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Southland Academy Head Football Coach Rod Murray addresses Americus Kiwanis Club

AMERICUS – On Friday afternoon, August 28, the Americus Kiwanis Club (AKC) was treated to a speech from Rod Murray, the head football coach at Southland Academy.

Coach Murray was there to address the AKC regarding the state of the Raider program. Americus-Sumter Head Football Coach Ross Couch was supposed to be there to address the AKC about the state of the ASHS Panther program, but was unable to attend due to an issue that had come up.

The meeting was held in the dining hall of the Marshall Student Center on the campus of Georgia Southwestern State University (GSW).

Murray began by stating that Americus is and always will be his home. “I have to take this time to recognize the fact that this community, Americus, is the place that I call home. It’s where I moved to when I came to college,” said Murray. “My career started here in Americus, GA and I can’t go without saying what a fine place it is. I can remember when I was at Gatewood (private school in Eatonton, GA), for some reason, on the way home on a back road between Greensboro and Eatonton. One day, I heard, just as may radio from my Yukon was still locked on to the stations when I lived in Americus, I heard Ricky Burgess calling a basketball game. I just pulled over a little bit just to listen to it and I had a heart-warming feeling that I sure did miss Americus and miss home, so it has certainly been a big time part in my life being a part of Americus, GA and meeting the friends that I have met here.”

Murray went on to thank his alma mater, GSW, for his time there and for how his experience there has shaped his formative years. “I graduated from here, played a couple of sports, but more than anything, it set me off for a great future for me fundamentally. The ground work, the foundation that I have came from this very university,” said Murray. “My wife and I walked through the community a lot. We walked through campus and I have great pride every time I come back, when I here the bell tower ring. It just is a great place and it was very good to me when I was here.”

Murray, who is entering his seventh year as the Raiders’ head coach, went on to address the AKC about the Southland Academy football team and how it is shaping up for the 2020 season, which gets underway next Friday night at Terrell Academy.

“Everyone knows we graduated a few good classes in a row, but that doesn’t mean bad things. That means we still have high expectations,” said Murray. “We’ve got some good players left. We’ve got some young players that are going to get their names called out. We’ve built our program now to the point where we’re hoping we can keep turning things over. That’s what you want.”

Murray went on to say that the 2020 class that just graduated had a great three-year run in which they won 26 football games, won a region title and finished with two region runner ups. “We’re excited about the kids that we have left and it’s going to be very fun,” said Murray. “One fun part of coaching is to hear someone’s name get called out as their career starts to bloom.”

Murray stated that Clay Owens, the Raiders’ all-time leading rusher and all-time leader in all-purpose yards and touchdowns, has graduated and is now at Charleston Southern University, but added that the Raiders will have other backs that are ready to take over and fill the void left by Owens’ departure.

“It’s going to be fun to watch how they work because it’s their time now,” said Murray. “This year, we’re going to get to hear some new names. We’re very excited.”

Murray went on to explain the Southland offense is very versatile and will use multiple offensive schemes. “We run anything from a Wing T to the I-formation to the spread and we try to do it with the same players that we have on the field where someone can’t match personnel with us.” Coach Murray went on to summarize that a team has to match its personnel with that of the personnel of its opponent.

Charlene Pennymon (right) was officially named the Division 5 Lieutenant Governor for the Kiwanis Club of Georgia at a meeting of the Americus Kiwanis Club on Friday, August 28. This makes Americus Kiwanis Club the home club for Division 5 this year. Pennymon is standing with Judge Rucker Smith (left), the Chairman of the Americus Kiwanis Club.
Photo by Sylvia Roland

Murray stated that the Raiders’ defense will always be a 4-3 defense and that he has been running a 4-3 with two safeties for a long time. However, he also stated that he is not afraid to bring in bigger defensive linemen to load the box if necessary.

Though he prefers to stick with a 4-3 defense, Murray did say that his defense would switch to a 3-4 if the opponent tries to run a spread offense against them.

Murray stated that his starting quarterback would be senior Nathan Duke. “He’s a great commander of the huddle,” said Murray. “We will be able to run the option a lot more than what we have before.” Murray went on to say that Chase Ledger will be the backup quarterback, but will be playing other positions and not just standing on the sidelines with a clipboard. He also mentioned that he is very excited about the potential of his third quarterback, freshman Banks Simmons.

Though Clay Owens has graduated, Murray made it known that he is confident that there are other complimentary backs that can fill the void. “It’s their turn to carry the load,” said Murray. Those complimentary backs are James Griffin, Owen Exley and David Dickens. “Some of those guys will be running their wings, or they can go out and be a No. 2 receiver so we’ll spread it out with those guys,” said Murray. He also stated that the Raider offense would include a fullback trap with Exley, Ledger and Greer Hagerson. Murray went on to say that other players will be expected to contribute on offense and that it will be fun to watch. “It’s going to be fun to watch who all of a sudden shows up and who doesn’t because we haven’t had a game yet,” said Murray. “It will be fun to see this coming Friday because we are playing at Terrell.”

Murray went on to say that many players will get their opportunities, but it’s up to them to make the most of those opportunities when their time comes. “There are going to be games played and consequences,” said Murray. “If you’ve got a little light that you want to shine, you probably need to let it shine cause you’re going to get an opportunity. We’ve got to figure out who those guys are.”

Murray mentioned that while only two returning starters are on the Raiders’ offensive line, other younger players are battling for starting positions and have the potential to fill the voids left by those who graduated. “We are excited about it,” said Murray. “We’ve been running the same system now for a while so our kids seem to play pretty fast and it has helped because our pre season has been pretty good.”

Murray mentioned that senior defensive end Colman Fort has been a mainstay at that position and will be expected to continue his good work. “If you ever want to watch someone play hard, watch number 32 (Fort),” said Murray. He also mentioned that Douglas Parrish, who coaches the interior defensive line, will be entering his 58th consecutive football season as a coach. Parrish was a long time assistant coach at Americus High School under the late head coach Alton Shell, who coached the Panthers from 1971-1991. “He teaches those guys and let me tell you, he coaches them hard too,” Murray said of Parrish.

As far as his line backing corps is concerned, Murray said that Hunter McCain, who graduated this spring, made about 80 percent of the tackles for the Raiders the last couple of years, but added that Hagerson and Ledger will see time at linebacker.

As far as the secondary is concerned, Murray stated that a lot of guys will be rotating in and out. “Here’s the deal. If you can tackle somebody and cover somebody, you can play,” said Murray. “If you can’t tackle anybody and you can’t cover anybody, your reps are going to be cut down. That’s just the way it is.” Murray went on to say that the Raiders’ defense cannot afford to give up big plays and that not giving up big plays is a point of pride at Southland.

As far as special teams is concerned, Ledger will be the place kicker on kickoffs and Caleb Law will be the field goal kicker. Murray mentioned that a year ago, Law kicked a 43-yard field goal against Glenwood (AL).

In closing, Murray told the AKC that Southland Academy is excited about its football team, but that he and his coaching staff are there to coach more than football. They are there to coach life. “We want to do more than just coach the game of football,” said Murray. “If something happened to me and I didn’t make it the next day and they say ‘Well, Rod was a good coach’, that’s not enough. That’s not what we want to do. We want to have a program that’s first class, kids that know how to act and are great examples for everyone else, great role models and look after one another and are great citizens. That’s what we want to be.”

Murray finished his address by telling the AKC that his team has adopted the motto G.R.I.T.

“G stands for being Godly in what you do and how you play the game,” said Murray. “We know when we fail and we are constantly trying to correct ourselves when we fall down and slip up, but we want to be Godly in how we play the game, how we act and how we treat people.” Murray went on to say that “R” stands for respecting the process. “This is a good one, not only for my players, but for my parents and families. If you’ve got a guy that is not getting as many reps as he wants, you’ve got a couple of choices here. You can pout about it, make an excuse and be a negative attitude in the locker room, or you can start working harder or you can start doing the little things right more often than someone else instead of whining about it.”

Murray added that the “I” stands for being intelligent and knowing what one is doing as far as the fundamentals of football are concerned. “Once you learn what you’re doing, then you can be intense and we want them very intense. I don’t mind telling you,” said Murray. “When that ball moves, we want to be flying around. We won’t have it any other way.” Murray finished the acronym by saying that the “T” means to love and trust your teammates. “That’s a big one right now with the COVID stuff going around,” said Murray. He added that at any moment, football could be shut down due to the pandemic and because of that, loving and trusting one’s teammates is so important. “We’ve got to do the best we can do to keep one another healthy,” said Murray.

After Murray’s speech, there was a Q and A time with the AKC and others who were at the meeting. One person asked Coach Murray if the school was going to ask the fans to do anything different than usual because the fans want to come to the home games. Coach Murray replied that there is still some discussion as to what that will look like. “It’s going to look probably a little bit different than what it has been in the past,” said Murray.

Dr. Larry Collins, the new Headmaster at Southland Academy, stated that the school will try to separate the crowds as best as they can and that the school may pre sell tickets. Dr. Collins added that the school wants the community to come watch them play, but at the same time, during rivalry games, such as the Raiders’ home opener against Deerfield-Windsor in a few weeks, they will need to be prepared and that pre-selling tickets may be an option.

In addition to Coach Murray’s speech about the upcoming Southland Academy football season, Charlene Pennymon was officially named the Division 5 Lieutenant Governor for the Kiwanis Club of Georgia.