With the first game of his head coaching career bearing down Friday night at Swainsboro, new Worth County head coach Jason Tone wears an intense stare during practice Tuesday in Sylvester. Tone, the former running backs coach for Class AAAAAA state power Camden County — which was 73-9 in six seasons during Tone’s time on the coaching staff —- is ready to take on the challenge of turning around a Rams team that lost seven games just last year alone. (Danny Allerfirstname.lastname@example.org)
SYLVESTER — To truly grasp the passion and intensity first-year head coach Jason Tone has infused into the Worth County High School football program, one needn’t look any further than the man Tone brought in to lead the defense, Steve Siegmund.
“He’s kind of hard to miss,” Tone smiled.
If Siegmund’s not screaming, he’s not breathing. At Tuesday’s practice, players felt like they’d won the Powerball if they didn’t draw his ire, which flew like fists of fury somebody’s way after each and every whistle.
“You’re supposed to be a leader!” he tore into a senior during a tackling drill. “If you’re tired, how do you think these other guys feel? You’re supposed to be the last person out here to ever get tired! Lead by example or don’t lead at all!”
If there were a mafia in Sylvester, Tone would be the boss and Siegmund — the angry, goatee-sporting, in-your-face motivator — his enforcer. And together, they make up two very important pieces of the mysterious puzzle that is the 2013 Rams.
Can this new-look Worth team extend its streak to four straight state playoff appearances? Can they really knock off the Cairos and Monroes of Region 1-AAAA? And just who is this Jason Tone guy who came over as an assistant from state powerhouse Camden County, looking to make a name for himself in Sylvester?
“He’s a great coach — a guy that has already made all of us into better players and men,” senior QB Tay Curry said. “That’s who he is.”
Shhhhh … don’t say that too loud, young Mr. Curry. Because if Tone had things his way, he’d prefer to make that Worth County train barreling down the track toward the rest of the region nothing more than a mirage — that is, until it runs right over you.
“We appreciate the coverage, but you don’t have to write too much about us,” Tone said, half-joking. “We’d like what we’re doing to stay a secret.”
The first chapter of the great thriller Tone’s writing in Sylvester will be unveiled Friday when the Rams kick off the season on the road against Swainsboro for the second year in a row. Worth won last year’s meeting, 14-7, at home against the smaller Class AAA program, but with loads of inexperience and a nearly all-new coaching staff, the Tigers won’t be seeing the same Rams team from a year ago.
And while this group has the potential to be even better, it likely isn’t right now.
“We’re a low B,” said Tone when asked to grade his team less than 72 hours from kickoff. “Our tempo in practice needs to improve, and our overall grasp of the scheme needs to get better offensively and defensively. But that will continue to improve as the season goes on. I’m not happy where we are right now — but we’re not bad.”
“Not bad” doesn’t cut it where Tone comes from.
At Camden, one of the most storied high school football programs this side of the Mississippi, Tone served as running backs coach for six years and was part of its state title team in 2008 when the Wildcats went 15-0 and won it all in GHSA’s Class AAAAAA — the biggest, baddest classification in the state. That most recent championship was old hat for Tone and Camden, which is a mind-boggling 137-14 overall since 2001, including three state crowns and trips deep into the playoffs every season during that 12-year reign.
And to put in perspective what Tone gave up to come to Sylvester in hopes of starting a new legacy, from the time he arrived in 2007 at Camden until leaving this past offseason, the Wildcats were a staggering 73-9.
Worth, meanwhile, lost seven games just last year alone.
“I’m originally from Valdosta, so this (area of the state) is home for me,” said Tone about why he sought the Worth County job vacated by Scotty Ward, who was 15-18 in three seasons at the helm. “It’s good to be back where I’m from, and the support from the faculty and the community has been good. There’s 15-to-20 people every day out here watching practice, and they’re here rain or shine. The community wants to win, and they’re behind you.”
With just seven total returning starters, the Rams may need that 12th man more than ever in 2013. Curry, of course, is the straw that stirs the drink. He’ll be the one responsible for implementing Tone’s tricky, misdirection Wing-T attack he brought to Worth County — an attack that produced several prospects during his days at Camden. And he might just have found a quarterback hungry enough to help the Rams gobble up yards and opponents.
“He was ineligible a year ago,” Tone said of Curry. “So he’s ready to roll.”
A lost season spent on the Rams’ JV squad in 2012 by Curry is as strong a motivator as any.
Curry, who was born and raised in Sylvester, moved to Albany for less than a year to live with a family member, but he moved right back because he missed his friends and teammates. However, the GHSA red-flagged Curry’s enrollment last season and curiously ruled he’d been recruited — back to the place he’d lived his entire life. Strange, but true.
As a result, he was relegated to watching from the bleachers on Friday nights last year.
“Man, it was real frustrating,” said Curry with a touch of annoyance in his voice as if still burning from that GHSA ruling. “Sometimes, I just wanted to run on the field.”
The talented Curry, as one might expect, lit up the JV ranks a year ago, scoring seven TDs between the ground and air and rushing and passing for than 600 yards. If he’s even half as prolific on varsity, the Rams’ first goal on their check list might just be attainable.
“We want to host the first round of the playoffs,” said Curry, whose Rams will either have to finish first or second in the region to do that. “And I think we can.”
Tone claims “stats are for losers,” but when it comes to the offense, there’s two he may want to pay attention to: 1,200 and 12 — as in the combined yards rushed for and touchdowns scored by senior fullback Quantavious Sweney and sophomore running back Zytavious Anderson last season.
“They run people over,” Curry said. “Those are my guys right there.”
Eric Burrows, a sophomore, will join the duo in the backfield this season, giving the Rams plenty of options in their Wing-T set, while senior tight end Kyle Evans is the only other returner on offense. Of course, none of them will be able to produce a lick without the big boys down low doing their jobs.
“It all comes back to blocking and tackling,” Tone said. “If you don’t do those things first, nothing else will work.”
Doing much of the tackling this year in Tone’s revamped defense — a scheme he declined to elaborate on — will likely be senior defensive lineman Greg Clark (5-foot-9, 225 pounds), senior defensive back Anthony Iudiciani (5-11, 165) and senior whip linebacker Thomas Lewis (5-8, 160).
“We’re ready,” Lewis said. “The guys have been working hard to learn the new defense, and some are coming along and some still have some work to do. But (as far as Friday night goes), we’re ready.”
So is all of Sylvester, which is so excited for the Tone-era, half the town might just caravan the 150 miles up to Swainsboro on Friday to get a sneak peek before the Rams’ Aug. 30 home opener against Cook.
Signs at local businesses rooting the Rams on dot the Worth County landscape. Facebook is blowing up with students chattering away about it being “our year.” And eager fans line the fence at each practice, already decked out in yellow and black.
“Folks are excited, and I am too,” Tone said. “There’s gonna be some growing pains, but we have a foundation we can work on, and that’s always a good thing. We’ll just take it week-by-week and game-by-game, starting Friday at Swainsboro. And hopefully, we’ll begin this thing with a win.”
And if they do, maybe — just maybe — Siegmund will take a deep breath and smile.
But don’t count on it.
NOTES: The remaining members of Tone’s coaching staff include Ken Holland (assistant head coach, QBs); Adam Gray (OC/OL); Ken Moates (OL/TEs); Drake McCauley (WRs); Kenyon Sims (RBs); Dustin Heard (DL) and Jermel Demps (DBs) … Worth County finished 4-6 in the regular season last year but snuck into the playoffs after winning a three-way tiebreaker with Crisp County and Americus-Sumter … Worth has made the state playoffs four straight years, but the Rams lost in the first round each time … Rams RB Anderson was a beast as a freshman, winning The Herald’s Player of the Week honor twice in an online voting poll thanks to some memorable performances, including rushing for 272 yards on 19 carries (172 in the second half) and scoring a touchdown in Worth’s 35-27 win against Albany High, as well as his 123-yard, three-TD night in a 35-8 rout of Dougherty … outgoing Worth football coach Ward is now an assistant coach at state powerhouse Fitzgerald … After Swainsboro and Cook in Weeks 1 and 2, the Rams’ final non-region game will be Sept. 13 at home against Class AAAAAA Tift County, followed by their 1-AAAA opener at Dougherty on Sept. 20 … Tone said one of the things he has loved most about living in Sylvester thus far is the community’s love for the football team. “You hear it all the time from people, ‘Better win this year! Better win this year, coach!’ ” Tone said with a laugh. “The expectations are high, but you wouldn’t want it any other way. I wouldn’t want to be at a program where they don’t expect to win and don’t care about their team.”