Randolph-Clay running back Cornelius Bennett, center, tries to escape the defense during a recent practice in Cuthbert. Bennett, along with running mate Don Bolden, represent a formidable two-headed monster for the Red Devils this year after the two combined to rush for more than 2,500 yards last season. (john.millikan@albanyherald.com)

Randolph-Clay running back Cornelius Bennett, center, tries to escape the defense during a recent practice in Cuthbert. Bennett, along with running mate Don Bolden, represent a formidable two-headed monster for the Red Devils this year after the two combined to rush for more than 2,500 yards last season. (john.millikan@albanyherald.com)

Counting down to kickoff

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s in-depth look at Randolph-Clay and Randolph Southern marks the third and fourth of 26 prep football season previews that will appear in the sports section during the next two weeks as we count down to Kickoff 2012. On Friday, we’ll take a closer look at Pelham and Calhoun County. Enjoy!

CUTHBERT — Don Bolden ripped through the defensive line and bolted 40 yards to the end zone.

He was touched by a few defensive players during a Randolph-Clay preseason practice last week, but that didn’t matter to the Red Devils’ star running back — he wasn’t going to let anybody stop him.

That’s the attitude Bolden is bringing into the 2012 season, which could be highlighted by one long run after another from the Randolph-Clay junior, who racked up 1,628 yards on the ground last year.

Bolden, however, isn’t concerned with his stats.

“It doesn’t matter about the yards,” he said after practice. “It just matters about the wins.”

One year after struggling with a youthful team, the Red Devils think they have the right pieces to get to the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

And the biggest piece to their puzzle is Bolden.

“He’s stronger and bigger,” coach Daniel McFather said. “The weakness he had last year was that he fumbled, so he has got to hold onto the ball. He has good speed, good power and good vision. Hopefully he will have a similar year like he did his sophomore year.”

Junior Cornelius Bennett, who rushed for 1,005 yards last year, had a heck of a sophomore season, too.

“We have so many good running backs,” said junior quarterback Caleb McFather, the coach’s son who is starting his third season under center. “I am just surrounded by really good athletes. We have that ability to run and get some momentum going in the run game, which will open up the pass.”

The Red Devils finished 4-6 overall and 3-5 in Region 1-A last season, which wasn’t bad for a rebuilding year during which they had to replace 22 seniors from the season before.

Now all of those underclassmen who were thrown into the fire last season are a year older and more experienced.

“We’ve got a long way to go, but we are way ahead of where we were (last year),” said coach Daniel McFather, whose Red Devils return eight starters on each side of the ball. “Last year we had to start from scratch after losing 22 seniors. This year they have a grasp of the schemes we are trying to do. We need to fine-tune it, but they understand the goals of what we are trying to do.”

No one understands those goals more so than Caleb, who said he has been learning his father’s offense since “the day I was born.”

“He’s almost like a coach on the field,” the coach said.

Caleb has learned the ins and outs of Randolph-Clay’s offense and has turned into a crucial part of on-the-field decisions.

“When we get on the field and somebody doesn’t know quite what to do or has a question, they can come to me for help and I know blocking schemes and routes,” Caleb said. “And I have also learned from my coaches how to read coverages better, so if something doesn’t match up then I have the ability to change it on the field.”

Most of Caleb’s duties will be handing the ball off to Bolden and Bennett, but the junior has worked to develop his arm over the summer and will have some talented receivers to throw to, including senior Freddie Peterson and junior Marquin Jones.

With all of the offensive weapons and a reliable defense that should improve on last year’s average of 28 points allowed per game, there is plenty of optimism around Cuthbert.

“We’ve got big plans this year, and I have faith in my team,” Peterson said. “We are just trying to prove that to people.”


2012 RANDOLPH-CLAY OUTLOOK:

MASCOT: Red Devils.

HEAD COACH: Daniel McFather (4th season at Randolph-Clay)

2012 RECORD: 4-6.

ASSISTANT COACHES: Jim Morrell (defensive coordinator), Eric Thomas (OL/DL), Mike Adams (LB/RB).

RETURNING STARTERS: Caleb McFather (Jr., QB), Malik Murphy (Jr., C), Darius Jones (So., LT), Trahmad Wiggins (Jr., LB), Freddie Peterson (Sr., WR/DB), Gary McCrae (So., LB), Morriss Belcher (So., DT), Tavarus Williams (Sr., DE), Cornelius Bennett (Jr., RB), Don Bolden (Jr., RB).

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Marquavious Paramore (Jr., RB/LB), Marcus Smith (So., RB/LB), Marquin Jones (Jr., WR/DB), Alonzo Carruthers (So., LG/LB), Jacolby Thomas (So., RG/DT), Demarkis Teasly (Fr., RT/DT), Shyheim Foster (Sr., TE/DE), Montavious Few (So., K).

2012 RED DEVILS SCHEDULE:

Aug. 31 at Hancock Central, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 7 vs. Spencer, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 21 at Stewart County, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 vs. Barbour County (Ala.), 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. Mitchell County, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 12 vs. Miller County, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 18 at Baconton Charter, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 26 vs. Seminole County, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 2 at Calhoun County, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 9 at Terrell County, 7:30 p.m.

--- REGION GAMES DENOTED IN BOLD