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Heart of a champion

Worth County senior quarterback Eli Reddell has reason to smile heading into this season as he takes over under center for the first time and hopes to lead the Rams back to the state playoffs. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Worth County senior quarterback Eli Reddell has reason to smile heading into this season as he takes over under center for the first time and hopes to lead the Rams back to the state playoffs. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Counting down to kickoff

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s in-depth look at WORTH COUNTY marks the sixth 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 Sunday, we’ll take a closer look at DEERFIELD and TERRELL ACADEMY. Enjoy!

SYLVESTER — Worth County coach Scotty Ward changes his description, but his point is well taken.

“We’ve got to be the shortest football team in Southwest Georgia,’’ he said, before adding: “We’ve got to be the shortest team in Georgia.’’

Later he included the southern half of the United States.

“We’ve got to be the shortest team in (the south part )of America,’’ he said.

He smiled every time he changed the geography, and that’s because Ward likes his team so much that he doesn’t think the fact the Rams only have a handful of players taller than six feet will keep Worth out of the playoffs.

His players believe it, too.

“We may be short, but we’ve got heart,’’ said offensive lineman Kevin Smith, who is one of the tallest Rams at 6-foot-2. “We’ve got heart, and that’s what it takes to win.’’

They know that at Worth better than anywhere. The Rams have made it to the playoffs for the last three years, and every year they had to win on the final day to get there. Last year they were trailing, 7-0, to Crisp County at halftime in the final game, and then won, 28-7, to grab a playoff spot. Three years ago, they needed a last-minute field goal to beat Monroe on the final day to reach the postseason.

“We’re scrappy,’’ Ward said. “We play until the end.’’

It’s that attitude and that gutsy tradition at Worth that has this team ignoring the critics.

“We keep hearing how we’re not going to be any good,’’ said Marlin Hall, who will be a four-year starter in the secondary and also play receiver. But he’s not hearing that from the community in Sylvester, which supports its football team as well as any in Southwest Georgia.

“We’re hearing it from people in the region, other players,’’ Hall said. “On Twitter, on Facebook, they are saying we aren’t going to do anything this year. They’re saying they’re going to kill us.’’

Hall just laughs and shrugs off the hyperbole.

“It doesn’t bother me at all,’’ he said. “It just motivates me.’’

The Rams did lose a lot, including Ellis Anderson, who led the region in rushing (1,310 yards and 24 TDs), two all-region and Herald All-Area offensive linemen and all-region and Herald All-Area defensive lineman Dantavious Jones, who was one of the top defensive players in Southwest Georgia. Jones, who had 12 sacks and 21 plays for losses, simply reeked havoc.

“We lost a lot, and that’s what people are looking at,’’ said Smith, a three-year starter at offensive tackle. “I kind of like being the underdog sometimes. But I think we’re going to be a playoff team because of all the hard work and dedication, and because of how bad we want to be a playoff team.’’

They have worked hard. Ward, who has been a coach at Worth for 10 years and is entering his fourth year as the head coach, said this group has proven itself in the weight room and is one of the strongest he has had since he became the head coach.

“We’re short, but we’re strong,’’ Ward said. “These kids work hard.’’

Ward may have lost Jones on defense, but he has three starters back in his secondary: Hall, Hakeem Slade, and Lavontae Robinson, who had six interceptions last year. Worth also has seven seniors starting on defense, including returning starters defensive tackle Greg Clark, defensive end Wesley Douthit and linebacker Jamie Rockwell. None of them, however, are taller than 6-feet.

Ironically, one of the tallest players is kicker/punter, Aaron Sinclair, a junior who has been kicking at Worth for two years. He’s 6-3, 190 pounds and is a serious weapon.

“He’s got a chance to be real good,’’ Ward said.

Sinclair could be the difference if Worth, which was 5-5 and 3-3 in the region last year before losing to state-runnerup Peach County in the first round of the playoffs, needs an extra point here or there to get to the postseason. Ward believes his shorter players will adjust and find a way to win.

“We’re not big up front (on defense),’’ Ward said. “We’re going to have to use our quickness and make plays. We’re going to have to fly to the football. We’re going to have to do what we have to do.’’

That’s the theme at Worth.

The secondary could be one of the best in the area.

Hall brings everything to the table: speed, savvy and experience.

“He’s just that kid,’’ Ward said. “He’s our leader on defense, and as a four-year starter, he’s been there. He makes all the plays we ask him to make, and he’s a great kid. He’s just a kid you want to be around.’’

The defensive front may not be huge and may have to face some big tests against some of the mammoth offensive lines in the region. But the Rams have faith in each other on defense.

“We’re little, but we’re strong,’’ said Robinson, who will also be one of the key players in the secondary, as well as on offense. He will play receiver and run back kicks, and he gives Worth the X-factor because he has quickness and elusiveness that drives opponents crazy.

“He can just dang do it,’’ Ward said of Robinson. “He’s a player. He can make plays.’’

Ward plans on getting the ball to Robinson and Hall, and he has a new quarterback to do it.

Eli Reddell, a senior who also pitches for the Rams’ baseball team, takes over at quarterback, replacing Savon Farley, who graduated.

“He can throw a football better than he pitches,’’ Ward said of Reddell.

Reddell is the epitome of what this Rams team is all about. He is a tough, scrappy athlete on the baseball diamond who brings the same competitiveness to the football team. Reddell will be tasked with running the offense, but it will be Robinson and Hall who will be counted on to be big-play guys for a team that will still run the ball a lot and try to grind out wins on the ground.

Quantavious Sweney (5-10, 185) moves from fullback to tailback to replace Anderson, and Ward believes his kids will have success running the ball behind a short but experienced line.

Smith is 6-2, and tight end Kyle Evans is 6-3 and 220, but the rest of Worth’s line is 6-feet tall or under. Still, the Rams bring back starters in Smith and senior tackle Marquavion Mency (5-11, 275). Jeff Brady (5-9, 230) and Clark (5-9, 220), a two-way returning starter, both started at the guard spots last year as sophomores. Center Drew Norton (6-0, 205) played some at guard last year and moves over to center as a senior.

“I don’t see how we’re going to run over anybody,’’ Ward said. “We’re going to have to put people in motion and do some things to disguise what we’re doing, but we’re going to run the football.’’

And on defense, Ward feels all those seniors can make a difference.

“We may not have a lot of returning starters but we have a lot of seniors, older guys who can step up even if they didn’t start,’’ Ward said. “You know when you’re a senior you are supposed to play.’’

And at Worth, the kids believe they’re supposed to win.

“We don’t just want to make the playoffs this year. We want to make a run in the playoffs,’’ Smith said. “We’re going to surprise some folks.’’


WORTH COUNTY'S 2012 SEASON OUTLOOK:

MASCOT: Rams.

HEAD COACH: Scotty Ward (4th season as head coach, 16-17 career record).

2011 RECORD: 5-6.

ASSISTANT COACHES: Ken Holland (OL/QBs); Chase Giddens (OL); Cedric Stegall (defensive coordinator/LBs); Kenyon Sims (DBs); Jodie Knight (LBs); John Popham (WRs); Arthur Davis (DL).

RETURNING STARTERS: Marlin Hall (Sr., DB); Lavontae Robinson (Sr., DB/WR); Hakeem Slade (Sr., DB); Wesley Douthit (Sr., DE); James Rockwell (Jr., LB); Kevin Smith (Sr., OL); Marquavion Mency (Sr., OL); Jeff Bradley (Jr., OL); Greg Clark (Jr., OL); Tay Sweney (Jr., FB); Drew Norton (Sr., C) .

PLAYERS IN COLLEGE OR HIGHER: Meshack Williams (Sr., LB, Kansas State); Justin Tukes (So., TE, Central Florida); Charles Jones (Sr., LB, Kentucky Christian).

2012 WORTH COUNTY RAMS SCHEDULE:

Aug. 24 vs. Swainsboro, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Cook, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 at Tift County, 8 p.m.

Sept. 21 vs. Dougherty, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 vs. Americus-Sumter, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 12 at Cairo, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 vs. Crisp County, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 26 at Albany, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 2 vs. Westover, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 9 at Monroe, 7:30 p.m.

--- BOLD denotes GHSA Region 1-AAAA game