KICKOFF 2010: SGA has plenty of weapons

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

DAMASCUS -- Nearly half of Southwest Georgia Academy's offensive production from a year ago is now in Missouri.

But to hear the Warriors' players and coaches talk, they may be alright without the guy who posted the second-highest rushing total in school history.

Nile Knapp, who ran for 2,197 yards last season, is now playing at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo. Thankfully, though, four of the ball carriers who posted the other 1,800-plus yards in the SGA ground attack are back for another season.

"You can't replace somebody like (Knapp)," said senior tailback Taylor Tabb, who averaged more than nine yards a carry as a junior. "You can only try to fill in the shoes, so that's what I'm going to try to do. You've still got a lot of people who can take that place."

SGA, which went 10-3 in 2009 before falling in the GISA Class AA state semifinals, will find out quickly how good -- or bad -- life after

Knapp will be.

And they'll be on center stage as they do it.

The Warriors open the season today against the GISA Class AAA Trojans at Tattnall Square Academy in Macon (7:30 p.m.) in the state's only GISA game this week.

The rest of the state opens next Friday.

Taylor Tabb, fullback Troupe Tabb and first-year starting quarterback Dillon Driver will take the reins of the Warriors' pro set offense. All three played plenty last year and coaches don't expect there to be much drop off.

"Nile did great things, but those guys can fill (his absence)," SGA head coach David Bell said. "They're all gamers."

The problem for Bell and the Warriors is depth. Of the team's 35 players, more than half are inexperienced freshmen and sophomores that will need to play.

"Our goal is to get some of these younger kids ready to play," Bell said. "If we can do that we'll be fine."

Another goal might be to increase the appetite of his players, particularly on the offensive line. A year ago, the Warriors were known for being able to manhandle defenses while Knapp and the Tabb boys ran wild. This year, that won't be the case due to size limitations.

Taylor Tabb estimated only two or three players on the entire team weigh more than 200 pounds.

"We're not very big, but we can get the job done," Taylor said. "What we lost in size, we picked up in speed. I think our line will be just fine."

Only one starter on the offensive line, senior center Carson Ray, returns, although four of the five starters are seniors who have playing experience.

Taylor, a 2009 GISA Class AA All-State selection, will help lead the Warriors' 5-2 defense from his free safety spot, along with tackling machine Jameson Burch, a senior linebacker who's had an off night if his tackle total isn't in double figures by the end of each game.

Early County High transfer Vann Harrell, a junior linebacker/tackle, has

also impressed in fall camp. Driver and Cody Burkhalter will bolster a stout secondary.

"We're real good at linebacker, in the secondary and at end," Bell said. "I think (the defense) is going to have to carry us to start with."

SGA said goodbye to Region 3-AA foes Sherwood Christian (moved to AAA), Tiftarea (moved to AAA) and Windsor (moved to A). Valwood joins SGA in GISA Region 2-AA this season, along with new region opponents Arlington Christian, Harvester Christian, Heritage School, Brookwood and Flint River.

"It's crazy," Bell said. "We've got region games from Valdosta all the way up to Newnan. I've never been to some of the (region) schools. I don't even know the coaches."

Of course, SGA still has the usual suspects and rivals Terrell Academy, Westwood and Randolph Southern on the non-region schedule.

But first up is perennial AAA power Tattnall Square and long-time head coach Barney Hester. Bell doesn't know much about this year's Trojans team, but he knows Hester well.

"He doesn't change much," Bell said of Hester. "We played them (years ago) in the semis when we were in AAA. I'm going to go back and look at my scouting report (from that game)."

Both SGA and Tattnall only had nine games on their schedules and looked to add a 10th late in the process. The two could have played later in the season during their off week in the region schedule, but decided not to. Instead, they'll be the only game in town this week and will have two off weeks the rest of the way.

For the players, the opener on the road will be a welcome shift from years past.

"We'll find out what kind of team we've got (in Macon)," Taylor Tabb said. "It's going to be a definite change from Westwood and Randolph Southern and the other teams we're used to opening up with."