Otis Covington is entering his second season as head coach of the Eagles but must find a way to replace key players Mack Green (graduation), Vashon Gaines (transfer) and Brett Shephard (injury).

Otis Covington is entering his second season as head coach of the Eagles but must find a way to replace key players Mack Green (graduation), Vashon Gaines (transfer) and Brett Shephard (injury).

Counting down to kickoff

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s in-depth look at Sherwood marks the ninth 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 Tuesday, we’ll take a closer look at Mitchell County and Baconton Charter. Enjoy!

ALBANY — The 2011 season was just a whirlwind for Otis Covington at Sherwood Christian.

He took over in May and technically only had a few weeks in August to put together a team.

The Eagles went 1-9 in GISA 3-AAA in Covington’s first season. Having a full year to implement his program has been a breath of fresh air.

“It feels almost like year one,” Covington said during the early stages of summer practice.

Sherwood returns back to GISA 3-AA in 2012 after losing a ton of senior talent, including electric athlete Mack Green, who signed with Olivet-Nazarene. On top of that, leading receiver and tackler Vashon Gaines left to play his senior year at Albany High, and quarterback Brett Shephard, who was expected to return under center, gave up football after suffering his third concussion.

Sherwood will have six seniors after a rather large addition before the season, but Covington estimates more than 60 percent of the 22 players in camp are freshmen or sophomores.

“A lot of players on both sides of the ball had no starting experience last year,” Covington said. “I’m hoping somewhere around game two or three they start putting things together.”

There are bright spots, however. Players have been working out since June and are a much more cohesive unit in year two of Covington’s tenure. Senior T.J. Clay, the Eagles’ soccer star in the spring, returns at kicker, but he’ll showcase much more this season playing at wide receiver, cornerback and kick returner.

“He’s probably one of the most athletic players we have, the fastest man on the team,” said Covington, noting that Clay shined at corner in summer 7-on-7 tournaments against Valdosta High’s JV and Lincoln Tallahassee.

Clay knows the Eagles won’t win on their depth or size but wants to see just how loud the heart of a scrappy team can beat.

“We’re small, but we have a lot of heart,” Clay said. “We’re not going to give up. I can guarantee you that.”

Sherwood’s offensive and defensive lines — the biggest player on either is about 6-foot, 220 pounds — got a super-sized addition at the start of practice in 6-3, 330-pound Quantravious Cameron, who came over from Albany High. Senior lineman Josh Hutcherson also returns to help lead the Eagles up front.

Sophomore Dalton Todd will take the quarterback reins and run. Todd and fellow sophomore defensive end and offensive tackle Kenny Brown both competed in the National Underclassmen Combines in Atlanta and Oklahoma this offseason.

Todd will have capable targets in Clay and senior Chandler Tabb at wideout.

“He’s a good underclassman,” Tabb said of Todd. “He’ll get better with time.”

Time is likely what these young Eagles need to take flight. They’ll have a handful of youngsters running the ball in the spread offense with freshman Chaz Griffin leading the pack early.

“We’re just trying to get them to understand the difference between the practice tempo and the game tempo,” Covington said. “Because they don’t have that experience, a lot of them don’t understand that yet.”

That experience will come. The Eagles just need the wins and confidence to follow.

Sherwood opens the season Friday against Trinity Christian out of Dublin.

Sherwood’s 2012 season outlook

MASCOT: Eagles.

HEAD COACH: Otis Covington (2nd season overall — 1-9 record).

2011 RECORD: 1-9.

ASSISTANT COACH: Amos Ealy (defensive coordinator); James Byrd (OL/DL); Leonard Jones (LB/OL); Chad Evans (QB); Adam Crosby (WR/DB).

RETURNING STARTERS: Dalton Todd (So., QB); Jacob Rodriguez (Sr., C); Kenny Brown (So., OT/LB); Josh Hutcherson (Sr., G/DE).

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: T.J. Clay (Sr., K/P/WR/DB); Quantravious Cameron (Sr., OT/DL); Taylor Tabb (Sr., WR/DB); Ben Williams (So., WR/DB).

2012 Sherwood eagles’ schedule

Friday vs. Trinity Christian, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Tiftarea Academy, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 7 vs. Randolph Southern, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 vs. Southland Academy, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 20 at Windsor Academy, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Deerfield-Windsor, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 at Valwood, 7:30 p.m.

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

Oct. 19 vs Southwest Georgia Academy, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 26 vs. Terrell Academy, 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 1 vs. Brookwood, 7:30 p.m.

Bold denotes GISA Region 2-AA game