KICKOFF 2012: Pirates plan to follow lead of Grant

Marvin Grant rushed for 1,190 yards last year — even with Barber getting most of the carries — and could be the most dangerous running back in Region 1-A this season.

Marvin Grant rushed for 1,190 yards last year — even with Barber getting most of the carries — and could be the most dangerous running back in Region 1-A this season.

Counting down to kickoff

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s in-depth look at SEMINOLE COUNTY and MILLER COUNTY marks the 20th and 21th of 26 prep football season previews that will appear in the sports section as we count down to Kickoff 2012. On Monday, we’ll take a closer look at LEE COUNTY. Enjoy!

COLQUITT — You like electricity?

Plug in to Miller County.

It’s always there, year-in and year-out, and even now — with everyone around Colquitt wondering who will be the next star of this year’s teams, one thing is certain.

The Pirates plan on winning.

“We have high expectations every year,’’ Miller County coach Frank Killingsworth said. “Here in Miller County, that’s what they expect. They expect us to be a winner. And that’s what we expect.’’

But how do you replace T.T. Barber? Marvin Grant thinks he knows how. Grant rushed for 1,190 yards last year — even with Barber getting most of the carries — and could be the most dangerous running back in Region 1-A this season.

“He will gain a lot more than that (this year),’’ offensive lineman David Sissan said. “If he runs behind this line, he’ll get 2,000 yards this year.’’

That’s what Barber did, and Grant knows he has big shoes to fill.

Barber did just about everything, from playing quarterback to running the ball, to making incredible plays as a linebacker. When the season ended, Barber played in all-star games in Columbus and Tallahassee, Fla.

He won the MVP award in both of them.

Before Barber, two years ago there was Juwon Jones, a monster on the gridiron who dominated the game on both sides of the ball and even ran back punts.

Those names in Colquitt — Jones and Barber — mean something.

You don’t replace those kind of players.

“That’s what folks are saying. Folks are asking the question about if we are going to be good this year because we don’t have a superstar (like Jones or Barber),’’ said Sissan, a senior and one of the leaders of this year’s team. “They’re asking how are we going to be. We’ll tell them. They will find out in the first game. We’re going to show them.’’

One big reason for Sissan’s confidence is the return of Grant, who understands exactly why fans in the community are asking about this year’s Pirates.

“You cant just say, ‘It would be nice if we still had (Jones and Barber),’ ” Grant said. “And you can’t have one player making a play to make the difference. Everybody’s going to have to step up. But I believe everybody will step up.’’

Miller’s offensive line could be a good one, especially by the time Nick Huntley returns. Sissan, a 6-foot, 215-pound senior guard, is the anchor, and he returns with Jackson Fleet, a 5-11, 210-pound center who is moving to guard this year as a junior. Sophomore Luke Sheffield takes over at center, and Huntley brings the beef.

He’s a 6-4, 275-pound junior who is coming back from offseason knee surgery in February. Huntley starts on both sides of the line, and Killingsworth didn’t know when he might get see the return of his biggest lineman.

But during the first week of practice, Killingsworth got news that Huntley could be back as soon as the third week in the season.

“That’s good news,’’ said Killingsworth, who feels he’s got enough quickness to make things happen if there’s some daylight.

Grant is back looking for a big year, and T.J. Means, a senior who saw playing time last year, will be the slotback. Alvin Hooker, a senior, will line up at split end and those three bring a lot of speed and promise to the new season.

Then there’s the biggest question about promise.

It’s the one hanging over quarterback Algin Merritt, a sophomore who could emerge this season. Merritt had to play as a freshman because of injuries.

“We had no choice,’’ Killingsworth said. “We had to throw him into the fire. T.T. got injured, and all of a sudden he was the quarterback against Wilcox County in the season opener. By the end of the year, he was a different guy. He had just come out of eighth grade and was a true freshman last year when we put him in there.’’

Merritt has quickness, and Killingsworth has seen a big improvement in his young QB.

“He’s gained a lot of arm strength since last year,’’ Killingsworth said. “And he’s gained a lot of confidence.’’

Miller usually has the ability to move the ball, and that’s no different this year.

“Our strength is going to be our quickness,’’ Killingsworth said. “We’ve got a chance to be a different team. We will be quicker overall, quicker team speed.’’

The Pirates will want to put the pressure on the rest of the region to stop them.

“We’ve got quickness in the backfield, and we’ll line up in the Wing-T — or the Sling-T — and sling it around,’’ Killingsworth said. “We’re going to spread the ball out, and hopefully people will have trouble defending us.

Miller has eight starters back on defense and should be tough. Sissan starts on both lines and is a quick and savvy defensive end. He’s joined by Jakell Roseborough, a 5-11, 270-pound senior nose guard, Alex Anderson, a 5-9, 220-pound senior tackle, and Fleet, who starts at the other defensive end spot.

Jacoby Jones, a 5-11, 175-pound senior, is the strong safety and anchor of the secondary along with cornerback Brandon Benton, a junior who had seven interceptions last year. Quantavious Thomas, a 6-2, 190-pound junior, returns to lead the linebackers, moving over to Barber’s spot.

There should be enough balance on defense and offense to make Miller a contender for the region title.

Grant will be the bread-and-butter running back, but he won’t be alone. Killingsworth isn’t worried about how many yards Grant finishes the season with this year — he wants to spread the ball and the wealth. That’s not a problem for Grant. He just wants to win.

“We have other players who will step up this year,’’ Grant said. “I think we should have a pretty good team We should have no excuses. We don’t want to go through another year like last year.’’

Miller battled through injuries and went 4-7, suffering its first losing season since 2006 and only its third losing season in the past 23 years. Still, it didn’t sting as badly because the Pirates did make the playoffs.

Last year’s bump in the road has fueled some of the optimism about this year’s team. Killingsworth believes this year’s group is faster overall, and the kids believe in themselves. And they say it’s a tighter unit.

“I think we’ve got a stronger group of seniors, all around,’’ Sissan said. “Instead of having one or two (stars), we’ve got a bunch of real good players. I think we’re a little closer. We all get along. We’ve been playing together since middle school, and this is our final year together. And we’ve got some young guys who are ready to step up. We’re going to have a good season.’’

That’s the plan.

The Pirates want to pick up the pace in a region that doesn’t have a clear-cut favorite.

“I think the region is wide open,’’ Killingsworth said.

So is the throttle at Miller County.

Miller County's 2012 season outlook

MASCOT: Pirates.

HEAD COACH: Frank Killingsworth (6th season at Miller County with 39-21 record; 9th as a head coach overall with 52-39 career record).

2011 RECORD: 4-7.

ASSISTANT COACHES: Jason Houston (defensive coordinator); Nate George (WRs/DBs); Scott Warren (DL/OL); Woody Kirkland (DL/OL).

RETURNING STARTERS: Marvin Grant (Sr., RB); David Sissan (Sr., OL/DL); Jackson Fleet (Jr., OL); Alvin Hooker (Sr., WR/DB); Jakell Roseborough (Jr., DL); Alex Anderson (Sr., DL); Quantavious Thomas (Jr., LB); Brandon Benton (Jr., DB); T.J. Means (Sr., OLB); Algin Merritt (So., QB).

other key players: Jacoby Jones (Sr., DB); Luke Sheffield (So., C).

PLAYERS IN COLLEGE OR HIGHER: Zenario Shuler (Sr., DB, Northwest Oklahoma); T.T. Barber (Fr., LB, Middle Tennessee); Adrian hayes (Fr., S, Reinhart); Alec Cobb (Fr., LB, LeGrange); Ty Sheffield (Fr., OL, LaGrange); Juwan Jones (So., DE, Troy University).

2012 Miller County Pirates’ schedule

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

Sept. 7 vs. Early County, 8 p.m.

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

Sept. 21 vs. Marion County, 8 p.m.

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

Oct. 5 vs. Calhoun County, 8 p.m.

Oct. 12 at Randolph-Clay, 7:30 p.m.

Oct. 19 vs. Terrell County, 8 p.m.

Oct. 26 vs. Stewart County, 8 p.m.

Nov. 2 at Seminole County, 7:30 p.m.

--- BOLD denotes Region 1-A game