Jackson Reynolds has seen the Athens Academy football team play in the Georgia Dome before, when the Spartans were in the semifinals in the mid-2000s.
On Friday morning, the Athens Academy senior will be back in Atlanta for a playoff game at the new domed stadium. This time, he will be on the field and not the stands when the Spartans play for a state championship.
Reynolds has been at Athens Academy since kindergarten.
“I wasn’t quite as into the football program. I went to all of the home games and that was fun. I did get to go one year and it was a cool atmosphere; a very cool atmosphere,” Reynolds said. “I was not thinking that far ahead. I can’t even go back that far in the past; just living the moment now for what it is and I am going to enjoy it.”
The defensive end hasn’t yet been to the new stadium.
“This will be my first time going. I am going into it open-minded and will live the moment when it comes. ... I will enjoy it while I am there,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds, the Region 8-A defensive player of the year, has played a key role in helping the Spartans reach the GHSA Class A private school state championship game, which kicks off at 10 a.m. Friday against top-ranked Eagle’s Landing Christian.
Eagle’s Landing Christian has scored 54, 55 and 55 points in each playoff game and has scored 35 or more points in 12 consecutive games.
“It will be fun. I am excited because I love a challenge and I am looking forward to some good competition. As we have made it to the playoffs, teams have been getting better, obviously,” Reynolds said. “Now we are at the top of the top. They are very good and we are very good as well, and I feel it will be a very good matchup.”
Reynolds started playing football in fourth grade and at Athens Academy in seventh grade. He was a freshman when the team went 4-5 and missed the playoffs in 2014.
Under head coach Joshua Alexander, who was hired after the 2014 season, the Spartans have finished 9-2 in 2015, 9-3 in 2016 and are currently 13-0.
“The transition was great. I thought it was pretty smooth,” Reynolds said. “He came through and almost immediately took the reigns and assumed the captain position the head coach should and did a great job with that. He kept the energy high and got us better, got us in the weight room, got us running and in better shape. That is what turned the program around, getting in the weight room and getting in better shape altogether.
“To be a part of different coaching staffs my freshman year, then the transition sophomore year, it is very special to see this program be rebuilt and reenergized. It makes it that much more worth it.”
Alexander said Reynolds loves being in the weight room.
“He is one of those guys that is constantly setting a great example for some of our younger kids,” Alexander said. “He is always there. I don’t think he has ever missed. He sort of holds the coaches accountable. ‘Hey coach, are we lifting today? We have to make sure we lift today.’ He is very schedule-oriented.”
And though Reynolds has grown strong in the weight room, Alexander said he offers more than big muscles. He posseses intangibles.
“His strengths are people want to play with him; people want to play hard for him,” he said. “He has a lot to offer.”
Reynolds is one of seven seniors on this year’s team. He describes the leadership as “passive,” but they will be loud when they need to be.
“When we need to, we will be loud and talk and scream, but these younger guys have done a great job of having their eye on the prize and having the same goals like win the region championship, make the playoffs and make the state championship and have that opportunity,” Reynolds said. “The younger guys have made it easier for us. The rest of the seniors have done a great job of keeping the tempo up and making sure people are doing what they are doing and being accountable. That is our biggest job: make sure people are accountable.”
Alexander said the best thing Reynolds has to offer is his leadership.
“He is really nourishing to some of the younger guys. He is the kind of guy that will wait until the last guy has a ride home. Everything about him, his parents have done an unbelievable job with him.” Alexnder said. “He is very kind. He is good-hearted and he is one of those guys that is ‘Captain Tryhard’ in everything he does.”
Reynolds attributes his leadership skills to Drew Swan, a popular athlete at Athens Academy who died in June from injuries incurred in a skateboarding accident.
“I feel like that is what has been the biggest influence and impact that he had had,” Reynolds said. “Just remembering the role model he was, especially in my senior leadership and trying to live up to the role model he was because he was a very passive leader and only got aggressive vocally in other things when he needed to be that way. Modeling my leadership after him, that is what he has been big for me.”