Team of the Week: Apalachee Wildcats

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Apalachee head coach Tony Lotti could motivate a rock. He might even teach that rock how to block and tackle. Lotti helped motivate the Wildcat faithful to beat Pike County in a fierce Team of the Week Facebook poll battle that eventually totaled over 35,000 votes. Lotti even enlisted the help of his brother Mark in Texas to spread the word about the voting campaign, telling him to just "get it out there to as many people as possible," leaving his sibling to explain to his friends just who they were voting for back in Georgia.

"If you never quit, you have a chance," Lotti quipped during an interview with High 5 Sports.

That's one of many "Lotti-isms" you might find in one of the books he's authored on positive thinking.

When Lotti left a successful six-year coaching stint at West Hall last February to take over a struggling Apalachee program, he knew it would take more than a positive outlook to turn things around at the Barrow County school that hadn't won a road game since 2012.

He started by searching the hallways for students who had even the slightest experience playing football at any level. Lotti eventually uncovered seventy-seven potential athletes and asked them each for twenty minutes in his office where he conducted interviews and encouraged them to come out to practice and give football another try. The forty person roster Lotti inherited swelled to 103 players and suddenly football at The Chee was cool again.

 "You can only get support if you're willing to give support." said Lotti.

The persistent coach went about the business of building relationships in his new community, visiting the six feeder schools that make up the Apalachee cluster. He immersed himself in the "Sea of Chee", supporting other Apalachee sports like volleyball and softball. He was such a fixture at softball games that the girls dubbed the coach's viewing area on a ridge above the stadium "Lotti's Landing" in his honor.

And now those same people he supported are flocking to watch Lotti's surprising football team on Friday nights in Winder. Apalachee had won just four games over five seasons when Lotti arrived. So far in 2018, the Wildcats have learned how to win again, shutting out Jackson County for that elusive road victory, and shocking Walnut Grove last Friday with a miracle fourth-and-goal touchdown from the 16-yard line. (See above quote about never quitting!)

"It's really the same mindset I had when I came to West Hall," said Lotti. "I was being led to go there. I had a feeling I was being moved again by God, but this time I wanted to do a better job of enjoying the moment."

Part of that sentiment is because Lotti feels as though he failed to completely savor the time he had with his own son Anthony, a four-year punter at West Hall who now punts as a junior for the Wisconsin Badgers. Lotti and his wife are working hard to make up for any perceived wasted time, taking early morning flights to watch Anthony play as often as possible. So far they've missed only two Wisconsin games-home or away-during Anthony's time at the university. It's not uncommon for Lotti to coach a Friday night game in the metro area, and then drag himself to Hartsfield-Jackson to board a flight for football parts unknown; only to repeat the cycle again the next week.

The Wildcats have a week off before taking on cross-town rival Winder-Barrow at home. Apalachee will continue to rely on leadership provided by linebacker Josh Agbenou, who collected 17 tackles against Walnut Grove, and offensive lineman Nate Hodnett, who Lotti says is a great example for younger, less experienced players. Even with the time off, the Wildcats won't have much rest before Good Day Atlanta's Buck Lanford hosts a live pep rally at the school Thursday morning.

Shorty after that, Tony Lotti will board a plane for Iowa, where he'll watch his son punt for the 18th-ranked team in the nation, as Wisconsin takes on the Iowa Hawkeyes.

"I still remember him punting with me in the back yard when he was a little boy," Lotti said of Anthony. "I still want him to know that if there are 90,000 people in that stadium, at least one of them loves him no matter what."