South Georgia Noles semi-pro football team off to hot start

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- Ivory "Tricky" Williams saw the success that the Albany Panthers had.

He watched the Panthers win the SIFL Championship last Saturday, giving the city of Albany its first professional football championship -- and now he says it's the South Georgia Noles' turn to continue that winning tradition.

Williams is the head coach of the Noles, which is a semi-pro football team in the Gridiron Developmental Football League that practices at Darton College and plays its Saturday night home games at Terrell County High School. They're 3-0 and play again at 7:30 p.m. today against the No. 4-ranked Jefferson County (Fla.) Warriors.

"The Panthers set the tone for us. They put the pressure on us," Williams said. "We have to live up to that pressure now."

The team, which is currently ranked 16th in the nation, has a 68-man roster full of former high school and college players from the Albany area.

The Noles became one of GDFL's newest teams thanks to Williams, who started to put together the squad about eight months ago.

"It was just my dream to combine all these players from different teams in South Georgia and make one team," said Williams, who served as the running backs coach at both Albany High School and Sherwood Christian Academy under former head coach Reginald Mitchell. "I was tired of seeing guys play in high school and then after the season them not go anywhere. I wanted to give them another chance."

Mitchell, who left SCA this offseason to take the defensive coordinator's job at Tift County, is the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach of the Noles, who have eight volunteer assistant coaches. Other assistant coaches are current Sherwood head coach Otis Covington, Nick Towns, John Green, Frank Harvey, Leonard Jones, Rod Pace and Octavious Wimberley. The coaches -- just like the players -- are not paid for their involvement with the team.

"That's what makes our team different, the coaches," said Williams, a Valdosta native. "Most semi-pro teams have around 20 players on their roster, but even on a bad day we have 45 at practice.

"We have eight coaches on this staff, and most semi-pro teams have a coach who also plays. It's hard for players to respect you when you are out there on the field playing and messing up."

And whatever the Noles coaches are teaching their players seems to be working. They have risen in the national rankings each week and have a chance to make even more noise when they play the Warriors in Dawson tonight

"The key is winning conference, and if you do that you get to host a playoff game. So (tonight's) game is big," Williams said.

The Warriors (4-0) are not only unbeaten, they are half of a game ahead of South Georgia for first place in the Southeastern Division, which is one of 19 divisions scattered around the nation.

The Noles are led by quarterback Marcus Brooks, who played under center for Fort Valley State and Shaw University (N.C.) Through three games, Brooks has thrown for 541 yards, nine touchdowns and just two interceptions.

"Playing for a team like this has given me a chance to get more film, get my name out there and have scouts see me at the next level," said Brooks, who has also rushed for a touchdown this season.

And Williams said the scouts are paying attention to the Noles.

"These guys have a shot at the real league," Williams said. "There are scouts at these games. This has given them exposure. I have been getting calls from scouts out of Arizona. They have heard that we are loaded with talent."

Nowhere are the Noles deeper in talent than at receiver. They have 18 receivers on their roster who are rotated on and off the field during games. LaMontray Williams, an Albany native and Fort Valley State grad, leads the team at that position with 122 yards and one touchdown. Other key receivers are Albany High grad Kenny Jordan and Dougherty High School grad Marcus Nelson.

Tift County native Lanarius McKinley leads the team's rushing attack with 184 yards and five touchdowns.

"Of course, we want to win a championship, but our championship is to get these guys signed into a junior college or get them into an arena league by the end of the season," Williams said. "When we see guys do that, we have done our job."