CONYERS - Rockdale football coach Mike Etheridge believes in taking things one step a time.
And as the Bulldogs open their season today at Madison County, their first step is stopping a team in their Region 8-AAAA opener that the second-year coach knows pretty well and knows isn't a conservative opponent.
"I've played coach (Randall Owens) for the last eight or nine years; I know them pretty well and they know me pretty well," said Etheridge, who in the early part of the decade was defensive coordinator at Salem when Owens was Heritage's head coach. "They do a lot of tricks, they run the option, kind of (an) option/throw football team. We're going to try and put a lot of heat on them and make them throw quick."
Offensively, Rockdale expects to be in most games in 2009 thanks to returning senior quarterback Isaiah Gresham and a bevy of solid senior running backs, including Kyle Tippins, A.J. Ward, Michael Griffiths, Tavaris Williams and Darius Lucas.
The core of talent was on hand in last season's opener when Rockdale knocked off Madison County, 25-14 at Reid Stadium.
"We've got a pile of (running backs); they're all pretty good," Etheridge said.
The talent and speed lies not only in the backfield. The defense and special teams is full of speedy athletes who are able to cover the field and help the Bulldogs, 5-5 last season after a 3-0 start, win the field position battles.
It also helps to have a kicker like Brandon Story, who Etheridge was impressed with during last weekend's scrimmage with McIntosh.
"We've got the speed to flip the field in a hurry; someone makes a mistake, our little fellas are going to be gone," Etheridge said. "Field position is very important (and a) short field is nice to play on. We've got the athletes (and) we're fortunate. ... I think our kicking game is pretty good."
Rockdale begins its march to a hopeful playoff berth with tonight's road contest.
Etheridge is aware of how competitive the region race will be and expects a similar finish to 2008 when eight of the 11 league teams won at least five games.
He also likes the fact that, unlike a lot of Class AAAA regions, all 10 Region 8-AAAA games count in the league standings.
"It's fun to play this way, you know at the end who's who," Etheridge said. "There's a lot of parity in this region (and) you've got to make less mistakes than everyone else. We expect to be there in the end."
Kurt Aschermann Jr. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
SideBar: Rockdale at Madison Co.
· Where: Red Devil Stadium, Danielsville
· When: Tonight, 7:30
· Last meeting: Rockdale 25, Madison County 14
· Series: Rockdale leads 4-1