Sweet Water has set bar high in football over last 35 years

Published 11:26 am Wednesday, February 27, 2013

From late in the 1972 season until the middle of the 1975 season, Atkins’ teams did not lose a regular season game, but they were still unable to get through the playoffs unscathed.

“We just couldn’t come up with a big play,” Atkins said. “The kids worked hard on and off the field, but at that time, there wasn’t a six-class system like there is now, and we went up against bigger schools. It was just a different schedule back then.”

In 1978, the Bulldogs went undefeated in the regular season, and coasted through the playoffs to their first state championship behind quarterback Michael Landrum, who went on to become the first black quarterback at the University of Alabama.

“The first state championship was very special,” Atkins said.

In the championship game, the Bulldogs defeated West Jefferson 34-0, and had an average margin of victory of 27 points in the playoffs. This was the first 13-0 season for Sweet Water in school history.

The stadium at Sweet Water was dedicated in honor of Coach Nolan Atkins in September 2002.

The stadium at Sweet Water was dedicated in honor of Coach Nolan Atkins in September 2002.

In 1979, Sweet Water followed up a record season with a record-breaking season, going 14-0 to win their second straight state championship. That year, the Bulldogs won the championship over Carrollton in another blowout, 35-0.

Then in 1980, the high school was closed again. Atkins went to Thomasville for that season, but when Sweet Water reopened in 1981, he came back and led a group that had not been in athletics for a year to an 8-2 season.

“At the first practice in ’81, we had 18 kids show up,” he said. “We ended up going 8-2 that season, and also winning state in baseball.”

Atkins and Sweet Water reached the pinnacle again in 1982 following a 9-1 regular season. The Bulldogs defeated Calera 14-7 in the state championship game.

In 1985, the Alabama High School Athletic Association expanded to the six-class system that is in place today.

“The schedule wasn’t as demanding after that,” Atkins said. “You could focus more on your region, and it didn’t hurt you to lose a game or two outside the region.”

In 1986, Atkins won his fourth and final state championship at Sweet Water following an 8-2 regular season. The two losses came to Thomasville and Livingston, which were 4A teams, whereas Sweet Water was 1A. The Bulldogs defeated Courtland in the state championship game 26-14.