Valdosta, GA. - The latest behemoth to don the black and gold of Valdosta High School's legendary football team is a coach's dream: rugged, sturdy and built like a garbage truck.
Good thing, too, because rather than chase down shifty running backs on the gridiron, the city's newest side loader will tackle trash cans around this pigskin-crazy community of 53,000 residents.
To honor the accomplishments of that Valdosta football program - 23 state championships and more wins than any school in the country - the city had one of its three new trash trucks custom painted with the Wildcats' team colors.
The cab is gold, the body is black with gold and white strips, and emblematic paw prints run all about the Lodal Inc. 25-yarder, said Peter Pyrzenski, city public works director. The years when the team won it's titles soon will be emblazoned on the tailgate.
"I did it for tradition of the town and for what the Wildcats have done for the city," Pyrzenski explained. The special paint job didn't add a cent to the $131,000 price tag for the truck, he said.
After Valdosta captured the state crown last year, Pyrzenski wanted something that would tie the service provided by the city with the football program. The city's containers already were black, so Pyrzenski suggested a Wildcat garbage truck. The council loved the idea, he said.
A few months ago, Pyrzenski and four other officials visited the Lodal plant in Kingsford, MI, to tour the facility and to bring a Valdosta jersey so the company could match the colors, he said.
"They were so pumped up about it," said Scott Van Wolvelaere, Lodal plant manager. "It was like dealing with a little kid. It wasn't a humdrum truck deal."
About a third of the 100 trucks Lodal builds from scratch each year receive custom paint jobs, Wolvelaere said. "It's not unusual, but I guess their enthusiasm was probably unusual. These people are football fanatics."
Hurricane Floyd delayed delivery of the truck for a couple of weeks. After it arrived the last week of September, Pyrzenski surprised the team and school by taking it out to the campus just as school was letting out. Upon spotting the truck, the students let out a deafening roar. "They were so fired up." He said. "They couldn't believe the city went that far to honor them."
Mike O'Brien, head coach for the past four years, said the football team loved the recognition. Many years ago, the town's trucks were painted with the school's colors, said O'Brien, who spent 16 seasons as an assistant coach. "I thought it was pretty nice," he said.
Pyrzenski parked the new truck outside the football stadium for Valdosta's game Oct. 1 so the 20,000 rabid fans who regularly attend could get a glimpse. "They loved it," he said.
Unfortunately, the truck didn't bring much good fortune, as Valdosta lost its first game of the season by a score of 28-14 to a squad from Tallahassee, FL. Pyrzenski joked that he had gotten phone calls from people telling him not to bring it out again.
O'Brien wasn't about to blame the truck for the defeat. He laughed when asked if he'd like a front line of players as big as a garbage truck. "I wish I did!" He said.