KICKOFF 2011: Sherwood begins new era with Covington as coach

Junior starting quarterback Brett Shepard, right, hands the ball off to Mack “M.J.” Green during practice earlier this week. The Eagles will be relying on Shepard and Green heavily this year to return the Eagles to the state playoffs.

Junior starting quarterback Brett Shepard, right, hands the ball off to Mack “M.J.” Green during practice earlier this week. The Eagles will be relying on Shepard and Green heavily this year to return the Eagles to the state playoffs.

ALBANY -- The Sherwood Christian Academy football team is in a state of transition just about everywhere.

The Eagles (6-4, 5-3 GISA 3-AAA in 2010) will enter the 2011 season with a new head coach, a new quarterback, three new offensive linemen and an entirely new defensive line, among other turnover. That's 14 new starters in all.

However, first-year head man Otis Covington, who spent the 2010 campaign as the team's offensive coordinator under Reginald Mitchell, believes Sherwood has been building enough of a foundation during the preseason to be competitive in the fall.

"They're coming along really well," Covington said of his players. "We have some players out there making some adjustments, but they are fully committed to doing it. They're progressing really well in camp."

While running the Eagles' offensive attack under Mitchell, who left to take the defensive coordinator position with Tift County, Covington had a narrower focus on the offensive players and assistants.

However, he has enjoyed broadening his concentration to the entire team.

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WHO: Deerfield at Sherwood.

WHAT: Season opener for both teams.

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today.

WHERE: Sherwood.

FOLLOW ONLINE: For live updates, log onto twitter.com/AlbHeraldSports

"I've been able to create some stronger bonds with everybody," Covington said.

The new Eagles head coach then added: "Overseeing everything this year, there's more contact with everyone, and besides, our team is smaller in numbers than it was last year, so I've been interacting with everybody a great deal."

Covington's particular familiarity with the offense could come in handy, though, and his presence at head coach could help ease the transition for junior quarterback Brett Shepard, who takes the reins of a unit that will return most of its playmakers.

And many hope -- and expect -- Shepard to be one of them.

"I feel good," said Shepard, who will get his first test tonight when the Eagles host rival Deerfield. "Coach Covington has really taught me a lot over the summer. As a team we really want a region championship.

"(As) for myself? I just want to be a good leader."

And Covington said his signal caller is up for the challenge.

"He's absorbing a lot, learning a lot," Covington said. "He's been working a lot on his technique, and he's really sharp right now. We're just waiting to see what he'll do when the lights are turned on for this team.

"He has some weapons in the skill positions that are going to take some of the pressure off him. My main concern is really being able to just take care of things up front. If we can do that, I think we have a chance to be very, very competitive."

Perhaps the most potent weapon returning to the fold for Shepard is senior Mack "M.J." Green, who generated significant yardage from at both the running back and receiver positions a year ago.

"I feel really good about (Brett)," Green said at practice this week. "I believe in him, and I believe that the line will come out and block. (As a leader), I am showing the young players that if you have the heart and if you believe you can go out there and play ball with anybody you line up against."

Covington said Green and the returning skill-position players should make the transition to starting quarterback easier for Shepard, who stepped in at the position at times last year.

"What we're going to do is primarily rely on those young men to feature in our offense, so we'll be a little bit more wide open this year than we were last year," Covington said. "Brett Shepard has experience from last year, and when he came into the games last year, he did very well. We expect that to continue."

Covington also expects other players, including many of his freshmen, to assume big roles on his varsity squad as it prepares for what the first-year head coach projects to be a tough 2011 slate, featuring matchups against 2-IAAA foes and a Sept. 10 matchup with defending Class A state champ Westwood.

"Our main focus has been trying to develop the players that we have and try to strengthen them up and get them conditioned," Covington said. "The region is going to be tough. It's triple-A, and being a team of our size, just being in that classification alone is a huge challenge because we won't be able to platoon both an offense and defense. The majority of our players will have to play both ways.

"Conditioning will be a major factor, and staying healthy. We can't afford any type of injuries this year. That could be disastrous for us."

Herald staff writer John Millikan contributed to this report

Sherwood's 2011 season outlook

MASCOT: Eagles.

HEAD COACH: Otis Convington (second season at Sherwood, first as head coach at SCA and first season overall).

2010 RECORD: 6-5.

ASSISTANT COACHES: John Green (offensive/defensive line); Nick Towns (WRs/DBs); Amos Ealy (RBs/LBs); Marcus Brooks (DBs/QBs/Special teams); James Byrd (TEs/DL); Jeremy Davidson (K/P).g RETURNING STARTERS: Jeremy Landers (Sr., OT/DT); Jacob Rodriguez (Jr., C); Mack Green (Sr., RB/WR/DB); Vashon Gaines (Jr., SS/WR); Chandler Tabb (Jr., SS/WR); Derek Allen (Sr., RB/DL/LB); Aaron Anthony (Sr., WR/DB).

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Brett Shepard (Jr., QB/DB); Aaron Daniels (Sr., DT/OL); Bryce Dixon (So., MLB/OL); Kenny Brown (Fr., LB/OL); Dalton Todd (Fr., FS/QB).

2011 Sherwood Eagles schedule

Today vs. Deerfield-Windsor, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 2 at Brookwood School, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 9 vs. Westwood School, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 16 at Bethesda Day, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 at Trinity Christian, Dublin, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 7 at Bulloch Academy, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 14 vs. Pinewood Christian, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 21 at Southland Academy, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 28 vs. Tiftarea Academy (2-IAAA), 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 4 vs. Westfield School, 7:30 p.m.