KICKOFF 2012: Eagles ready for big move up to AA

Terrell Academy's leading rusher last season Josh Wardrip ran for more than 1,000 yards and returns this year ready to lead the Eagles' offense again.

Terrell Academy's leading rusher last season Josh Wardrip ran for more than 1,000 yards and returns this year ready to lead the Eagles' offense again.

Counting down to kickoff

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s in-depth look at DEERFIELD and TERRELL ACADEMY marks the seventh and eighth 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 Monday, we’ll take a closer look at SHERWOOD. Enjoy!

DAWSON — After back-to-back titles in GISA Class A in 2008-09, Terrell Academy has seen the torch passed to region foe Westwood the last few years.

Now the Eagles want to take it back, but they’ll have to do it in Class AA this season. With 13 seniors returning from last year’s Final Four team in Class A, Bill Murdock’s kids may have the talent to do just that.

“(This year’s seniors) got to play a lot (last season), so I hope that’s going to make a big difference experience-wise,” said Murdock, entering his eighth year in Dawson. “It’s going to be tough going to AA with Valwood, Westwood, SGA, Brookwood and Sherwood, but I think it will be good for all the schools. It’s real close rivals, and it’s going to be good for the gates.”

The Eagles, who went 6-6 last year and were outmatched in the state semifinals by Memorial Day, will have to find a new quarterback, but many of the skill position players are back.

Leading rusher Josh Wardrip, who ran for more than 1,000 yards last season, will carry the load along with fellow senior Todd Beaver and Gray Rowe.

Beaver, a three-year starter on offense, missed most of last season after injuring his knee but returns healthy and will play some at quarterback in Wildcat formations. Beaver, who accounted for five touchdowns in the only game he played at quarterback in 2011, also ran for eight touchdowns in the first three games last year before the injury.

Sophomore Gabel Freeman and freshman Christian Harris were locked in a duel earlier in summer practices for the starting quarterback job, but Murdock said both will play. The spread offense is still the soup du jour at Terrell, but with a solid returning offensive line and several bulldozers in the backfield the Eagles’ rushing attack will be hard to handle.

“We’ll be more run-oriented than we were last year,” said Murdock, who has about 40 players on the roster. “We’ve got some pretty good size up front and some kids that can run the football, so we’ll try to take advantage of that.”

Seniors Clint Smith at guard and Seth Garland at tackle lead the moving crew up front for the Eagles and will also play on the defensive line.

Seniors Blake Grimsley and Josh Brunswick will be the targets at wideout for whoever is under center. If Terrell Academy can avoid the injury bug that’s plagued them the last two seasons, Grimsley believes they can challenge Westwood, winners of the last two Class A state titles.

“They have (taken the region over) lately,” Grimsley said of their rivals from Camilla. “The last couple of years we’ve played and they’ve beaten us, we’ve had injuries in that game to key players and (others) not being able to play. If we put the work in and everybody puts their heart into it, we’ll be fine.”

Most of these 13 seniors were freshmen the last time the Eagles won a state title in 2009. Defensive coordinator Don Beard, though, has been there for all five of the state championships in school history. At 73, Beard is still buzzing around the sidelines, albeit on a golf cart, for another shot at a title ring.

“Same old, same old,” Wardrip said of Beard, who coached the Eagles to three straight titles in Class AA during the 1990s. “He’s already hollering, so you know he’s fine.”

Terrell Academy plays host to Tiftarea to open the season Friday.

Terrell Academy’s 2012 season outlook

MASCOT: Eagles.

HEAD COACH: Bill Murdock (8th year as head coach at Terrell Academy; 29th year overall — 20 seasons at SGA, one at Riverview).

2011 RECORD: 6-6.

ASSISTANT COACHES: Don Beard (defensive coordinator); Tate Parker (offensive coordinator); Ashley Walker (special teams); Jake Timmerman (OL/DL); Russ Godwin (LBs).

RETURNING STARTERS: Seth Garland (Sr., OL/DL); Clint Smith (Sr., OL/DL); Chase Regan (Sr., OL/LB); Josh Wardrip (Sr., FB/LB); Todd Beaver (Sr., DB/RB/K); Blake Grimsley (Sr., WR/DB); Gray Rowe (Jr., NG/DL); Jason Davis (Sr., DE); Brandon Donley (Sr., DE); Josh Brunswick (Sr., DB/WR); Logan Maxwell (Sr., DB); Tyler Marshall (Jr., LB); Alex Marsh (Sr., P).

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Gabel Freeman (So., QB); Christian Harris (Fr., QB); Alan Stewart (Jr., WR/DB); Kyle Fellers (Jr., WR/DB); Jamie Timmerman (Sr., C); Colt Copeland (So., DL); Canaam Davis (Jr., OL).

2012 Terrell Academy Eagles’ schedule

Friday vs. Tiftarea, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Randolph Southern, 7:30 p.m.

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

Sept. 14 at Fullington, 7:30 p.m.

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

Sept. 28 at Crisp Academy, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. SGA, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 12 vs. Valwood, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 at Brookwood, 7:30 p.m.

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

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

--- BOLD denotes GISA Region 2-AA game