By Maurice Patton
Where’s Clay County? Columbia Academy football fans want to know.
The Bulldogs, who as late as Friday night were set to make a short trip to Lewisburg for their season opener this weekend against Marshall County, will instead make a 2½-hour drive to Celina and face the reigning Region 4-1A runner-up Bulldogs.
Between Marshall County and Clay County was the possibility of a CA/Knoxville West matchup – one veteran coach Charlie Lansdell eventually thought better of.
“About five minutes before I was going to call and confirm with Knoxville West, I got a text that McEwen and Clay County were also looking for games,” said Lansdell, who found himself without a return game once Marshall County experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases and initiated talks to cancel the upcoming contest following the Tigers’ 41-7 win last year.
“Those two are a little more our size. I thought I’d give Clay County a call and see what they thought, and he (coach Jake Johnson) was open to playing. We talked about it and decided it’d be good for both of us. Another factor – we have Shelbyville in Week 2. A school of our size playing (Class) 5A teams back-to-back, a state semifinalist and a state quarterfinalist, I wanted to be smart.”
Located north of Cookeville, Clay County went 8-4 a year ago, finishing second behind Monterey in league play and falling to South Pittsburg in the second round of the postseason.
Clay County found itself with two unexpected openings, as a pair of neighboring Kentucky programs – Monroe County and Clinton County – were forced to cancel in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“At first Monroe was a go and we weren’t, and then we got opened up and (Kentucky) got shut down till Sept. 11, so we lost two games,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, the world in general is abnormal to say the least. We hadn’t had any promising offers before Coach Lansdell called.
“You want to compete, (but) you feel better playing against somebody that, numbers-wise, you match up against. We’ve got 30-something kids, they’ve got 30-something kids. We’re going into it essentially blind – no scrimmages, no 7-on-7 — but at some point, the kids have got to play. You just let the chips fall.”
While Clay County may be no match for perennial Class 4A power Marshall County or Knoxville West, Lansdell warned that his Bulldogs will have to be on their toes no less come Friday.
“They had a really good season last year. It’s going to be a challenge,” he said. “We’re still trying to get back to where we need to be. I think this’ll be a good matchup for us.”
Lansdell also warned that being adaptive may be a must this fall.
“I honestly believe we’re going to be dealing with issues on a weekly basis – whether it’s missing kids because of the virus or contact tracing or other teams having to cancel because they’re going through issues,” he said. “We’re going to have to be flexible, stay on top of things as best we can, always put the players’ safety first and try to piece together a season.
“Everything changes, and it could change before Friday night. I think all the coaches understand that. It’s not like coaches are canceling games to avoid competition. It’s all about safety.”
Maurice Patton is the editor for Southern Middle Tennessee Sports. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @mopatton_sports.