KICKOFF 2011: Is this the best Seminole team ever?

One year ago, Seminole County star running back Chris Brown, right, was coming off a huge season — rushing for more than 1,400 yards and 26 touchdowns — when he was injured in a scrimmage as a junior and lost for nearly the entire year. But Brown, an easy Herald Dynamite Dozen selection, is now back for his senior season, hungry and ready to make up for lost time. (Photo by joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

One year ago, Seminole County star running back Chris Brown, right, was coming off a huge season — rushing for more than 1,400 yards and 26 touchdowns — when he was injured in a scrimmage as a junior and lost for nearly the entire year. But Brown, an easy Herald Dynamite Dozen selection, is now back for his senior season, hungry and ready to make up for lost time. (Photo by joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

DONALSONVILLE -- They hear it from fans and parents -- and even their coaches.

And whether it comes in a whisper or a shout, or just the way people look at this team, the kids at Seminole County know what everyone in this part of Georgia is saying about them.

"They're all saying this team may be the most talented team at Seminole,'' said Barren Rambo, a senior who plays fullback and linebacker for the Indians.

Everyone's talking about Seminole County.

"Yeah, we've heard that from people and the coaches,'' added Dee Virgin, one of the top cornerbacks in the state.

So what does it mean?

"It means we need to step up this year as seniors,'' Virgin said.

The praise and the pride that has fallen upon this group comes with something else, too.

"It puts a lot of pressure on us,'' senior running back and Herald Dynamite Dozen selection Chris Brown said. "People have high expectations of us. We have to prove it.''

That's the way Seminole County, which opens tonight at home against No. 5 state-ranked Wesleyan, enters the season, with a mountain of expectations and a chip that fits uniquely on the shoulders of the Indians -- a chip that landed there a year ago when they didn't get a chance to play Mitchell County for the Region 1-A title.

"I don't know if we would have won the game or not, but I would have liked the chance to have played them,'' said Seminole County coach Alan Ingram, whose team had to forfeit the game against Mitchell last season.

Mitchell went unbeaten in the region and captured the title, and Seminole went 6-1 and settled for second. The forfeit came a week after an incident in a game against Daleville, Ala.. The officials ruled that almost every Seminole player had left the bench during a skirmish between a couple of Seminole and Daleville players on the field. The GHSA ruled that every player would be suspended for the next game, which meant Seminole didn't even have enough guys to field a team to play Mitchell.

"The officials left the GHSA no choice,'' Ingram told The Herald last year about the game vs. Daleville, which was stopped immediately after the incident. "The officials said everyone left the bench. The whole thing was blown out of proportion. The whole (incident) lasted about 20 seconds. We had two kids who were involved. The rest of the team went out (to the field) around the numbers. We got them under control and got them back (on the bench).''

Ingram can't get that game back, and he knows his kids will be hungry to win a region title because of what happened.

"We had a good year considering everything that happened,'' he said. "The fiasco cost us a chance to play for the region championships. It still lingers."

Mark down Sept. 30. That's when Mitchell travels to Seminole for a game that might just decide the Region 1-A title this season.

"Everyone expects us to win the region,'' said Brown, who is one of the big reasons expectations are so high this year in Donalsonville.

Brown gained more than 1,400 yards and scored 26 touchdowns as a sophomore. He was expected to have a monster season as a junior, but suffered a hip injury in a scrimmage in August and had to sit out almost the entire season. Now he's back at full strength, and his presence makes the Indians one of the most dangerous Class A teams in the state.

Antwan Buggs, an electric QB who is a threat to run or throw, also returns along with Rambo, who had a big year as a runner last season.

"When we lost Chris Brown to the hip injury last year, every kid knew they had to pick it up,'' Ingram said. "When he was a sophomore, we relied on him, so when we lost him last year it was a good-bad thing. Everyone had to pick up the slack and they did. Rambo combined to gain more than 1,000 yards and my quarterback gained 1,000 yards.

"We move the ball. The last few years we're averaging about 3,500 yards a year. That ain't bad. We run the option and take what teams give us.''

Having Brown at full speed could change those numbers.

"Chris can be as good as he wants to be,'' Ingram said. "He's got an awful lot of talent. He has explosive speed, and he makes good decisions.''

But it's not just the return of Brown that makes Seminole such a threat to make a run in the playoffs. Last year, Ingram said his top seven players were all juniors. He called them "The Magnificent 7,'' and joked about the old western movie with the same name. All seven are back, including Brown, Rambo, Buggs and Virgin, who plays receiver and cornerback, and linebacker/OG Andrew Ingram, who led the team in tackles last year. Desmond Wright and Howard Stephens, who are both two-way linemen, round out "The Magnificent 7."

Ingram believes Virgin is not only a Division 1 player, but one of the best he's ever seen at cornerback.

"He may be the best I've ever coached at that position, and two of those played on Sundays,'' said Ingram, who coached Keon Nash and Dan Land, who both went on to play for the Oakland Raiders. Of course, Land is now the secondary coach at Albany State.

And this team could be the best he's had at Seminole.

"I told them this may be the most talented team Seminole has ever had,'' Ingram said. "I like my team. I just wish I had more of them -- wish we had more numbers.''

But there's no shortage of confidence.

"We expect to win every time we walk on the field,'' Ingram said. "Last year, we were good down the stretch, but we just didn't play well against (Emanuel County Institute) in the first round of the playoffs. We have no excuses. We just didn't play well.''

The Indians overcame so much -- the loss of Brown and the forfeit -- and still finished 7-4 last year. Ingram didn't have to say much to his kids after the loss in the playoffs to ECI. He knew his team would come back hungry this year.

"They were ready to start again the following Monday,'' Ingram said. "I gave them a couple of weeks off, and they were fussing at me to get started again.''

The Indians, of course, open the season against one of the top programs in the state --Wesleyan, which is ranked fifth in the state in the GHSA Class A preseason poll. An upset on opening night might would catapult Seminole into the Top 10 and set the tone for a brilliant season.

Pressure walks hand-in-hand with expectations, and the Indians are the talk of town right now.

"There's been a whole lot said about us not going past the first round in the playoffs (last year),'' Ingram said. "We do expect to go past the second round, and expect to make the big show.''

The kids believe it. These seniors have been playing together since rec ball.

"This is the year,'' Rambo said. "I kind of feel it. The whole team is at a different level this year.''

Virgin said they have never wanted it more.

"We have been playing together for a long time,'' Virgin said. "We want it more now because we're seniors. This is our last year. It's all -- or nothing at all.''

Seminole County's 2011 season outlook

MASCOT: Indians.

HEAD COACH: Alan Ingram (8th season as head coach at Seminole, 48-30 career record with Indians).

2010 RECORD: 7-4.

ASSISTANT COACHES: Steve Reese (RBs/DBs); Mike Savage (DL); Wes Williams (TEs/LBs); Danny Rambo (WRs/LBs); Johnny Roy Parks (OL/DL).

RETURNING STARTERS: Chris Brown (Sr., RB/DB); Dee Virgin (Sr., RB/DB); Andrew Ingram (Sr., OL/LB); Barren Rambo (Sr., LB/FB); Howard Stephens (Sr., TE/DE); Antwan Buggs (Sr., QB/DB); Desmond Wright (Sr., OL/DL); Myron Perry (Sr., OL/DL); Ronnie Edwards (Sr., OL/DL); Jakhari Martin (Jr., WR/LB); Alex Koonce (Jr., OL/LB); Eric Pace (Jr., TE/DE); Murray Pearson (Sr., WR/DB).

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Javonte Smith (So., RB/LB); Jeremy Hicks (Sr., OL/DL); Kez King (Fr., WR/DB); Parker Miller (So., OL); Kendarius Pollard (Fr., OL/DL); Jonathan Hudson (Jr., OL/DL).

2011 Seminole County Indians schedule

Today vs. Wesleyan, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 2 at Terrell County, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 9 vs. Early County, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 16 at Calhoun County, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 23 at Daleville, Ala., 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 30 vs. Mitchell County, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 7 at Pelham, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 14 vs. Stewart County, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 28 at Miller County, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 4 vs. Randolph-Clay, 7:30 p.m.