Jakhari Martin, one of just two returning starters off of last year’s 11-2 region champion and state playoff team, takes over under center for Seminole County. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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!
DONALSONVILLE — Don’t let the numbers fool you.
They’re still going to be tough to beat in Seminole County.
Sure, the Indians watched just about every star — including 2011 John Reynolds Herald Player of the Year Chris Brown — graduate from the best team in school history.
Sure, Seminole brings back only two starters and one of them, Jakhari Martin, is moving from receiver to quarterback, where he was a backup last year.
Sure, the vultures will be out to get what’s left of a Seminole powerhouse that averaged almost 50 points a game in the regular season and cruised to the Region 1-A championship.
But Alan Ingram likes his young kids and likes the way they play the game. He likes their quickness and likes what he thinks they can grow up to be.
“They’re like a bunch of guinea wasps,’’ Ingram said. “They’re flying all around, and they’ll sting you.’’
Seminole, which made it to the Class A state quarterfinals before losing to private school powerhouse Eagles Landing Christian, is planning on being competitive in the new world of Class A football, which will now have a separate playoff and state championship game for public and private schools. Had that format been around last season, Seminole would have likely won the public school state championship.
Now, they’re trying to win another Region 1-A title. And the region teams know better than to take Seminole lightly.
“Don’t let Ingram cry on your shoulder and tell you he doesn’t have anybody,’’ joked Miller County coach Frank Killingsworth, whose team is Seminole’s biggest rival. “Seminole is still going to be good. They’re still going to be one of the top teams in the region.’’
Ingram’s not crying these days. He’s smiling.
He joked at practice this week as he paraded his top young players out. Two years ago when the nucleus of Seminole’s powerhouse was made up of juniors, Ingram had seven players who starred and played both ways for the Indians.
He affectionately called those kids “The Magnificent 7,” based on the legendary western movie from the 1960s, and they became the heart of the best team in the school’s history last year as seniors. They went 11-2 and became the first Seminole County team to advance past the first round of the state playoffs.
When Ingram brought out his top players at practice this week, he slowly counted them, and then smiled and said. “Seven. I call them the New 7.”
Here they are: Javonte Smith (RB/LB), Shavon Wiggins (CB/RB), Robert Speights (CB/RB), Daquan Hamlet (FB/LB), Thomas Akins (RB/CB), Brendan Kimble (FB/LB) and Martin, a senior who will play quarterback and also linebacker.
Ingram believes Smith, a junior who was Brown’s backup at running back last year, can step up — and right into the end zone. And the coach has a list of running backs he can use to move the ball, including Akins (5-foot-9, 170), a freshman from Jacksonville, Fla., as well as Speights, Wiggins, Kimble and Hamlet.
“They can all finish,’’ Ingram said. “And they can all tote it. We’ve got six players we can play at A-back when we run our Flexbone offense.’’
But Smith could be special.
“I hope he gets 1,500 to 1,600 yards,’’ Ingram said. “He’s so quick. He just bursts out of there. He hits the hole like a rocket. He’s at full speed on his first step.’’
Smith, who has 4.5 speed, is so quick with his first move that Ingram literally had to change the way he lined up his players in the backfield.
“When he’s in there, we have to have him move back a step,’’ Ingram said. “If we don’t, he’s so quick the quarterback doesn’t have time to turn and hand him the ball, so we moved him back.’’
Ingram’s offense is always creative and changing because he is smart enough to adapt to his opponent and is the living embodiment of the football cliché: “We’re going to take what they give us.’’
He also has a talented freshman in Alex Fudge, who at 5-6, can dart and dodge and give teams fit. Fudge could see some time at quarterback in Ingram’s option offense.
“He’s about as big as a minute,’’ Ingram said of Fudge. “But he can run the option.’’
Ingram plans on running a lot. Nothing has changed there, where the Indians racked up 300 yards of offense a night — mostly on the ground — a year ago.
Ingram has faith in Martin to keep the offense running on high throttle this year.
“He can make some great reads,’’ he said of his new QB. “And he throws the ball well.’’
His only returning starters are Martin and Alex Koonce (5-11, 190) who will anchor both the offensive line and also play linebacker. Darrius Burr (6-2, 265), who will play at tackle on both lines, Jordan Heath (6-3, 220), who will start on both lines, Jordan Davis (5-10, 185), who will start on the offensive line, Davonta Williams (TE/OT/DT), and Jonathan Hudson (OL/DE) are all seniors who played at times last year but will take over full-time this season. The front four on defense — Hudson and Williams at defensive ends and Patrick Miller and Matt Williams at the tackles — has the potential to be better than last year’s group.
The biggest addition on defense is Wiggins, a senior who started at cornerback for Early County last year and will be the leader in the secondary. It’s a new-look defense, but Ingram likes what he sees. So do the kids.
“Our defense will be better than it was last year,’’ Martin said. “It’s competitive, and we’ve worked hard to make it better.’’
And all the talk about how Seminole has lost everyone just fuels the kids who have made it their team.
“We have heard it from everybody that we’re not going to be any good,’’ Martin said. “We’re going to prove that everyone is wrong. We’ll prove it on the field. We’ve got talent. When we hear that, it just makes us want to work harder to prove them wrong.’’
Ingram smiles at all the talk about how Seminole will be down this year.
“I kind of like people saying we’re going to young and not any good,’’ Ingram said. ‘I like being the underdog.
“That stuff doesn’t bother us. We have tradition here. We think we’re building a pretty good tradition, so just let everybody think what they want. We have some goals every year — to get to the playoffs and then take them one at a time. Who knows how far we can go this year?’’
Those players who graduated felt the same way and passed the baton before they left.
“I played a lot, and they taught me a lot,’’ Martin said. “They motivated me to have a good year this year. When they left they told me, ‘Go out and play your game and have a great year.’ Dee Virgin and Chris (Brown) told me that. It feels like we just have to step up and go hard and have a great year.’’
Ingram knows it will be an uphill climb, but he doesn’t mind the journey.
“I like this group of kids. I like their attitude,’’ he said. “They enjoy the game. The best thing about this team is its youth and the possibility of getting better. They can go. We can move along.
“We’re going to catch some bumps and bruises at the very start, but we’re going to get better. I know we can get there. I just hope it doesn’t take us most of the season to get there.’’
Seminole County's 2012 season outlook
HEAD COACH: Alan Ingram (9th season at Seminole County and 9th as head coach overall; 62-38 career record).
2011 RECORD: 11-2.
ASSISTANT COACHES: Jason Houston (defensive coordinator); Nate George (WRs/DBs); Scott Warren (DL/OL); Woody Kirkland (DL/OL).
RETURNING STARTERS: Jakhari Martin (Sr., QB/LB); Alex Koonce (Sr., OL/LB);.
OTHER KEY PLAYERS: Javonte Smith (Jr., RB/LB); Shavon Wiggins (Sr., RB/DB); Darrius Burr )Sr., OL/DL); Daquan Hamlet (Sr., DB/LB); Jonathan Hudson (Sr., OL/DL); Jordan Heath (Sr, OL); Devonta Williams (Sr., OL/DL); Jordan Davis (Sr., OL); Matt Williams (Jr., OL); Stephen Kenyon (Jr., OL).
PLAYERS IN COLLEGE OR HIGHER: Bacarri Rambo (Sr., S, University of Georgia); Chris Brown (S, Fr., Middle Tennessee); Javoris Virgin (Fr., CB, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga); Chris Virgin (Sr., RB., Apprentice School); Howard Stephens (Fr., DE., Shorter).
2012 Seminole County Indians’ schedule
Friday at Early County, 8 p.m.
Sept. 7 vs. Turner County, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 14 at Clinch County, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 21 vs. Pelham, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 5 vs. Terrell County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 12 vs. Stewart County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 19 at Calhoun County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 25 at Baconton Charter, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 vs. Randolph-Clay, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 2 vs. Miller County, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 9 at Mitchell County, 7:30 p.m.
-- BOLD denotes GHSA Region 1-A game