COLQUITT -- Miller County coach Frank Killingsworth was in Albany at R.S. Sporting Goods earlier this month picking up some stuff for the upcoming football season.
"As I was leaving, the owner, Santy Solis, asked me if I needed anything else,'' Killingsworth said. "I said, 'Yeah, if you have some speed I could sure use it. Do you carry any of that?'
"He said he didn't have any.''
So Killingsworth left the store still looking.
He might be looking for a while if he hopes to replace Shawn'dre Sheffield, who bolted up and down the field for four years at Miller County before running off to Northeast Oklahoma. He gained more than 4,000 yards as a four-year starter, and rushed for 1,209 yards on 162 carries as a senior. That's a 7.46 average for a kid who could break a play and break a defense's heart in the blink of an eye.
"He had the kind of speed that he could break away for a touchdown on any play, at any time,'' Killingsworth said. "We have some good players, but we don't have that kind of player.''
They will adjust on the field, but the Pirates, who went 9-3 last year, believe the results will be the same -- if not better.
"Going to the playoffs is automatic. We go to the second or third round in the playoffs every year,'' senior defensive end Juwan Jones said. "This year we want to get to the state championship.''
Before they can get there, the Pirates will need to find a way to get into the end zone. Killingsworth will tweak his Wing-T offense a little and get the most out of what he has as he and his team adjust to the Sheffield-less offense.
"We'll have a running back by committee, and hopefully we'll have a little something to move on with,'' Killingsworth said. "We'll be more power oriented, and we'll throw a little more. We won't have as much speed, but our offensive line will be our strength.''
It may take Miller County a little longer to score, but Killingsworth's kids will get there.
"We won't have that instant offense,'' Killingsworth said. "Last year, we were kind of like the Carnation Instant Breakfast, and this year we're going to be more like slow-cooking grits. It may take us a little longer, but it's still going to be a good breakfast.''
It make take more of the village to raise the team this time around, and the kids on this year's team may have to count on each other even more.
It's that way all over the field, because the Pirates also lost Cosby Salters, a linebacker, receiver/running back who could make big plays with his speed, graduate.
"When you have guys like Sheffield and Salters who can make a play and go 90 yards or make an unbelievable defensive play because of their speed, it makes a difference,'' Killingsworth said. "When you take away those kind of athletic players, now we have to be better at fundamentals. Now everybody has to be where they're supposed to be.''
He believes that's exactly what will happen.
"Our offensive line has a better grasp of the concept we have, and our running backs are starting to believe and get confidence in themselves,'' Killingsworth said.
So does the quarterback.
"I love to throw the ball," said returning QB Caleb Cunningham, a senior. "And we have some good receivers. We'll mix it up more this year with a little more passing.''
Killingsworth might have a committee to run the ball, but he will be counting mostly on senior Shaq Edwards and sophomore Marian Grant, who will be running behind an offensive line that returns five starters: Jarrett Rahmes (RG), Brian Lovering (RT), Alec Cobb, who has moved from guard to center, Ty Sheffield (LT) and Jones, who plays tight end.
Jones leads what promises to be a pretty stingy defense. Jones had 16 sacks last year and said he expects to apply the same kind of pressure this season, and Trenentii Barber returns at linebacker, where he made more than 100 tackles as a sophomore last season.
Barber will also play fullback, and could be a big part of the power game that Killingsworth envisions.
"I think our defense is going to be better this year,'' Barber said. "We're bigger and we have a little more (overall) speed. And we have some guys who are ready to step up.''
Jones has no doubt the defense will rise to the occasion.
"The defense you saw last year should be the same this year, maybe better,'' Jones said. "Everybody expects us to be good, and we have to live up to those expectations.
"But we have a lot of chemistry, and we have a lot of good young players who will step up this season. I know they are going to step up. It's like we have a lot of undercover players. The fans don't know. You don't know. But we kind of know. We know they will step in and be players.''
That's the idea at Miller County, where the Pirates might not be as fast, but plan on not missing a step.
"We're going to be competitive,'' Killingsworth said. "We'll go
out Friday nights and get after folks.''