Deerfield’s Chandler Lane, left, tries to get around the end against Quentin Heard during practice last week in preparation for the Knights’ season opener against rival Sherwood tonight on the road. DWS thumped SCA in the opener last year, 28-6.
ALBANY -- Target talk and title talk -- they walk hand-in-hand around the Deerfield-Windsor campus these days.
That's life when you're the state champs.
You straddle the line between starting over again with a run toward a championship, and defending a title, knowing that everyone wants to beat you.
The cliche is as old as the game itself, but ask anyone at DWS and they'll quickly tell you about the "target on their back.''
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
"I think it's absolutely great. I want a target on our back,'' defensive end Hunter Brettel said. "I want people to want to beat us. We want to be hated.''
But what they want most is to make a little history.
"We're shooting for 27-0,'' said Quentin Heard, a Dynamite Dozen selection who plays tailback and linebacker. Heard was a big reason Deerfield made history a year ago with it's first perfect season -- a 13-0 march to the GISA Class AAA state title. If the Knights repeat they will play 14 games this season. DWS has won three state titles, but has never gone back-to-back.
"Every team wants to leave a legacy, and going 27-0 and being the first team at Deerfield to win two state titles in a row would be a great legacy,'' Heard said. "That would set the standard at Deerfield. We want to go 27-0.''
These seniors have already put together a bit of a legacy. Deerfield has played in the state title game all three years they've been at DWS. They could make it a clean sweep if they reach the title game.
"I'm not worried about 27-0,'' DWS coach Allen Lowe said. "I just want to be 1-0.''
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WHO: Deerfield at Sherwood.
WHAT: Season opener for both teams.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.
FOLLOW ONLINE: Log onto twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports
DWS opens tonight at Sherwood Christian, where the Eagles have another strong team, in a city rivalry game that has grown in intensity.
The Knights hope this is the first step to a "legacy" season. They lost some key players from last year's title team, including quarterback Banks Kinslow, running back Davis Moore and linebacker Rhett Cooper, who was the heart of the defense. Kinslow and Moore also anchored the secondary, which will be brand new this season.
But this year's team has more speed, and new QB Dallas Margeson, a junior, will be surrounded by veterans, including running backs Heard and Gaughf Ivey, and fullbacks James Tyson and Noah Horton.
Heard can do a little of everything. Last year, he gained 943 yards on 130 carries (7.25 yards per carry) and also caught 13 passes for 135 yards. He rushed for nine touchdowns, and caught four TD passes. He also had more than 300 yards in returns (punt, fumble and interceptions) at linebacker.
Ivey had 235 yards on the ground and 110 receiving and scored seven TDs, and Tyson and Horton are tough runners. That group -- and an experienced offensive line -- should make life easier for Margeson.
"He should feel like he doesn't have to win the game for us,'' Lowe said. "He's going to be a very good quarterback. He just needs to learn. Hopefully, he will have time to learn. He's a good athlete. He's physical and he has a good arm.''
DWS has two new receivers in junior Rich Fallaw and Davis Hines, and an offensive line that should give Margeson time to throw and time to grow into the system.
Lowe used two sets of offensive lines last year, making the most of what he had, to wear opponents out with what he called his "Thunder and Lightning" units. The platoon more than worked, and now Lowe has five players who all saw lots of playing time, back to build a new offensive line.
Parks Pace, a three-year starter, is back at center, and seniors Tanner Lowe, Trey Flynn and Harrison Stadnik also return along with junior Patrick Forrestal.
"We still feel good about the line of scrimmage,'' Lowe said. "We're probably not going to have Thunder and Lightning this year. We might have a little Thunder and Lightning with our skilled positions.''
That's because of the addition of Kh'ron McClain and the emergence of KE'Marvin Pitts, a pair of juniors who can fly. Both have 4.5 speed in the 40-yard dash, and they will be the keys to the new secondary. But both will also see time on offense, where they can move from running back to flanker with ease.
McClain was Tony Zenon's backup two years ago as a freshman when Zenon, now at Georgia Tech, ran by everyone in GISA on the football field and the state track meet. McClain (5-9 and 160) briefly moved to Atlanta, but has returned to Albany and DWS, where he has a bright future.
"(Kh'ron) blocked three punts as a freshman and finished eighth in the 100 meters in the state track meet,'' Lowe said. "His instincts as a defensive back are as good as anyone I've ever coached.''
The secondary will be made up of four juniors, including Margeson and Hines, and the defense should be solid again. Ivey, Heard and Tyson return at linebacker and the defensive line is in great shape with the return of Brettel and DT Matt Miller, who is the anchor of the line.
The kicking game couldn't look much better, thanks to Trey Puckett, a senior who is arguably the best kicker in Southwest Georgia. No one at DWS will forget his 40-yard field goal at the gun that beat Mount de Sales in the state semifinals last season, and Puckett could be even better this year.
He made 8 of 12 field goals and 53 of 59 extra points, and this year he won't just score points, but he will also punt. He worked out at camps this summer to improve his kicking and punting.
"He's gotten stronger,'' Lowe said. "He will help us as a kicker and a punter. He has a chance to be a real weapon.''
One of the biggest ingredients to last year's success was the leadership of seniors such as Kinslow, Moore and Cooper.
"Last year, we had some great leaders, and it's our time to be leaders,'' Brettel said. "We don't have superstars, but we all play together. We have a bunch of guys who work together. That's a Deerfield thing.''
Lowe knows it.
"When we lose players it's not about replacing them with another player,'' Lowe said. "It's about the team stepping up. Call it shared success.
"We've been blessed. We hope these guys carry the torch. They care about each other. It's about everyone doing their role. We didn't have superstars last year, and this year is very similar. Nobody is in a position where they feel they have to do it themselves. Everybody takes care of their own piece of the pie.''
They will need to because the target and the pressure will be there all season.
"You can't come in thinking it's going to be like last year,'' Miller said. "It's hard to get out of that mindset, but we have to. We have to be leaders this year. We not only have to motivate ourselves but motivate others. This was a close team last year, and we're a close team this year.''
There's enough talent back to make that target bright red, and the DWS kids want to write their names down in the school's history. All that and more should drive the Knights from the opening kickoff into the playoffs.
Lowe put it simply.
"This senior class has been in three state title games,'' he said. "They would like to make it 4-for-4. Not many people can make that statement.''
Deerfield-Windsor's 2011 season outlook:
HEAD COACH: Allen Lowe (19th season at Deerfield, 25th overall, having also coached at Calvary Baptist in Savannah for six years).
2010 RECORD: 13-0.
ASSISTANT COACHES: Rod Murray (defensive coordinator); Craig Rhodes (secondary coach); Ty Kinslow (offensive line); David Peacock (defensive line); Hollis Hood (running backs); Charlie Greene (secondary).g RETURNING STARTERS: Parks Pace (Sr., C); Tanner Lowe (Sr., OG) Trey Flynn (Sr., OT); Patrick Forrestal (Jr., OT); Harrison Stadnik (Sr., OT); Noah Horton (Jr., FB); Quentin Heard (Sr., OLB/RB); Gaughf Ivey (Sr., LB); James Tyson (Sr., LB); Matt Miller (Sr., DT); Hunter Brettel (Sr., DE); Trey Puckett (Sr., K).
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Dallas Margeson (Jr., QB); Rich Fallaw (Jr., WR); Sam Shellhaas (Jr., TE); Kh'ron McClain (Jr., DB); KE'Marvin Pitts (Jr., DB); Davis Hines (Jr., DB).
2011 DEERFIELD KNIGHTS schedule
Today at Sherwood, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 at Stratford Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 9 vs. Bethesda Day, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 vs. Bulloch Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 at Brentwood School, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 at Pinewood Christian, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 14 vs. Trinity Christian, Dublin, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 vs. Tiftarea Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 28 at Westfield School, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 4 vs. Southland Academy (2-IAAA), 7:30 p.m.