Early County RB Ladonis Bryant is out to torch defenses this season like he did Westover’s last year. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
BLAKELY — The talent, speed, strength, agility — it was all there, littered throughout the roster of last season’s Early County football team.
Counting down to kickoff
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s in-depth look at EARLY COUNTY marks the second of 26 prep football season previews that will appear in the sports section during the next 2 1/2 weeks as we count down to Kickoff 2012. On Thursday, we’ll take a closer look at Randolph-Clay and Randolph Southern. Enjoy!
But none of that defined the 2011 Bobcats, who finished 4-6 overall and 2-4 in Region 1-AA. Instead, their identity came from what they couldn’t do.
“We played a lot of good first halves and third quarters, but that fourth quarter we just weren’t able to push through,” said Early County coach Trey Woolf, who watched his team lose four games by six points or less last season. “Our mental toughness has got to get better. I told them the other day that I can’t go out there in the fourth quarter and push you. That’s where senior leadership comes in.”
And that’s something the Bobcats have this time around.
Senior quarterback Jacori Taylor and senior running back Ladonis Bryant — one of the best 1-2 combinations in Southwest Georgia — have Blakely believing that their Bobcats can reappear in the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
Now, it’s just up to the Bobcats to believe in themselves, Woolf said after practice last week.
“The ability is there. Whether they can push through the adversity and hard times and get better week-to-week is up to them. Ultimately it’s up to them if they want to win those games in the fourth quarter,” said Woolf, who has a long-standing policy of not letting his players talk to the media during the preseason. “We are trying to finish. We want to be better in the fourth quarter. That’s what we have to do.”
Four of Early County’s 2011 losses were tough to take — 16-12 in the season opener against Bainbridge, 13-12 in overtime against Region 1-AA champion Thomasville, 20-14 against traditional state powerhouse Fitzgerald and 27-26 against Cook.
Each of those teams made the playoffs and each of those teams did something Early County couldn’t: finish.
“We needed to be more disciplined and fight through adversity,” Woolf said. “It’s those little things you need to fight through to win games.”
When games come down to the wire this season, the Bobcats will have Taylor and Bryant, who are each a year stronger and a year wiser.
Taylor completed 80 of 187 passes for 1,171 yards and eight TDs and rushed for 624 yards and a TD last season — and has only gotten better.
“Last year (Jacori), for lack of a better word, wasn’t polished,” Woolf said. “He has a big arm and is a big kid and runs the ball well. He doesn’t have great, great speed, but he is real capable in the run game. If things go like we want them to then he should be a good threat throwing and running the football.”
And he can always just hand the ball to Bryant, who rushed for 523 yards and five TDs and caught 24 passes for 484 yards and two TDs last season.
“The big thing about Ladonis is that he is not a very big kid, but he is strong, real strong,” Woolf said. “He is a capable tackle-to-tackle runner, but we can put him out wide and he is a good route runner. He has a lot of ability to do stuff from the running back and wide receiver positions.”
But Woolf also believes that he needs a strong supporting cast to compete in one of the toughest regions around. He said that skill players Martavious Allen (WR), Chris Lee (WR), Laron Randall (TE) and Brandon Carter (RB) could take some pressure off Early County’s Big Two.
The Bobcats lost eight seniors from last year’s squad, including three defensive linemen, the starting safety and a starting offensive lineman.
The offensive and defensive lines were a strength last year for the Bobcats, and even though they lost a handful of linemen, Woolf believes he has kids who are ready to fill those shoes.
“Everything starts up front, whether you want to run the ball or stop the run,” Woolf said. “It starts on the line. Last year, we were good up front and physical.”
The linebackers were also a key to Early County’s tough-as-nails defense, which allowed just 20 points per game.
Brakari Isom has started three years on defense and will return this year as the team’s starting middle linebacker.
“It’s good to have him back, because he is kind of the quarterback of the defense,” Woolf said.
This year, Woolf is putting pressure on Isom and the rest of the seniors to step up and lead during crunch time.
“You gotta put responsibility on them, and we do,” Woolf said. “We want them to push themselves at practice and be first in drills and be even better students and citizens than they are football players.
“I’ve really tried to press upon them that there is a sense of urgency. You can’t wait till tomorrow to have a good practice.
“You have to have a good practice today and a better practice tomorrow and keep building on it.”
EARLY COUNTY'S 2012 OUTLOOK:
HEAD COACH: Trey Woolf (12th season at Early County).
2010 RECORD: 4-6.
ASSISTANT COACHES: Kerry Morris, Craig Story, Randy Isom, John Randolph, Josh Story.
RETURNING STARTERS: Jacori Taylor (Sr., QB), Ladonis Bryant (Sr., RB), Brandon Carter (Sr., QB), Larun Randall (Sr., WR), Shaq Powell (Sr., OL), Brakari Isom, (Sr., LB), Jartavius Jones (Jr., DL), K.D. Williams (Sr., DL), Fred Horn (Jr., LB), Jarquavius Smith (Jr., DB).
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: A.J. Jackson (Jr., RB), Xavier Thomas (Sr., OL), Jatavis Lyles (Jr., LB), Laversey Taylor (Sr., DB).
2012 Early County Bobcats schedule
Aug. 31 vs. Seminole County, 8 p.m.
Sept. 7 at Miller County, 8 p.m.
Sept. 14 vs. Bainbridge, 8 p.m.
Sept. 21 at Calhoun County, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 28 at Brooks County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 5 at Berrien, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 19 vs. Thomasville, 8 p.m.
Oct. 26 at Fitzgerald, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 2 vs. Pelham, 8 p.m.
Nov. 9 vs. Cook, 8 p.m.
BOLD --- denotes GHSA Region 1-AA game