Southland senior starting QB Jake Hood had a big night in Southland's romp against Brookwood on Friday.
AMERICUS -- Tim Goodin expects the Southland Academy Raiders to be much improved in 2011.
Southland finished 5-6 last year and 3-5 for a three-way tie for fifth in GISA 1-AAA. But against the top teams, the Raiders were nowhere to be found. Their five region losses were blowouts, and they were never really in those games, accumulating a minus-13 turnover ratio.
"We never competed against the best teams, but when we did compete, we won," said Goodin, who is entering his third season at Southland. "I'd say we had a lack of confidence, and turnovers played a big role in it. Any time we fell behind quickly, we didn't have enough confidence in our own ability to overcome it. Every one of those games just snowballed."
Southland could have the youngest team in recent memory. Of the 50 players on the roster, at least 31 are freshmen and sophomores. But that's not a big concern for Goodin.
"We're going to have a young team, but it's a good (kind of) young," he said. "I think from our few seniors and juniors, we will have better leadership than we've had, and that's going to be a plus. That was a big negative last year.
"The young is good, and I don't mean necessarily that they're all good players. A lot of those kids are ready to play and some more of them will hopefully be ready by the first game. You can't ever predict how young players are going to play, but if enough of them grow up into the players we think they can be, we're looking to have a good year."
The Raiders graduated their top three rushers, and only sophomore Allen Gleeson returns as one of the Raiders' players who had more than one reception. Senior quarterback Jake Hood rushed for 471 yards and four touchdowns in the spread-option last year.
Hood will have big expectations riding on his shoulders.
"We expect him to have his best year," Goodin said. "He's had a good spring and good summer. He's going to be the biggest difference. He's a little bigger and a little stronger, and he's a quality athlete with good speed and good quickness.
"He's a real good leader, and I think he'll make good decisions. He'll be better for the throwing game, and before the ball is snapped, he'll know where to look first better than in the past."
Southland has continued to work on the passing attack, and Goodin hopes for a higher completion percentage. The Raiders' offense, however, will still be predominantly a running attack at an 80-20 clip.
Joining Hood in the backfield will be junior Logan Deatherage (263 yards, 2 TDs in 2010), senior fullbacks Lawton Williams and Clay Oxford and junior McClain Cummins.
"Logan's going to be a quick-strike threat for us, while our other guys are hard hitters where most of their running will be straight ahead," Goodin said. "Logan will have plenty of opportunities as long as he stays healthy. He can catch, he runs very well in the open field and we want to try and get him the ball in the open field."
The receiver position is the biggest question on offense entering the season. Several will vie for a position, including Gleeson, senior Chan Waller and sophomore Jon Adkins, among others.
But the strength will be up front as the Raiders return three starters and have around 12 who can make plays on the line.
"I know we're going to be better (than ever before) on the offensive line since I've been here at Southland," Goodin said. "The biggest difference will be numbers, and the number of guys who are able to play well."
The returners include seniors Ryan Johnson and Rob Rush and junior Andrew Alexander. A difference in the Raiders' offense this year will be the presence of a tight end, which will be handled mainly by sophomore Ford Roach.
Also in the mix on the line will be senior Jared Baldwin, sophomores Austin Hale and Tyler Norton, freshman Hunter Weldon and Schley County transfers Grady Barfield, Lance Harrod and Dillon Jerkins.
"We'll be stronger, and we'll be a little bigger," Goodin said. "I just like the chemistry of them together as a group. We have a bunch that really works hard and (works) really well together. We'll be able to keep some of them fresh because we have those numbers. We went in last year with about six guys trying to play five positions and play defense. That's a big boost, and that should spell some success."
Defensively, the Raiders allowed 305.1 yards a game last year, and they surrendered more than 200 rushing yards in six games.
In the 4-4 defense, Goodin said the front eight should be solid.
"We've got good experience in the front eight," he said. "We're going to have more competition for most of our positions because of those numbers. Competition breeds success, and that breeds getting better."
Williams led the defense with 99 tackles and two sacks last season, Johnson had 71 stops and Alexander had 33 tackles and two sacks.
William Oster joins Williams and Johnson at linebacker with the other spot still up for grabs. Alexander, Roach are back on the line with Norton, Jerkins, Barfield, Weldon and Harrod among others vying for the remaining spots.
The secondary is the "weakest link," according to Goodin. Adkins and Dustin Shattles have the most experience at cornerback, but Waller could be the "wild card." Goodin said Hood will see time at safety as well.
"We're not big by any means," the third-year coach said. "We've got to be able to defend the pass. It's pretty deflating to stop the running game, and then (the watch the opposition) get easy first downs throwing the ball. We don't want to give up big plays.
"I know we're going to give up receptions, but the biggest thing in the secondary, we want them to tackle. If you miss a tackle, that usually costs you six points. Most of the guys we have in the mix, they'll stick their head in there and are not scared of contact. That's good."
Crisp Academy freshman transfer Cleve Bass will handle most of the kicking duties. Goodin said he's accurate at 35 yards out, but the coach has seen Bass be successful up to 42 yards.
Southland has an 11-game schedule in 2011 -- with no week -- that includes six home games: Brookwood, Mount de Sales, Trinity Christian, Westfield, Terrell Academy and Sherwood. Deerfield is the defending region and state champion, but Goodin said there's one thing he's learned about GISA football.
"A lot of folks don't show back up with the same team because they pick up new people from public schools in the area," he said. "I think the region is going to be pretty balanced. There's several teams like ours that have a chance to have a good team, but are kind of young. I don't see anybody being able to just run away with it like last year.
"One of our goals this year is being able to beat Deerfield. They can put it up on the locker room wall, I don't care. If we mature as the season goes along, I think we have a chance to do that. If we're able to compete with them and have a chance to win the last game, then we'll be where we want to be. We have good chance to be a good team, but a lot has to happen."
Southland's 2011 season outlook
HEAD COACH: Tim Goodin (3rd season at Southland, 9-12 record with Raiders; 18th season overall, 85-81-3 career coaching record).
2010 RECORD: 5-6.
ASSISTANT COACHES: Mike Smith (defensive coordinator), Nathan Hammack (QBs/RB), Doug Parrish (DL), Greg Smith (DBs); Mike Shattles (WRs).
RETURNING STARTERS: Lawton Williams (Sr. FB/LB); Ryan Johnson (Sr. OL/LB); Jake Hood (Sr. QB/DB); Andrew Alexander (Jr. OL/OL); Clay Oxford (Sr., FB/DL); Rob Rush (Sr. OL/DE); Jared Baldwin (Sr. C/DE).
2011 Southland Raiders schedule
Today vs. Brookwood School, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 2 vs. Mount de Sales, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 9 at Pinewood Christian, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 vs. Trinity Christian, Dublin, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 23 at Tiftarea Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 30 at Bulloch Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 7 vs. Westfield School, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 14 vs. Terrell Academy, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 21 vs. Sherwood Christian, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 28 at Bethesda Day, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 4 at Deerfield-Windsor, 7:30 p.m.