KICKOFF 2012: Even with program still fairly new, Blazers see more players buying in

Baconton Charter senior RB/LB Bakarie McDuffie says the last two years of growing pains are over, and now it's time for the Blazers to start winning.

Baconton Charter senior RB/LB Bakarie McDuffie says the last two years of growing pains are over, and now it's time for the Blazers to start winning.

Counting down to kickoff

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s in-depth look at Mitchell county and BACONTON CHARTER marks the 10th and 11th 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 Wednesday, we’ll take a closer look at SOUTHLAND and AMERICUS-SUMTER. Enjoy!

BACONTON — Nine seniors. Nine varsity games on the schedule.

While the odds are against them, each Baconton Charter Blazers senior wants a win of their own and they probably deserve it for laying the groundwork for a program still learning the ropes.

“We’ve got nine seniors and, man, I tip my hat to those seniors,” Baconton Charter’s first-year head coach Johnny Hayes said. “The easiest thing to do is quit. They hung in there.”

Hayes is now in charge, his first year as head coach in more than 20 years. Former head coach Glenn Palmer — who Hayes calls the “father of football” at Baconton — is still on the football staff after stepping down following a 2-16 record in the first two years of the program.

Hayes, the defensive coordinator in his first season with the Blazers last season, has been around to say the least. He was last a head coach in 1989 at Dooly County and later coached at Bainbridge, Thomasville, Cairo, Mitchell County, Dodge County and Rabun County.

Like Palmer before him, Hayes understands the task ahead.

“Anytime you start a new program, it takes a while,” Hayes said. “We’re getting there. It’s just a long, slow process.”

The Blazers, who went 0-9 last season, had 36 players out in the preseason, the most the school has ever fielded to go along with the largest senior class.

For the first time, the team is able to hold full 11-on-11 practices — and with subs available.

“It’s nice to actually be able to have a scrimmage at practice,” senior quarterback Brock Pinson said.

With Pinson and senior running back Bakarie McDuffie returning, Baconton has weapons on offense to challenge opposing defenses each week. Hayes is sticking with the Wing-T offense the Blazers went to at the end of last season and a split 4-4 defense.

“We’re not the most athletic team, but the tradeoff is we’ve got kids who are smart and willing to be coached,” Hayes said.

Junior fullback and linebacker Quentin Smith is a future star, and tight end/defensive lineman Zack Jones returns to help lead up front. Senior transfer Stephen Bullard is expected to provide playmaking ability at receiver and defensive back.

“It’s time to turn things around,” Pinson said. “We can be a lot more competitive this year.”

The non-region schedule, too, is favorable, although the Blazers will log plenty of miles.

“Our phone was ringing off the hook last year (with teams wanting) to schedule Baconton,” Hayes said. “And I can understand that.”

Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” may be the team theme song in 2012 with long road trips, including the season opener Friday in Nahunta (Brantley County) and others to Alpharetta (St. Francis), McRae (Telfair County), Quincy, Fla. (Munroe High) and Lumpkin (Stewart County).

Although the players may not like it, Hayes said, “We may plug that (Willie Nelson) CD in every time we get on the bus.”

After suffering through a winless season in 2011 and just one true win in the first two seasons (one came via forfeit), the seniors want to taste victory again soon. Regardless of what the numbers on paper say, they feel like they can be competitive enough to do it.

“We’re looking forward to winning all of them,” McDuffie said. “That’s just how I feel.”

Baconton Charter’s 2012 season outlook

MASCOT: Blazers.

HEAD COACH: Johnny Hayes (first season as head coach at Baconton Charter, 30th year overall with stops at Dooly County, Thomasville, Cairo, Bainbridge, Mitchell County, Dodge County and Rabun County).

2011 RECORD: 0-9.

ASSISTANT COACHES: Glenn Palmer (defensive coordinator); Gabe Counsel (WRs/DBs); Brian Brooks (OL/DL); Robert Williams (assistant coach).

RETURNING STARTERS: Brock Pinson (Sr., QB/LB); Bakarie McDuffie (Sr., RB/LB); Brandon Shiver (Sr., C/DL); Tony Holland (Sr., RB/DB); Zack Jones (Jr., TE/DE); Quentin Smith (Jr., FB/DE).

OTHER KEY PLAYERS: B.J. Classon (So., OL/DL); Alan Marcus (Jr., OL/DL); Nathan Beck (So., OL/LB); Alex Smith (Sr., OL); Darion Robinson (Jr., OLB).

PLAYERS IN COLLEGE OR HIGHER: James Davis (Fr., RB, University of Georgia).

2012 Baconton Charter Blazers’ schedule

Friday at Brantley County, 7:30 p.m.

Aug. 31 vs. Pelham, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 7 at Munroe Day (Fla.), 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 14 at Telfair County, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 20 vs. St. Anne-Pacelli, 7 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Stewart County, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 6 vs. North Cobb Christian, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 12 at St. Francis, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 18 vs. Randolph-Clay, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 25 vs. Seminole County. 7:30 p.m.

--- BOLD denotes GHSA Region 1-A game, but Baconton Charter is not playing a full region slate or competing for the region title since it’s only in its third season of varsity play.