Seminole County coach Alan Ingram, who lost 18 starters from last seasons’s region championship team and had to form a makeshift offensive line, has led an inexperienced and youthful Indians team to one of the greatest seasons in the history of the program.
WHO: Dooly County (9-2) at Seminole County (9-2)
WHAT: GHSA Class A state quarterfinals.
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
LIVE SCORING UPDATES: twitter.com/AlbHeraldsports.
DONALSONVILLE — Here’s a matchup for the ages: In one corner we have Montravius Adams, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound monster who is considered the top high school defensive tackle in the nation and seventh overall prospect at any position.
Over here, we have the Seminole County offensive line, a group of kids who never expected to be starting on the line for the Indians and never dreamed they would be starting in the state quarterfinals.
But that’s where Seminole County’s Indians are this week, preparing for Adams and Dooly County in the Class A state quarterfinals at Seminole Stadium on Friday night.
Everyone knows how Adams got here. No one is sure how the Indians made it.
“Sometimes on Friday nights after the games we coaches just sit there and look at each other and laugh,’’ said Seminole County coach Alan Ingram, who has done one of the best coaching jobs in the state of Georgia this season.
“We knew we had some good skilled kids but didn’t know how we were going to move the ball,” Ingram said. “We had only one guy back with any experience at all on the offensive line. The rest of them on the line had no varsity experience at all from last year playing on the offensive line.’’
And yet, here is Seminole, marching into the Elite 8 round of the state playoffs after racking up more than 3,000 yards on the ground this season.
Ingram had to move players in and out of his line from week to week, a constant puzzle with a new piece almost every week. He still platoons two players at center and two more at tight end and admits back in August he had no idea who would play up front.
“We had freshmen playing there, but (some older players) out-played them and replaced them, one at a time,’’ Ingram said of his revolving-door offensive line.
“My center, Matt Williams, was my kicker, and he had never played on the line before, and my other center, Bobby Young, had never played varsity before,” Ingram said.
Ingram has one tackle who was a home schooled kid who hadn’t even played on the JV team, and a pair of guards — Steven Kenyon and Darius Burr — had never played a single down with the varsity. Burr was ineligible last year, and Kenyon played defense on the JV team. Ingram’s two tight ends — Jonathon Hudson and Jaylen Pearson had the same résumé. Neither had ever played on the OL — or played a down for the varsity — until this season.
Hudson played defense for the JV team last year, and Pearson was a JV player as well. The only starter who came back was Alex Koonce, a senior who starts at left tackle and at outside linebacker.
“I didn’t know what we were going to have there,” Ingram said at practice on Monday. “The surprise of the year was the offensive line. I kept telling (assistant coach Mike Savage, who coaches both lines) that, ‘This kid can’t play for us,’ or ‘That kid can’t play for us.’ And he kept telling me, ‘He’s the best we’ve got and we have to go with him.’
“We were thinking there’s no way we can win with this group of kids on the offensive line, and they have become the backbone of this team.”
Hudson, a two-way starter, said the group just came together.
“We were scraps,” he said. “We came from scraps and now we are stable.”
More like scrap-iron now.
Ingram didn’t have an answer back in August when he started putting this team together. He lost nine starters on each side of the ball from the best team in Seminole County history, a team that marched all the way to the state quarterfinals and included Herald John Reynolds Player of the Year Chris Brown and six other stars. Ingram called the group, “The Magnificent 7,” from the old western, and all of them started both ways.
When they left, everyone in Georgia thought Seminole would be at the bottom of the region standings. But guess what?
“We’re still proving people wrong,’’ said Jakhari Martin, who returned at linebacker and took over at quarterback this year. “We worked hard and we believed in each other. No one thought we would be any good, but we proved everyone wrong.”
To make things worse for the kids from Donalsonville, they opened against Early County, which is playing in the Class AA quarterfinals on Friday, and lost, 55-20. Everyone thought: Put the tomahawk in the Indians, they were done.
Ingram said the first light of the new season showed up in the locker room at halftime in the Early game. One kid had an attitude, and Ingram let him have it. Before Ingram knew what hit his team, all the players were letting the kid with the attitude have it, and it got so bad the team chaplin didn’t know whether he should stay or go.
“It got heated,” Ingram said. “But we’re family. What happens in the locker room, stays in the locker room. The kid turned it around, and we started acting like a team. I think things really changed in the open week (between the fourth and fifth games of the season). We had a bunch of individuals who wanted to be super heroes, and then they figured out they were going to have to lean on each other if they wanted to win.”
They’re still leaning.
“We didn’t have super talent, just a bunch of kids who play hard together,” assistant coach Steve Reese said. “They gave it all they had. It wasn’t great players, just playing together and giving it everything. It made life a lot more interesting.’’
Savage said they had to count on each other.
“Last year we had stars like Chris Brown and Dee Virgin, and kids could look over at them and think, ‘If I mess up they will pick it up for us.’ But now they only have each other,” Savage said. “Last year we had those players and everyone expected us to win. This year, no one expected us to win. It’s been fun.’’
“I’m laughing and smiling all the time,’’ he said. “I am so surprised after that awful start. This has been one of the best times I’ve ever had coaching a team this year.’’
After the Early loss, the Indians bounced back and beat Turner County, 34-32, the next week, before losing a tough game to Clinch, 13-12. Then they won eight in a row, including a 6-0 romp through Region 1-A to claim their second region title in a row, and last week’s convincing, 36-7, win against Commerce in the opening round of the playoffs.
Dooly County enters the game with the same 9-2 record and beat Turner, 19-8, last week to advance to the quarterfinals. The Bobcats have won four in a row and will be favored around the state, which doesn’t bother the Seminole kids.
“They’re bigger, but we are always the smaller team,” Hudson said. “That doesn’t matter.’’
There’s talent at Seminole. Freshman Thomas Aiken has rushed for 686 yards on 74 carries and scored seven touchdowns, and Daquan Hamlet, a senior who is starting for the first time, rushed for 634 yards and 10 TDs on 116 carries. Javante Smith, a junior who had never played for the varsity, has gained 481 yards on 73 carries and scored seven TDs. Martin has led the way, rushing for 875 yards and 14 touchdowns on 136 carries, and completing 14-of-38 passes for another 395 yards and five touchdowns.
Seminole’s defense has carried the Indians all year, and Koonce is having an unforgettable season. He leads the team with 80 tackles, including a whopping 15 for losses, and is the heart of the defense.
“Our defense has played well all year, and Alex has had a great year,” Ingram said. “But when we make a tackle, there’s nine of 10 of them getting to the ball. We swarm to the ball, and it’s been a different player making one big play after another. They don’t care. There’s one bottom line with them — winning.
Martin said there’s a feeling on the team that makes it special this season.
“We believe in each other, and we pick each other up,’’ he said.
Hudson added: “We work hard and push each other. We have heart.’’
The kids even started having team get-togethers at player’s homes to talk about the game and how to get better. Danny Rambo, who plays in the secondary, came up with the idea.
“Those meetings have made us closer,” Koonce said. “We have come together. We even pray together.’’
It’s been that kind of year for the Indians, who — because of the new public school/private school split format — are in the exact place they were last year with the Magnificent 7 team.
“They’re huge,’’ Ingram said of Dooly’s big defensive front that is led by Adams. “Mitchell and Miller are better offensively than Dooly, but Dooly is quicker and bigger defensively. They’re really huge up front and their secondary can fly.’’
Ingram isn’t bothered by the matchup.
“Just about everybody we’ve played has had more talent, overall better athletes than us,’’ he said. “We just don’t have a lot of those God-given ability kids. When you get those horses, you get a saddle on them and ride them. These kids are more like a bunch of pack mules. But they get the job done. They work hard. It has been a lot of fun this year. Friday night, we’re going to do what we’ve been doing, just line up toe-to-toe with them and see if we’re still smiling at the end.’’