Under the guidance of Albany quarterback Emmanul Byrd has had the Indians on the rise for the past few seasons. The senior’s new challenge, however, is to keep the Indians on the winning track. Despite moving up a classification in the offseason, Albany now must compete in one of the toughest regions in Southwest Georgia.
ALBANY -- Albany High is making the leap to Region 1-AAAA this season, but even though the Indians are moving to a higher classification, most of the neighborhood looks the same.
And no one at Albany High is that worried about the move.
“Nothing against Region 1-AAAA,’’ began Albany High football coach Felton Williams, “but I feel we can move from AA to AAAA without missing a beat.’’
When the GHSA decided to reclassify last spring and go from five classes to six classes, Albany High got caught in no-man’s land, and while most of their rivals in Region 1-AA stayed in AA, the Indians were the only school to move up to AAA.
The problem was that when they got to AAA, there was no one in close proximity to play, so Albany petitioned to move up to the new Class AAAA.
And when the Indians landed, they ended up playing all the public schools in Dougherty County — the same ones they were already playing in non-region games.
The new Region 1-AAAA is made of Albany High and the seven schools that were previously in Region 1-AAA: Dougherty, Monroe, Westover, Worth County, Crisp County, Americus-Sumter and Cairo.
Two years ago, Williams made it a point to schedule all the Dougherty County schools because he believed they should be playing each other in football anyway, and because it decides an official city champion. Now, all four schools are in the same region.
“It’s going to make the city championship even more important, because those games are also region games,’’ said Westover coach Octavia Jones, whose team won the city championship two years ago. Monroe, Albany and Westover all went 2-1 in city games last year.
“We were already playing the three local city schools,’’ Williams said. “You have to throw (the records and everything else) out the window when you play those games, because the kids all know each other and it’s so competitive. We already know we can compete with those schools. We feel we can compete with the schools in the region. Nothing against the other schools in the region, but Cairo has been heads and shoulders above everybody else.
“But the way we look at it is that you can only put 11 men on the field at one time. We’re the new kids on the block, but we’re not new to that level of competition.’’
Williams’ point is simple: His team was playing in what is arguably the best Class AA region in Georgia. For most of the season last year, three Region 1-AA teams — Fitzgerald, Cook and Brooks — were ranked in the Top 10 in the state Class AA poll, and Thomasville was in and out of the poll but always a power.
All of those programs are football powers and routinely beat schools in higher classifications, so the idea of moving up to Region 1-AAAA actually could benefit Albany.
“I’m not going to miss playing Fitzgerald and Brooks and Cook and Thomasville and Early County,’’ Williams said.
Albany High also gets a break in traveling. Not only are three region games at Hugh Mills Stadium, across the street from Albany High, but even the other schools in the region are much closer. Worth County is less than a half-hour away, and Crisp County is only about 45 minutes from Albany. Americus-Sumter is less than an hour. Cairo will be the longest trip Albany will make to play a region game in the next two years. Thomasville and Brooks are about the same distance as Cairo, but everyone else in Region 1-AA was a longer trip.
“We’re not going to miss the long drives to Fitzgerald and Cook and Berrien and Early County,’’ Williams said. “One good side of playing in this region is the travel.’’
The Indians believe they will compete for a playoff spot this season, and none of Williams’ players is worried about moving to a new region.
“They don’t get caught up in the number of A’s behind the region title,’’ Williams said. “They’re humble, and as my grandmother would say, ‘We’ve had our share of being taken behind the woodshed in Region 1-AA.’ ”
And the word is spreading about Albany High being in Region 1-AAAA.
“You hear people talking about how good Albany High is going to be this year,’’ said Monroe offensive lineman Hakeem Porter, who was a Herald Dynamite Dozen selection as a junior a year ago.
The Indians could make some noise in their new region. They have a lot of talent returning, including quarterback Emmanul Byrd, a four-year starter, defensive back Endrico Carter, another four-year starter who intercepted eight passes a year ago, and Juwon Young, a linebacker who is being looked at by several big-time programs, such as Auburn and Florida.
“It’s crazy in a way that we are moving up to a new region,’’ Young said. “I believe we will be fine in this region. Last year in Region 1-AA, I felt like we had the hardest region. This region might be a little easier. I feel like we can play.’’