Countdown to Herald Pigskin Preview -- TWO days: Terrell Academy begins 3-peat quest with tons of new faces

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

DAWSON -- After winning back-to-back GISA Class A state championships, a three-peat is naturally on everybody's mind at Terrell Academy.

It's in their heads, just not on their lips.

"We've never even mentioned it (to the team)," Eagles' head coach Bill Murdock said. "Every year our goal is to win a state championship."

Terrell Academy last won three consecutive state football titles from 1994-1996 under Don Beard, now 71 and still running his famed "50 defense" in Dawson.

If the Eagles are going to repeat the three-peat, it's going to be a much larger task.

Terrell lost an astronomical 19 seniors off last year's team and returns just three full-time starters to go along with just six seniors and four juniors.

"It is a big deal," senior running back and linebacker Levi Griffin said of the losses. "We've got a new look on offense, as well as defense, but I feel like we can mature throughout the season."

The Eagles start the season with three stout non-region games -- at Thomas Jefferson, which they've beaten for the state championship two straight years, plus at home vs. Southwest Georgia Academy and at Brookwood.

"Our depth is not going to be as good as it's been," Murdock said. "We're treating these first three games like they're preseason. We could easily be 0-3 and still have a good football team and end up better in the long run."

Of course, after five straight seasons in the Final Four, nobody expects the Eagles to go through a rebuilding year -- even opposing coaches.

"(Murdock) reloads," said Ottis Griggs, who coaches the Eagles' neighboring Class A rival, Randolph Southern. "He don't replace."

Junior Chris Rogers, who missed much of the 2009 season with a back injury, gets his turn to run Murdock's prolific offense that QBs like Cole Phillips and Keaton Icard flourished in the past two seasons.

Coaches and teammates say Rogers has all the intangibles to run the offense.

"He's got a good arm and he's smart," senior running back Brian Ambrose said. "I don't think we'll throw it as much, but as these receivers mature, we'll throw it (more)."

Ambrose and Griffin will carry more of the load in what Murdock said will be a more "power-type running" offensive attack behind a bigger offensive line led by senior tackle Adam O'Hearn and Lee County transfer Casey Jones, who will play guard.

A large group of wideouts will try to help Rogers ease into the quarterback role, particularly junior Lee County transfer Zach Hurst and sophomores Blake Grimsley and Jason Davis. Senior tight end and defensive end Jonathan Farr may also see time at receiver.

Griffin is back at linebacker where he led the team in tackles on defense a year ago. Hearst will join him there, while Ambrose heads up a young secondary. Jones, Farr, O'Hearn and senior Chandler Freeman form what should be a strong defensive line.

And, of course, Beard is back on campus motoring around fall practice on a golf cart after hip surgery in the offseason that may cause him to miss the long season-opening road trip at Thomas Jefferson.

He'll run the Eagles' defense as usual and, if his sense of humor is any indication, the legendary GISA coach has still got it. After spotting a reporter around practice before the season, Beard wondered aloud, "Is he from the Wall Street Journal?"

Murdock said Beard has given no indication of giving up his coaching duties, either.

"He ain't going to quit," Murdock said. "We won't let him."

Besides, if another three-peat is in the cards for the Eagles, it's only fitting that the man who did it first sticks around to see it happen.