Freshman running back Demetrius Reed brings new blood to the backfield this season for Dougherty, which is ready to make a run at the playoffs.
ALBANY -- It's a new season at Dougherty High, new hope, new promise and a new beginning.
Just don't mention last year's 2-8 season.
"When I think about 2-8, I get mad. I get frustrated. I get (ticked)," said Dougherty senior Camereon Williams, who starts on both sides of the line for the Trojans. "And we have no one to blame but ourselves."
Sure, they're angry about 2-8, but they're even more determined to change it.
"That 2-8 is a chip on our shoulder," said center Dominique Bryant, another senior with a mission this year. "To know that you were one of the worst teams in Dougherty history and to know we went 0-6 in the region. We're going to change that."
That's the idea at Dougherty, where the Trojans have had some tough going in recent years. They've had just one winning record (6-5 in 2008) in the past five seasons since going 13-2 and playing for the Class AAA state title in 2005.
That's why Jesse Hicks showed up last year -- to resurrect Dougherty's program back to greatness. Hicks talks about pride and passion and pushes his kids on the football field and in the classroom -- to be great in both environments, to succeed.
Hicks, who turned Baldwin into a state power before showing up in Albany to take over at Dougherty last year, has no doubt the Trojans can be great again. He's not crazy about being 2-8 but understands the road back to the glory days is going to be bumpy, calling last year "Zero Year" and talking about how this season is really his first full year with his kids.
"We have had them for a full cycle and you can tell the difference," Hicks said. "You can tell the difference in the weight room and you can tell the difference in the attitude. That's the biggest difference this year -- attitude.
"We're stronger and faster and mentally we're better prepared," Hicks added. "You win football games in the offseason."
The Dougherty kids couldn't wait.
"We got started on Nov. 8," said cornerback/receiver Amaud Ross, a senior who is a leader on defense.
Hicks' kids started working out on their own, hitting weights and getting ready for this season just five days after the last game of the season.
"They started five days after we lost to Monroe," Hicks said. "I told them, you've got five days and then we're going to get back at it."
The kids wanted to get ready.
And when they came back this summer they came back as a closer unit and more determined with a new resolve -- to succeed on and off the field.
"Last year I felt we took a lot of things for granted," Williams said. "We weren't a team. Our hearts didn't beat as one. We had incidents where people wanted to do their own thing, and they got in trouble at school and in the classroom. We don't want that to happen again. We're a different team now."
Williams and Ross emerged as two of the leaders, players who want to pick up their teammates.
"If we want to win ball games we have to be leaders," Ross said. "We have to show them how to work hard and have the right attitude and drive to win. We don't want another 2-8 season."
It could be Dougherty's greatest motivation.
"That 2-8 stung. That stung real bad," Bryant said. "You go around Albany, and you heard about it."
Dougherty played much better than 2-8, and was in several games, including the season opener against Albany High, which had to come back all night to beat the Trojans, and needed two last-second field goals to win the game. Albany High missed the first would-be game-winning field goal, but there was a Dougherty penalty on the play, and Daniel Casteneda nailed the second field goal attempt with no time on the clock to beat Dougherty, 16-14.
Dougherty lost to Crisp County, 28-26, and dropped a heartbreaker to Worth County, 23-20. Both of those teams went to the playoffs. Give Dougherty 10 points and the Trojans would have gone 5-5 and probably landed a playoff spot.
Hicks comes back this year with 15 seniors, but he has injected new blood into the program with both youth and some experimentation with kids who are proven athletes but have not played football.
He's starting freshmen at quarterback, running back and safety, and believes one of the best players on the team is sophomore Demario Barney, a strong safety Hicks predicts will become a Division I prospect before he leaves Dougherty.
He also has high hopes for receiver Tavares Nelson, who caught a 40-yard pass (the biggest play of the scrimmage) against Central Macon in a scoreless scrimmage last week. Nelson is a basketball player who had never played football.
The youth movement features Willie Jones, a freshman quarterback who looks and throws like a much older player, quick-back Demetrius Reed, a freshman who will be Dougherty's go-to running back, and Robert Hicks, a freshman who will start at safety in a secondary that will be led by Ross, a senior who is Dougherty's shutdown guy.
Jones has a long list of receivers, including Kenneth Johnson, Kendall Hicks and Madaraius McWorter, a junior. There's youth everywhere. Alfred Brown, a sophomore, is the other running back.
"We played with everybody in the first half last year,'' Hicks said. "We just didn't finish games.''
Hicks said last year's team lacked leadership, but he believes the kids who stayed in the program know what it will take, and physically Hicks wants to win games up front, and feels his team's biggest strength is right there.
"I think our offensive and defensive lines will be two of our biggest assets,'' Hicks said. "And we're better skillwise. I really feel good about this team, and I like the way they compete. When we have 1-on-1 or 3-on-3 drills, every drill we have is a competition. They go after each other.''
Williams (6-1, 250) and Bryant (5-11, 260) lead the offensive line that includes sophomore Cedric Parker (6-5, 340) and Brian Bailey (6-2, 280), who has the best nickname on the team. They call him "TV Guide.''
The defensive line is led by nose guard Malcolm Barney (6-1, 340) and defensive end Shaqual McKind. Darius Carter, McGary Casseus and Travious Wester lead the linebackers, while Ross, Barney and Kentravious McKenzie and Josh Fuller lead the secondary.
And it's a group effort at Dougherty, where it's all about the team.
"We had some guys in camp (this summer) and they wanted to be individuals,'' Hicks said. "They are no longer with us. If you want to be an individual they've got golf and tennis.''
Hicks wants to lift the team as a whole, and lift the community as well.
"It is like a brotherhood,'' Ross said. "This is a close team, a family, and we want to win as a family, together. I definitely think we can make a run in the playoffs this year. We have to bounce back from last year, but we know this is a different team.''
Hicks believes once his team turns it around on the field, the community will embrace the program. His kids know the answer is in winning.
"The community hasn't had a lot to cheer about,'' Williams said. "We've got to bring wins back to the east side. We've got to bring pride back to the east side. Once you get everyone in the community excited, then it's really going to be fun for you -- fun for everyone.''
They believe this is the year to make that move.
"When we get one win under our belt, we are going to get rolling,'' Hicks said. "Winning cures everything.''
Dougherty High School's 2011 season outlook
HEAD COACH: Jesse Hicks (2nd season at Dougherty, 13th season overall as head coach; 72-71 career coaching record).
2010 RECORD: 2-8.
ASSISTANT COACHES: Robert Cummings (offensive coordinator); Corey Joyner (defensive coordinator); Kareem Sanders (offensive line); Kawaski Teemer (running backs); Dennis Davis (receivers); Jomaski Ward (quarterbacks); Donald Poole (defensive line); Rico Gibson (linebackers).
RETURNING STARTERS: Amaud Ross (Sr., DB/WR); Camereon Williams (Sr., OL); Dominique Bryant (Sr., C); Darius Carter (Sr., OL/DL); Kenneth Johnson (So., WR).
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Willie Jones (Fr., QB); Demetrius Reed (Fr., RB); Malcolm Barney (Sr., DT); Demario Barney (So., LB); Josh Fuller (Sr., DB).
2011 DOUGHERTY high SCHOOL TROJANS schedule
Saturday vs. Albany, at Hugh Mills, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 vs. Mitchell County, at Hugh Mills, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 9 at Clarkston, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 at Wilkinson County, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 24 at Westover, at Hugh Mills Stadium, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 30 at Crisp County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 vs. Cairo, at Hugh Mills Stadium, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 14 at Americus-Sumter, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 20 vs. Worth County, at Hugh Mills Stadium, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 28 vs. Monroe, at Hugh Mills, 7:30 p.m.