Van Harrell will lead an SGA team this year that lost many of its stars off of last season's 9-2 Final Four state squad.
DAMASCUS — Something special happens when you put on a Southwest Georgia Academy uniform and step on the Warriors’ field, which is covered in both tradition and high expectations.
Just ask senior linebacker and offensive lineman Van Harrell, who transferred to SGA from Early County before his junior season.
“It means a lot to play for this team,” Harrell said about an SGA program that has won six state championships (1972, ’87, ’88, ’89, ’93, ’98). “The tradition here just sinks in. I just love it. It makes you play harder on the field.”
The Warriors, who have finished above .500 seven times in the last decade, were 9-2 last year after losing a 15-14 heartbreaker to Edmund Burke Academy in the GISA Class AA semifinals.
Senior receiver Cody Evans said last season’s bitter ending stayed in his mind all offseason and has motivated the Warriors this year on the practice field.
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WHO: Robert Toombs at SGA.
WHAT: Season opener for both teams.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.
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“We had some mistakes (in the semifinal game), and every time we think about how last year ended it motivates us,” Evans said during practice this week as the team prepared to opened its season tonight at home vs. Robert Toombs.
Last year’s loss may be lingering in the minds of returning players, but there are several starters gone from last year’s squad that had won nine games in a row before falling to Edmund Burke.
Among those who graduated were star running backs Taylor and Troupe Tabb — a pair of cousins who combined for 2,279 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns. Taylor, who had 1,544 of those yards and a team-high 18 touchdowns, amounted for over a third of SGA’s scoring last season.
One leader who didn’t graduate from last year’s team is senior QB Dillon Driver. Last year, Driver threw for 874 yards and seven touchdowns and ran for 641 yards and nine scores.
“(Driver) is a really good role model for the kids. He has a lively arm and really good legs. He looked good (in the Aug. 11 scrimmage against Sherwood),” SGA coach David Bell said.
“He has the ability to know what happens before it happens. When it is on the line, he is going to make something happen. That’s what he does. He isn’t perfect by any means, but when the game is on the line you want him to have the ball.”
Bell will be looking for Driver to fully step into a leadership role, something that is even more important this year with the youth on the Warriors’ roster.
SGA has lost 19 starters over the past two years, including nine from last season. Looking to become playmakers will be Will Warren and Colby Still at running back; and Cody Evans, Kameron Whitaker, Teel Massey and Warren at wide receiver.
“(Inexperience) is what we are battling,” Bell said. “I think that we have the tools and the ability to have as good a year as we had last year, there’s just going to be some growing pains.”
SW Ga. Academy’s 2011 season outlook
HEAD COACH: David Bell (seventh season at SGA).
2010 RECORD: 9-2.
ASSISTANT COACHES: Max Evans (defensive coordinator); Brandon Wiggins (offensive/defensive line); David Byrne (assistant).
RETURNING STARTERS: Dillon Driver (Sr., QB/DB); Van Harrell (Sr., OT/DE); Corey Smith (Jr., WR/DB).
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Will Warren (So., RB/WR/DB); Colby Still (So., RB/LB); Cody Evans (Sr., WR); Kameron Whitaker (Sr., WR/DB); Teel Massey (So., WR/DB); Caleb Smith (Sr., DT); Ryan Griffin (Sr., DT); Quinn Dowdy (Sr., DB); Colin Cowart (Jr., OL); Ray Spooner (Jr., OL/LB); Will Heard (Jr., OT/DT).
2011 SGA Warriors schedule
Today vs. Robert Toombs, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 26 at Westwood School, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 vs. Terrell Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 9 at Randolph Southern, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 vs. Harvester Christian, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 30 at Valwood School, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 at Arlington Christian, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 vs. Heritage School, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 28 vs. Flint River Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 4 at Brookwood School. 7:30 p.m.