Scores like 53-7 and 42-7 sound somewhat typical for struggling programs playing early, non-region games against stronger opponents looking for easy out-of-league wins before the region schedule starts.
Landmark Christian has laid those numbers on overmatched foes on occasion. But not this season. In fact, Landmark was on the short end of both of those scores in its first two games this season, losses to Class AA B.E.S.T. Academy from Atlanta and Class AAAA Central-Carrollton.
So for a program in its 30th season competing in the Georgia High School Association, with an overall record of 174-116-1 with five region championships and a state title appearance, there is but one question: What’s up with Landmark this year?
Head coach Wayne Brantley, in his sixth season as head coach and his 12th overall at the Fairburn school, does not shy away from his team’s struggles thus far. He said a combination of circumstances is the cause.
“Over the last two seasons we’ve graduated 16 seniors apiece. That’s a total of 32 seniors in two years,” Brantley said. “Then we had a tough off season. We had six kids transfer and six more kids who decided not to play football in order to concentrate on other sports fulltime. Most all of them would most likely have been starters for us.”
Brantley said the transfers left Landmark for a variety of reasons, none of them related to football.
“I talked to all of them and their families,” he said. “For some it was a financial thing. For some it was academic. Nothing to do with football at all.”
Then to add injury to insult, six more players who are starters or play significant roles on the team are out with injuries. That includes standout sophomore RB/DB Dalton Colburn, who is done for the year with a stress fracture in his hip.
“And on top of all of that, B.E.S.T. Academy and Central-Carrollton are two really good teams,” Brantley said. “I don’t want to take anything away from either of them.”
So the War Eagles are lining up with 10 ninth-grade starters – five on offense and five on defense. Two of those starters weigh all of 110 pounds. So for now, Brantley said the focus is on getting better each week.
“I’m telling our guys all I want them to do is practice as hard as they can and get one percent better every day,” Brantley said. “Don’t worry about our record.”
He said he has been encouraged by the progress the team has made.
“We played better against B.E.S.T. than we did in our scrimmage against Mount Pisgah, and we played better against Central-Carrollton than we did against B.E.S.T.," Brantley said. “We just need to keep working to get better and by the end of the season I think we’ll see a lot of improvement.
“I think the group we have now can be really good in a couple of years,” Brantley said. “We have a quarterback, running back and receiver, all ninth graders, who I think can be the best we’ve had at those positions.”
The problem with that, Brantley acknowledged, is that this week Landmark travels to Macon to take on No. 10 Stratford Academy. The final three games on the schedule are No. 3 Wesleyan, Holy Innocents’ and blood-rival No. 1 Eagle’s Landing Christian.
For a program that has not had a losing season since 2000, Brantley said he feels for this year’s five seniors, all of whom have been in the program for four years.
“They are a great group of kids and I don’t want them to feel any pressure about not being the class to have a losing record,” Brantley said of C Kyle Carrerra, OL Al Hogan, DE Greyson Korta, CB Mason Wallace and DE Renzy Wilke. “I told them at the end of the day, they will be remembered for how hard they worked, how well they treated their teammates and how well they led the team.”
So far, Brantley said the quintet has passed that test with flying colors. Over the summer, he assigned each of them four freshmen to mentor. They bonded with them by hosting pizza and swimming parties, and bowling outings with them.
“Those freshmen really respect those guys,” Brantley said, “and so does our whole team. I wish I had 10 more of them like we’ve had in the past.”
But that’s not the case this season, and Brantley knows that with loses come whispers from the bleachers, the concession stand and the parking lot.
“I’d say about 95 percent of our parents have been great and they understand what we’re going through,” Brantley said. “But I also know there are probably about five percent who will talk about what we’re not doing. Even when we’ve won eight, nine, 10 games, they’ve talked about what we should have done to win more or go further. But that’s the way it is.”
However, Brantley said he and his coaches will keep relying on the foundation the Landmark program is built upon.
“I think we do a great job of building young men of character and of faith,” Brantley said, “and I think our parents would agree. And that’s really what this is all about.”