and glamour, but it's going to be a real sluggernaut," Swint said.
Friday night's contest will broadcast live on KISS 102.7 FM.