KICKOFF 2011: Trojans begin No. 1 -- despite tons of turnover

Lee County linebacker Thomas Wright, a Herald Dynamite Dozen selection, could be a difference maker this year.

Lee County linebacker Thomas Wright, a Herald Dynamite Dozen selection, could be a difference maker this year.

LEESBURG -- Nobody lost more than Lee County -- nobody.

How about 3,331 yards in the air and 39 TD passes from Justin Walker? Or Sanford Seay, who is now at Georgia, and his 1,105 receiving yards and 15 TDs?

Walker, who set a Georgia single-game record for all classes with 591 passing yards against Warner Robins last year, was The Herald's John Reynolds Player of the Year, and Seay was the People's Choice Player of the Year by fans during a first-ever online voting contest.

And what about receiver James Terrell (58-788-13 TD), and running back Denzel Eckles, who gave the Trojans that elusive double threat as a runner or receiver, and combined for more than 1,000 yards of offense?

They loaded up the bus at Lee County.

"Yeah,'' said coach Dean Fabrizio with a long pause. "That's a lot of offense.''

So what now?

The Trojans, who have never had back-to-back winning seasons in history, return only three starters on offense, and just four on defense.

No problem.

"Every year you're going to lose some, and every year you are going to gain some,'' linebacker and Dynamite Dozen selection Thomas Wright said. "Last year, we had a great team. This year, we want to build off of that. We have guys who may not have a lot of experience, but they have the bodies and the mentality to fill that void.''

Lee County opened up the field and lit up the scoreboard last year with an electric spread offense that was ignited by Walker.

Enter Matt Mears, a junior quarterback who saw playing time as a sophomore early in the season during several one-sided Lee County wins.

"As a sophomore he got some playing time,'' Fabrizio said. "Anytime you lose a guy who threw for almost 60 touchdowns and almost 6,000 yards in his career -- you lose a lot. But two years ago when we came in here and went to the spread people were asking: 'Can Justin do it?' Now they're asking the same thing about Matt.

"Matt's got a lot of savvy. He's a smart kid who is able to make his reads. The key thing in our offense is to be able to make reads, and get the ball to the right guy.''

The right guy could be Josh Cabrera, who was the team's third-leading receiver as a freshman. He caught more than 500 yards worth of passes last year, and it's impossible to put a ceiling on how many yards Cabrera will end up with in a four-year career at Lee County, where they love to throw.

"He's a good player, and he plays a lot older than he is,'' Fabrizio said.

Mears will have a chance to get to know his receivers. With the exception of senior Drew Carr, they're all young. Stephen Collier is a sophomore, and J. Q. Quimbly is just a freshman.

The Trojans bring back only four players on defense, because cornerback Kenneth Hurley, a junior, has moved to running back, where he brings the tools to succeed.

"He started at cornerback as a sophomore, and he's got a lot of elusiveness and a lot of explosiveness,'' Fabrizio said.

Fabrizio has a way of creating offense, and he has already turned the mentality around at Lee County, where the Trojans had won just seven total games in the previous four years before going 7-4 last season.

"Last year, those seniors really instilled the mindset -- the winning mindset -- to work hard every day and never take a day off,'' said senior Ryne Stickland, who returns at center. "The year before that I believe we were bigger and faster, but last year we had a different attitude. Now it's time to pass the torch to us. We have that mindset.''

Strickland also believes in Lee County's philosophy on offense.

"From an offensive standpoint -- with the offense we run -- you don't have to have big offensive linemen or fast receivers,'' he said. "We can nickel-and-dime you to death.''

The Trojans are going to spread the field and throw the ball, and they have faith in Mears. Some of the kids joke that he looks like Peyton Manning -- well, at least facially.

"I think he's going to be a good quarterback,'' Strickland said. "He got a lot of reps last year, and he's a quick learner.''

A lot of kids will have to step up for Lee County to make another run at the playoffs, but the players believe they can.

"I think we will be better than we were last year,'' linebacker T.C. Carr said. "I think the defense will be better. Defense is all about having that dog mentality -- that pit bulldog mentality. We all have that.''

And they really don't care about the doubters.

"At Lee County we always have to prove ourselves to people,'' Carr said. "People outside Lee County don't think anything of us.''

That's why this season is so important, because last year's emergence changed the way Lee County fans felt about this program.

"Those guys last year definitely established a foundation,'' said Fabrizio, who has seen the number of players double in the school's eighth- and ninth-grade programs over the past two years. "They created a lot of excitement. It's up to these guys to keep it going.''

The players feel the same way.

"We don't want to be a one-hit wonder,'' Carr said.

Lee County's 2011 season outlook

MASCOT: Trojans.

HEAD COACH: Dean Fabrizio (3rd season at Lee County, 4th overall as head coach; 22-19 overall career record as head coach).

2010 RECORD: 7-4.

ASSISTANT COACHES: Andy Scott (def. coor.); Rhett Grant (DBs/special teams); Condre Payne (DBs); Ed Reaves (DL); Mike Harville (QBs); Carey Metts (WRs); Rick Carr (OL); Kevin Pych (kickers).

RETURNING STARTERS: Ryne Stickland (Sr., OL); Zach Gardner (Sr., OL); Josh Cabrera (So., WR); Kenneth Hurley (Jr., DB/RB); Julius Cloud (Sr., DB); Andrew Stroud (Jr., WR/DB); Tra Crawford (Sr., DL); T.C. Carr (Sr., LB); Casey Hightower (Jr., DB); Austin Joiner (Jr., DB).

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Matt Mears (Jr., QB); Drew Carr (Sr., WR); Stephen Collier (So., WR/QB); Devin Rogers (Sr., OL); Brady Jones (Sr., OL); Shabari Jones (So., OL); William Butler (Jr., DL); Chris Lockett (Jr., LB); Adam Flynn (Sr., DL); Colton Grove (Jr., DL).

2011 Lee County Trojans schedule

Today vs. Baconton Charter, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 2 vs. Crawford County, 7:30 p.m.

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

Sept. 23 at Northside, Columbus, 7:30 p.m.

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

Oct. 7 at Northside, Warner Robins, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 14 at Hardaway, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 21 at Thomas County Central, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 28 vs. Bainbridge, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 4 vs. Warner Robins, 7:30 p.m.