Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips. Wesleyan defenders Merritt Hall (34) and Brady Donovan (52) go after the Athens Academy quarterback during their game earlier this season.
Players circle certain games on the schedule every season.
Even though their coach would have preferred otherwise, the Wesleyan Wolves were no different.
The defending state champion and top-ranked Wolves (10-0) were looking for challenges this season. They thought there would be some. There really weren't, but that didn't stop the players from anticipating.
"I'd like to see us be steady in our approach each week, but I'm also dealing with teenage boys," head coach Franklin Pridgen said. "But absolutely they have taken on a playoff mentality. They're more focused and intense."
That attitude might have bugged Pridgen during the regular season, but he's fine with it now.
Wesleyan steamrolled through its first 10 games and then had its bye last week. It gave the Wolves a chance to rest up and extra time to prepare for the first round of playoffs.
Pridgen gave the players two three-day weekends with off days last Monday and Friday.
"Thankfully we didn't have a lot of healing to do, but players and coaches alike were exhausted," Pridgen said. "We didn't call it an off week though. We called it an extra week. We saw it as an opportunity to address some areas we thought we needed improvement.
"We had an idea of who we would be playing and the things they did, so we began to rep against their schemes. We had a very productive week. The boys left eager and excited and they have returned very refreshed."
None of that is good news for Whitefield Academy. Wesleyan's first-round foe is the No. 4 seed out of Region 5-A and is 6-4 this season. The Wolves and Wolfpack had three common opponents. Whitefield lost to two of those and beat the other by a much slimmer margin than undefeated Wesleyan.
But Pridgen said his team is still amped up for the challenge Whitefield provides.
He said the Wolfpack is fast and elusive in the backfield, stout on defense and just a dangerous team.
"They pose a lot of challenges to us, particularly running to the edge with their offense and then blitzing off the edge with their defense," Pridgen said.
Whitefield also uses a two-quarterback system, which will test Wesleyan's suffocating defense. The Wolves have shutout five teams this season and not allowed more than a touchdown in any single game.
Wesleyan's offense, led by quarterback Conor Welton and running back Kyle Karempelis, has been equally impressive. The Wolves have racked up a county-high average of 40.9 points and 325 yards per game and this season.
"What excited me most is the eagerness of the players," Pridgen said. "They have a renewed vigor and they're extremely eager to get started on the playoff road."