Southland senior Andrew Alexander will anchor the fullback position this season after starting three years at offensive guard.
By Scott Phillips
AMERICUS — Since arriving in Americus four years ago after a successful stint at Randolph Southern, Tim Goodin has been waiting for that one team to make the career change pay dividends.
And this year’s Southland Academy squad may just be it.
Counting down to kickoff
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s in-depth look at SOUTHLAND and AMERICUS-SUMTER marks the 13th and 14th 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 Thursday, we’ll take a closer look at BAINBRIDGE, CRISP COUNTY and CRISP ACADEMY. Enjoy!
Goodin is extremely excited about the upcoming season — and he has good reason to be.
Last year, he led a young Raider team to a 5-6 overall record and missed the GISA 3-AAA playoffs.
He doesn’t expect a repeat of those shortcomings in 2012.
“We lost two big region games on the last play of the game last season,” said Goodin, whose team finished fifth in 3-AAA, which has since been shrunken to Region 2-AAA during recent classification for the next three seasons. “There was one game that we fumbled the ball on the 1-yard line, and another where we didn’t get into the end zone from the 6-inch line.”
But with an experienced crew returning, the 2012 season has the potential to be the most successful since Goodin took over the program four years ago. Despite losing 10 seniors from last year’s squad, including versatile quarterback Jake Hood and defensive playmaker Lawton Williams, Southland has more than enough talent to fill the void, including six seniors and 16 juniors.
“This year’s senior class is not that large, but is very talented,” Goodin said. “They are also outstanding leaders, and we are expecting big things out of them.”
Starting on offense, the battle for quarterback will be between junior Jon Adkins and sophomore Ryan Weaver, while senior Andrew Alexander will anchor the fullback position after starting three years at offensive guard.
“We’re anticipating having a good year,” Alexander said. “You know, we haven’t had a good year in a few (seasons). We’ve got a good, solid team.”
Joining Alexander in the backfield will be junior Dustin Shattles, who will be the Raiders’ primary rusher.
At wideout, the Raiders are deep, including Americus-Sumter junior transfer Alan Gleeson, who started seven games as a freshman. Senior McClain Cummins also started last year in the slot receiver position, and he will be a big part of the offense. Junior transfer Collins Christian will also see time at receiver for the Raiders this season.
On the offensive line, three-year starter Ford Roach, a 6-foot-4, 260-pounder, will hold down the tight end spot, while senior Grady Barfield, also a three-year starter, will be the right guard and fellow senior Devon Varnum will hold down the left guard position for the second year. Junior Lance Harrod, at 280 pounds, will start for the second year for the Raiders at center, and fellow junior Austin Hale will start at right tackle, also for the second year.
Alexander, who once joined the hogs on the line, is happy to have the road graders paving the way.
“We’ve got a big, heavy line,” he said. “We’re just going to have to run behind them.”
On defense, Goodin expects a stout defensive front, and in the secondary there’s a wealth of returning talent. Defensive coordinator Mike Smith will rely on that experience to transition to a 3-4 defense this season.
In the new 3-4, Roach will start at defensive tackle and play every snap, as will Alexander at defensive end. The other defensive end position will be anchored by Dillan Jerkins, although Jerkins is likely to miss the season opener at home Friday against Tattnall with an injury.
At safety, Dillon Hughes is expected to step into one of the starting roles. Hughes was injured after the third game last season and missed the remainder of the year. Playing mostly defense, Hughes still expects to create some offense.
“Mostly pick sixes,” said Hughes, who had one interception in 2011 before an off-the-field accident cut his junior year short. “The secondary is still learning, but I think the defense is strong.”
Cummins and junior William Oster are also expected to make a huge impact on defense, specifically at safety.
Christian and Gleeson will also be in the running to start in the secondary, as well as sophomore Ryan Weaver.
Two sophomores who started as freshmen, Collin Smith and Hunter Weldon, are expected to slide into the inside linebacker spots. Junior Bryce Driver, who is also the backup FB, is expected to contribute at LB.
At outside linebacker the Raiders will be looking to Tyler Morton, a returning defensive starter, Spencer Anderson, who started as a sophomore and missed his junior season due to injury, and junior Mitch Eason to hold down the outside positions.
Goodin, overall, likes what he sees in this group.
“I think we are past the point of trying to be a competitor, and now we expect to be a contender,” Goodin said. “I think that we are going to win the region, and if we lose to anyone in the region it will be disappointing.
“This is by far the most talented football team that’s been at Southland since I’ve been here as far as depth, and athletic ability and size.”
Albany Herald sports writer Matt Stewart contributed to this report
Southland’s 2012 season outlook
HEAD COACH: Tim Goodin (4th season at Southland, 18th season overall as head coach — two at Randolph Southern, seven at Lee County and five at Terrell Academy).
2011 RECORD: 5-6.
ASSISTANT COACHES: Mike Smith (defensive coordinator); Nathan Hammock (offensive coordinator); Brett Collier (OL); Doug Parrish (DL); Mike Shattles (WRs/DBs).
RETURNING STARTERS: Dillan Jerkins (Jr., DL/TE); Ford Roach (Jr., DL/TE); Andrew Alexander (Sr., DL/FB); Hunter Weldon (So., DL); Cauldin Smith (So., LB); Spencer Anderson (Sr., LB); Tyler Norton (Jr., LB); Dustin Shattles (Jr., DB/RB); Dillon Hughes (Sr., DB); Allen Gleeson (Jr., WR/DB); Lance Harrod (Jr., C); Grady Barfield (Sr., OL); Devon Varnum (Sr., OL); Austin Hale (Jr., OL); McClain Cummins (Sr., RB).
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Ryan Weaver (So., DB); Collins Christian (Jr., WR/DB); Tyler Brown (Jr., OL); Bryce Driver (Jr., FB/DL); Mitch Easom (Jr., LB); Taylor Weldon (Fr., DL/DB).
2012 Southland Raiders’ Schedule
Friday vs. Tattnall, 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 31 vs. Brookwood, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 7 at SGA, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 14 at Sherwood, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 21 at Terrell Academy
Sept. 28 vs. Heritage, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 12 at Westfield, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 19 vs. Pinewood, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 vs. Tiftarea, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 2 at Bulloch, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 9 vs. Deerfield, 7:30 p.m.
--- BOLD denotes GISA Region 2-AAA game