Sophomore Mike Whatley takes over at quarterback for the Trojans, who are trying to bounce back from a 1-9 season with a new coach and a new attitude. Dougherty’s 2012 season opener is Friday vs. Lee County at Hugh Mills Stadium.
Counting down to kickoff
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s in-depth look at DOUGHERTY marks the 23rd of 26 prep football season previews that will appear in the sports section during the next week as we count down to Kickoff 2012. On Wednesday, we’ll take a closer look at ALBANY HIGH. Enjoy!
ALBANY — It’s a long road back for Dougherty High, but there’s no one in the program — kids, coaches and alumni — who doesn’t feel like the Trojans aren’t ready to take the first steps to get there.
“We will be back,’’ said Dougherty coach Corey Joyner, who not only was a star as a player, but he spent nine years as an assistant coach before he landed the job this year.
Joyner is more than optimistic. He’s a believer in the school, the football team and the community. And he believes it will take all three to bring Dougherty back to greatness.
“Look at that kid Josh Cabrera,’’ said Joyner, referring to the Lee County receiver who was considered the best in Southwest Georgia before his father, a career Marine, was transferred to South Carolina.
“The Marine base is right there,’’ Joyner said, pointing beyond his practice field. “But that kid passed right over Dougherty and went to Lee County. That’s what players do now. Plenty of people skip over Dougherty because of rumors they hear about Dougherty. We have to change the image of our school so that when people move in here they don’t pass over Dougherty and take their kids to other schools.
“We have to change the image of the school and the football team,’’ he said. “But we are going to do that. It can be done. It will be done. The image of our school will change, because academics and athletics are working together to make that change. We have to change the image and the perception of what Dougherty is.’’
The Trojans were once a state football powerhouse under John Reynolds but have fallen on hard times of late. They are coming off a 1-9 season and went 3-17 over the past two years under coach Jesse Hicks, who has a reputation for turning programs around. Hicks couldn’t do it at Dougherty and left after two years to take a job at Central Macon.
“It’s going to take some time,’’ Joyner said. “But we can bring this program back to where it once was. We can do it.’’
The school has changed over the years, losing enrollment because of redistricting and new school zones that have taken away students from middle schools who once went to Dougherty and sent them to Albany High.
“There was a time when everyone wanted to come here,’’ Joyner said. “We had 1,200 kids at the school. Last year we had 600. It’s back up close to 1,000 this year.’’
Dougherty has also played up in class in recent years, competing in Class AAA instead of Class AA. With the new classifications, which expanded from five to six classes this season, Dougherty could have been competing in Class AAA this season.
Geography made it all but impossible, so the Trojans moved to Class AAAA and will compete against the other three public schools in Albany along with Crisp, Worth, Americus-Sumter and state powerhouse Cairo in Region 1-AAAA. They haven’t won a region game since they beat Worth County and Westover in 2009.
Joyner, who was the defensive coordinator the last two years, brings back just three players on offense — all receivers — and six on defense.
The defense should be better. Demario Barney, a 6-1, 185-pound linebacker, is just a junior, but he led the team in tackles last year with 60 and also had 10 sacks.
Joyner is looking for Barney, who also started as a freshman, to lead the team on and off the field.
Jaylen Scott, a 5-11, 190-pound junior, also returns at linebacker and McGary Casseus, a 5-11, 190-pound junior, is also returning at linebacker.
If you sense a theme, it’s simple. Dougherty is going to be a junior-led team with the focus on getting better now and becoming a lot better next year. One of the team’s top players is cornerback Kenny Johnson. You guessed it, another junior. Johnson (6-1, 180) will be the leader of the secondary. He led the team in breaking up passes as a sophomore. The other returning starters on defense are cornerbacks Randy Barney (5-10, 160) and Robert Hicks (6-1, 170), who started last year as a freshman.
“I guess I had a vision that I would be the coach and started all those young kids on defense last year,’’ Joyner joked.
His kids are young and hungry to prove a point.
“It’s going to take hard work,’’ Johnson said. “But we’re going to win. It’s a lot different from last year. The players have a different attitude. The players listen. He (Joyner) keeps us motivated. We want to be No. 1 in the city this year. We have the talent and we have the speed.’’
The Dougherty players said Joyner has brought more discipline to this year’s team, and Joyner also stresses academics.
“We have to have discipline,’’ Joyner said. “I have to make them realize we have to do it differently. We were 1-9 doing it that way. We can’t do it that way any more. We have had some of them leave, but we are going to disciplined.’’
The focus on academics has already paid off.
Steven Minto, a 6-5, 330-pound lineman who will start both ways, didn’t play last year, but he can help Dougherty up front. Joyner has also added 6-6 Tevin Smith, a towering receiver who joined the team this week.
“You do what you have to do,’’ Joyner said. “I went out and got a basketball player, a 6-6 post.’’
The Trojans bring back three receivers. Ricardo Sloan, a 5-7, 160-pound junior, led Dougherty in receptions last year with 30. Madarius McWaters, a 6-1, 170-pound senior, also returns at receiver, along with Tavarious Nelson, a 6-0, 185-pound senior receiver.
Dougherty lost its quarterback, Willie Jones, who started as a freshman but is now at Monroe. Mike Whatley, a sophomore, has stepped in and taken over at the QB spot, and former Dougherty quarterback Ronnie Nelson has joined the team as an assistant coach to help the passing game.
Kentavious McKenzie, a 5-6, 175-pound senior, will be Dougherty’s featured running back.
“He’s been working hard for three years,’’ Joyner said of McKenzie. “We converted him from cornerback. He’s tough as nails. He will do a good job.’’
Johnson will play both ways and also see time at running back.
“People think all I’m going to do is throw the ball because I was a receiver,’’ said Joyner, who was a star receiver at Dougherty and an All-American receiver at Georgia Southern. “We’re going to run the ball.’’
Dougherty’s offensive line will be made up of players who will probably go both ways this season — Minto at tackle, center Devontra Wilson (5-10, 220, So.), guards Darryl Holsey (5-10, 330, Sr.) and Chris Hudson (5-10, 225, Sr.) and tackle Travis Griffin (6-2, 240, Jr.) — and the line is where the Trojans need the most improvement.
Still, there is talent and a new attitude all over the field.
“We know it’s going to take hard work and dedication,’’ Whatley said. “He (Joyner) puts more on our mindset that we are winners. We feel like we’re going to win. Last year was awful. No one wants to go through that again. I hated it. It’s in the back of my mind, but this year we’re going to make a change.’’
Johnson said everyone wants to start over.
“We want it this year,’’ he said. “After going 3-17 the last two years, we want it more than ever. People were saying that this was embarrassing for Dougherty. We want to change that. This year I want to put a banner in the gym.’’
Dougherty’s 2012 season outlook
HEAD COACH: Corey Joyner (1st season as head coach at Dougherty).
2011 RECORD: 1-9.
ASSISTANT COACHES: Dennis Davis (Asst. Coach/LB); Kareem Sanders (Asst. Coach/LB); Nick Town (Assistant Coach/WR/DB); Ronnie Nelson (QB); Albert Yon (RB); Josh Green (OL/DL).
RETURNING STARTERS: Jaylen Scott (Jr., LB); McGary Casseus (Jr., LB); Tavarious Nelson (Sr., WR); Madarious McWhorter (Sr., WR); Ricardo Sloan (Jr., WR); Kenneth Johnson (Jr., DB); Randy Barney (Jr., DB).
2012 DOUGHERTY TROJANS’ schedule
Friday vs. Lee County, 7:30 p.m..
Sept. 7 at Westside, Macon, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 13 vs. Cook, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 21 at Worth County, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 28 vs. Crisp County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 12 vs. Albany, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 19 vs. Monroe, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 26 vs. Westover, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 1 vs. Americus-Sumter, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 9 at Cairo, 7:30 p.m.
BOLD denotes GHSA Region 1-AAAA game