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2013 Season Preview: GISA/GHSA capsules

GHSA

Bainbridge High School

CLASS/REGION: GHSA Class AAAAA, Region 1-AAAAA.

2012 RECORD: 7-4, lost in first round of state playoffs.

HEAD COACH: Jeff Littleton, first head coaching job; assistant at Cairo for 8 years, including defensive coordinator for the last seven.

ASSISTANT COACHES: Brian Hill (defensive coordinator); Jason Whitaker (OL); Scott Roberts (offensive coordinator); Brian McCorkle (DTs); Tom Wheeler (OL/TEs); Larry Cosby (RBs); Marcus Singletary (WRs); Blake Cecil (OLBs); Randy Hill (DBs).

CAIRO CONNECTION: Hill, Whitaker and Roberts came over with Littleton from Cairo, making up a good chunk of LIttleton’s new staff. Hill coached the defensive line for the state powerhouse Syrupmakers, while Whitaker, a former FSU standout, oversaw the offensive line and Roberts was the offensive coordinator and has also served as the head coach at Swainsboro. “It’s good to have those guys here. They have familiarity with what we like to do, and that helps a lot,” Littleton said. “Plus, my father-in-law (Randy Hill) will join us. He coached for 19 years at Lowndes, and has been a coach for 36 years (total).”

RETURNING STARTERS: Chris Johnson (Sr., OL); Greg Cooper (Sr., WR/FS); Preston Norris (Sr., QB); Daniel Provence (Sr., K).

KEY NEWCOMERS: Tremaine McCray (Jr., LB/FB); Trevon Shaw (So., OT); Craig Cooper (Sr., WR/OLB); Aaron Calloway (Sr., RB/OLB); Malik Tate (Sr., DT).

BY THE NUMBERS: 33 — the number of seniors that the Bearcats graduated last year. When asked initially for how many returners he had, Littleton just laughed and said, “Well, this will take about two seconds.”

SCHEME: It’s no secret that former coach Ed Pilcher ran the Veer, but Littleton is shifting Bainbridge to a pro-style offense, running mostly out of the I-formation. On defense, the Bearcats will be more of an attacking 4-3 than ever before with a few eight-man squeeze and eight-man gap sets that will allow the Beacats to bounce quick guys outside and utilize their speed. “We want to be powerful and run on people on offense, but we’re gonna throw. Balance is important,” Littleton said. “And we’ve got some playmakers on offense and defense, so we’re going to try and put them in positions to make plays.”

PLAYMAKER(S): Notice the “S” at the end of Playmaker? That’s because it’ll be the Cooper brothers — twins Greg and Craig — who might just be the Bearcats busting long plays in 2013. Both are returning seniors and will be the favorite targets of QB Preston Norris. Aaron Calloway, who is injured right now, will be the other player to watch at tailback. Littleton expects Calloway to play sparingly to start the season as Bainbridge tries to get him healthy.

X-FACTOR: QB Preston Norris. Littleton said his relatively new starter, who did start two games last year, did a “fine job in our scrimmage last week, going 6 for 8 for 130 yards” in a 21-14 win against Chamblee. But how he handles the lights of Friday nights — week-in and week-out — remains to be seen. “We have speed at a lot of positions, so as long as Preston can get the ball to those guys and make his throws, he’ll be fine,” Littleton said. “We have a lot of confidence in him.”

TONIGHT’S 2013 SEASON OPENER IN BAINBRIDGE VS.EAST GADSDEN (FLA.) (7:30 p.m.): Littleton, as one might imagine, doesn’t pinpoint any game on Bainbridge’s schedule as being more important than tonight’s season opener. After all, it’s his head coaching debut and it’s coming against a team from just across the border that played for the state title two years ago in Florida’s Class 4A. “We can look ahead to all the ones that are big here every year — like Cairo and TCC — but right now all we’re worried about is Friday night and East Gadsden,” Littleton said. “We’ve gotten better each day, and I feel we’ve prepared well. It’s all about going out and playing hard and executing what we’ve prepared for.”

Baconton Charter

CLASS/REGION: GHSA Class A, Region 1-A.

2012 RECORD: 4-6 (entering fourth varsity; last year most wins in program history after team was started from scratch five years ago and played one season of JV).

HEAD COACH: Johnny Hayes; second year at Baconton, 33rd year overall with stops as an assistant coach in Bainbridge, Thomasville, Cairo and Rayburn County.

ASSISTANT COACHES: Gabe Council (defensive coordinator/DBs); Brian Brooks (OL/DL); Glenn Palmer (assistant coach).

RETURNING STARTERS: Quinton Smith (Sr., FB/DE); Matthew Dean (So., RB/OLB); Alan Marcus (Sr., OT/DE); Nathan Beck (Jr., LB/TE); Jeremy Bunch (Sr., QB/LB/DB).

KEY NEWCOMERS: Zane Tedder (Jr., C); Dorrell Edmonds (Jr., WR); B.J. Classon (Jr., G/DT); Narokis Lewis (So., RB/FS).

LOTTA TURNOVER: Baconton, one of the smallest schools in all of GHSA’s Class A, lost nine seniors off last year’s team — a killer for a tiny program. The turnout this year, however, was good once again with 34 players, thanks in part to the school’s middle school program, which is run by the man who started the Blazers’ varsity program, Glenn Palmer. “I can’t say enough about what a great guy and coach Glenn is. He’s getting those kids ready to move up,” Hayes said.

MOVING ON UP?: Baconton will once again not play a full Region 1-A schedule and will use one final season to prepare for its foray into full region play next year. Hayes is ready, saying, “As long as I’m head coach next year, I’ve already talked to our principal, and I told him we’re ready to move up,” Hayes said. “We think we can play with that level of competition, and it’s just about time to see if we’re right.”

PLAYMAKER: RB Quinton Smith. Hayes calls Smith his workhorse, and he’ll get plenty of chances to show it this year. “He’s not a guy who will bust one for 90 yards, but he can succeed in our Wing-T offense,” Hayes said. “And (Narokis) Lewis will be good for us, too. For a little school like us, he’s got some big-time speed.”

X-FACTOR(S): The play of QB Jeremy Bunch and the return of LB Zack Jones. Bunch’s importance is obvious — he needs to lead an inexperienced offense while being relatively inexperienced himself. Hayes says he’s not asking Bunch to win every game by himself, but he hopes Bunch can limit mistakes that could lose it. As for Jones — arguably the team’s best player — he tore his ACL and MCL during the baseball state playoffs during a controversial home-play collision that some felt should’ve ended with Turner County being ruled out and Baconton advancing in the tournament. Instead, the runner was called safe, Baconton eventually lost that game and saw its season end, and Jones was lost for the year. Hayes says he “hopes” Jones, who had surgery in May, can return in October.

SPOTLIGHT ON PELHAM: When the Blazers play local rival Pelham on Aug. 30, that’s a game Baconton doesn’t just want to win, it wants to use it as a measuring stick for how it may fare once the jump up is made to a full region schedule next year. “It’s a big game for us every year, and Pelham is usually a pretty darn good team,” Hayes said. “That’s the one we’ll circle.”

TONIGHT’S 2013 SEASON OPENER IN BACONTON VS.BRANTLEY COUNTY (7:30 p.m.): Brantley beat Baconton, 14-0, at its place last year, so the Blazers are looking for payback. Hayes says he won’t predict a win, but he thinks the matchup will be closer this time around. “They were a double-slot, triple-option team a year ago, but they’ve got a new offensive coordinator, and now they’re a wide-open spread. It scares me to death,” Hayes said with a laugh. “But we’ve watched film, and we think we can defend it. Plus, we’re at home and I know our fans will come out and support us. We’ve had a good week of practice, and I think we’ll be a lot better than last year.”

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GISA

Southland Academy

CLASS/REGION: GISA Class AAA, Region 1

HEAD COACH: Tim Goodin, 26th year overall as a head coach, 5th at Southland.

2012 RECORD: 6-5, came in 5th in region, missed playoffs.

ASSISTANT COACHES: Nathan Hammock (OC/RBs/OLBs); Brett Collier (OL/DL); Mike Smith (LBs, TEs); Doug Parrish (DTs/OL); Mike Shattles (WRs/CBs).

RETURNING STARTERS: Hunter Weldon (Jr., LB/OL); Cauldin Smith (Jr., LB); Tyler Norten (Sr., OLB); Mitch Easom (Sr., OLB); Alan Glesson (Sr., WR/DB); Dustin Shattles (Sr., CB/RB); Ryan Weaver (Jr., CB); Ford Roach (Sr., DT/OG); Taylor Weldon (So., DE); Lance Harrod (Sr., C); Tyler Brown (Sr., OT); Austin Hale (Sr., RT); William Ouster (Sr., TE); Collins Christian (Sr., WR/P); John Adkins (Sr., QB); Cleve Bass (Jr., K)

KEY NEWCOMERS: Colt Stephens (Sr., DE); Clay Copland (Sr., NT) Ryan Landreth (Jr., FS); Blake Shattles (Jr., CB); Bryce Driver (Sr., FB); Riley Daniels (Jr., OG); Jackson Hayes (Jr., OT); Cason Fort (Jr., WR); Dillon Hernandez (Jr., WR)

DRIVING THE “FORD” TO SUCCESS: Remember the name “Ford Roach.” You will definitely see the 6-foot-4, 280-pound defensive tackle/offensive guard playing on Saturdays next fall — interest from UNC, Georgia Tech and Appalachian State has already poured in — and you might just see him on Sundays one day. “He’s one of the most athletic players I’ve ever had,” Goodin said. “He’s been a four-year starter, and he’s a kid who will definitely be playing for a big-time program next year.”

PLAYMAKER: Running back Dustin Shattles. The Raiders’ workhorse eclipsed 1,200 yards last season and led the team in touchdowns, but his line wasn’t as skilled as it will be this year. Look for Shattles to not just surpass 1,200 this year — the bar is set at 1,500 or higher — but possibly turn Region 1-AAA back into a two-horse race like the old days when the final game of the year between Deerfield and Southland decided it all. Shattles is that kind of game-changer. “He’s skilled,” Goodin said. “I’d like to think we’re going to run 60 percent of the time and throw the other 40, but he’s so good when he gets going, he may make us keep it more on the ground.”

X-FACTOR: Senior quarterback John Adkins. Adkins was just getting broken into the role of new leader last year as a junior, and now that he’s had a season to digest his highs and lows of 2012, Goodin says Adkins is poised to have “a big year,” adding, “He’s got command of the offense, he’s throwing the ball a whole lot better and he definitely will be part of our running game. When you have guys like Roach and Harrod anchoring the line, you just get behind them and go.”

PASS-HAPPY RAIDERS … WAIT, WHAT?: That’s right, Goodin is a sneaky guy. All this talk about the running game isn’t fooling anyone. Adkins’ arm is not only stronger than the 500-plus yards he passed for in Southland’s mostly run-oriented offense last season, he has two receivers in Alan Gleeson and Christian Collins who can go get the ball. Both are three-year starters who were Adkins’ go-to guys a year ago and will be once again. “We will definitely be throwing more; much more than I am accustomed to,” Goodin said. “Gleeson, especially, has a chance to be special. He and Roach are two great athletes.”

SPOTLIGHT ON ANY GAME THAT’S CLOSE: Goodin hasn’t earmarked one game or another on the schedule this season, saying only he felt the team should’ve been a game better each of the last two seasons after two narrow, heartbreaking losses in 2011 and 2012 to Pinewood Christian — both times by a point. So his focus won’t be so much on any one particular team this year, but rather he’s more interested in winning the ones that are close, and thus winnable. “I want us to be that team that gets the job done late,” he said. “And we’re getting there. We had a couple of good ones last year.” Southland beat Tattnall Square — tonight’s season-opening opponent — 23-22 in overtime last season, as well as local rival Terrel Academy, 18-12. He’s still burning over that 15-14, last-second loss to Pinewood last year but still feels last year’s two close wins were a step in the right direction.

TONIGHT’S 2013 SEASON OPENER IN MACON VS.REGION 2-AAA TATTNALL (7:30 p.m.): Last year’s opener vs. Tattnall was a thriller with Southland prevailing in OT. The Raiders should expect an option-based attack, ala Georgia Southern or Georgia Tech, with new coach Clint Morgan taking over for the legendary Barney Hester. “I know Clint’s got some experience, but we don’t know much about them now that Hester isn’t there any more. Last year’s game was good, and I expect this one will be, too,” Goodin said.

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Terrell Academy

CLASS/REGION: GISA Class AA, Region 3.

HEAD COACH: Bill Murdock, 25th year overall as head coach — 9 years at Terrell Academy and 16 at SGA.

2012 RECORD: 6-5; finished fifth in the region, missed playoffs.

ASSISTANT COACHES: Don Beard (assistant head coach); Ashley Walker, Tate Parker, Ottis Griggs, Scott Gilley, James Holton.

RETURNING STARTERS: Canaan Davis (Sr., OT); Tyler Marshall (Sr., OLB); Gray Rowe (Sr., DL); Chase Dabbs (Jr., DB); Cole Copeland (Sr., DE); Alan Stewart (Sr., DB).

KEY NEWCOMERS: Dalton Todd (Jr., QB); Logan Eubanks (Jr., LB/RB); Shad Johnson (Sr., LB); Josh McDowell (Sr., DE); Christian Harris (So., LB); Gable Freeman (Jr., DB/WR); Kyle Sellers (Sr., WR); Devin Kelley (Sr., C); Bentley Griffin (So., OG); Andrew Hatcher (So.,OG); Damon Bishop (Jr., OT); Josh Gonzalez (Sr., OT); Charlie Maxwell (Sr., OLB); Tyler Rice (Jr., DL); Dalton Craft (Jr., DB); Raleigh Carlson (Jr., WR/K); Marquan Jones (Sr., WR.); Carter Speir (Jr., OLB); Josh Davenport (Sr., OL/DL); Ross Hunter (So., DL); Jay Franklin (Sr., OL/DL).

TERRELL & RANDOLPH SOUTHERN — TOGETHER AS ONE: Dawson and Shellman are separated by just a mere 11.6 miles. So when the rival Pariots’ football team was disbanded following the school’s closure last May, the Eagles picked up six of Randolph Southern’s players — all of them experienced and talented — as well as former RSS head coach Otis Griggs, who is now an assistant for TAE. Murdock says the school has welcomed all the students who came over from the one-time rival school with open arms, and it’s been touching to witness. “It’s crazy to think what a big game that used to be with them, and now it’s over because the school closed — something we all hated seeing, even if they were a rival. But now, a lot of their students came to our school — only six happened to play football — and it feels good knowing we are their new home for school and sports. The entire school has been very accepting of all the Randolph Southern students who came over, and I can’t begin to tell you how proud all of us are of the kids for making them feel welcome.”

PLAYMAKER: WR/RB/KR Raleigh Carlson. That’s right, like the city in North Carolina. Don’t lose this guy on the field — and don’t be fooled by his 5-foot-11, 150-pound frame. This kid can fly and make plays all over the field. “We’ve got a few ways to get him the ball. He’s an explosive player,” Murdock said of last season’s leading wideout, who might just burn you for a 73-yard kick return minutes after trucking his way to a 30-yard TD catch across the middle. “Not very big, but very shifty. You might think he’s thin, but he’s so strong that he’s the kind of kid who is just hard to hit and even harder to bring down.”

X-FACTOR: The Eagles’ offensive line. Four new starters. Can they protect starting RB Logan Eubanks and QB Dalton Todd? ‘Nuff said.

WHILE WE’RE TALKING TODD …: Does that name sound familiar? Check out this passage out from a Herald article on Todd last season — when he was a breakout sophomore on another local team.

….Sherwood Christian Academy quarterback Dalton Todd threw for three touchdowns and ran for another to lead the Eagles to a 50-6 victory Thursday against Windsor Academy. Todd got into the end zone on a 7-yard rushing TD and tossed TD passes to three different receivers “Dalton’s play (Thursday night) was a great sign for us,” Sherwood coach Otis Covington said. “He’s really developing well, seeing the game better, being a leader on the field. It’s exciting to see him have such a big game.” ……

But now Todd has transferred to Terrell Academy, and he’s the unquestioned starter this year for the Eagles. Murdock, for one, has been seriously impressed by what he’s seen so far. “I don’t know any of his stats from last year, but I know this: He was good,” Murdock said. “And he’s been great so far in practice and really stood out.”

SPOTLIGHT ON … ALL OF THEM: “There isn’t one game we’ve keyed in as being bigger than any of the rest. These kids know we take it one at a time,” Murdock said.

TONIGHT’S 2013 SEASON OPENER IN TIFTON VS.REGION 1-AAA TIFTAREA (7:30 p.m.): “We got them by two touchdowns (in the opener last year, 28-14), but I believe they should be a lot more solid this year. They have a good running back coming back, a solid offensive line and some good receivers. They were real young last year. We lost 13 seniors, and they lost three, so it’s going to be a tough game.”

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Westwood School

2012 RECORD: 11-3; first year in Class AA after moving up; lost in GISA Class AA state championship game.

HEAD COACH: Ross Worsham, 8th year as head coach, all at Westwood; spent 14 years as assistant between Lowndes (12 years) and Cairo (2 years).

ASSISTANT COACHES: Charles Trumbow (DBs); Clint Daughrty (RBs); Earl Ford (DC); Glenn Davis (defensive, DL/LBs); Mickey Davis (OL).

WORSHAM ON NEW GUYS TRUMBOW, DAUGHRTY: “Those two guys came to me and wanted to coach at Westwood, and they’ve been two great additions. Charles played cornerback at Georgia, and now he is the ag teacher at Mitchell County Middle School, and he wanted to get into coaching. And Clint played at Pelham in the late 1990s or early 2000s and asked if he could help, so I was like, ‘Dadgum, I’d love your help.’ And their energy is great. I think we needed it.”

RETURNING STARTERS: J.T. Edore (Sr., RB/OLB); Chason Worsham (Jr., RB/SS); Ralph Collins (Sr., WR/QB); Jamie Davis (Sr., TE); Jacques Irvin (Jr., OT/LB); Johnny Hendricks (Jr., OG); Reid Carr (Jr., OT); Ridge Collins (Jr., WR); Tristan Swan (Sr., OLB/C); T.J. Robertson (Sr., OG); Dylon Smith (Sr., WR/RB/CB).

WORSHAM ON HIS VETS: “Obviously, Edore had a great season with 1,660 yards, and Jamie Davis is maybe the best athlete on the team, but I’m real excited about our offensive line and the return of Johnny Hendricks. He tore his ACL at practice before the second game of the year — just terrible luck because he was real good as a sophomore — but now he’s back, and he should be a real key for us up front.”

KEY NEWCOMERS: Collier Baggett (So., QB/SS/K); Nicholas Coker (So., OL/DL).

SCHEME: “We’ll still be a 4-3 defense with a wrinkle here and there, and we’ll spread it out on offense, but we’ll run it more than we throw. We’re going to just keep using what’s worked,” said Worsham, whose program won two straight GISA Class A state titles from 2010-2011 and then finished as runner-up in Class AA in 2012.

X-FACTOR: The Wildcats’ new starting quarterback Ralph Collins. Collins is a senior who has waited his turn, and how he handles the offense in his first — and only — shot is what will define this team this season. During Westwood’s unbeaten, back-to-back state title run, it had seasoned leaders under center running the show. Worsham said he and his guys have tons of faith in Collins: “He knows the offense well, but he also knows he has to do more with it than we’ve ever asked before, and so far he’s been making great decisions in preseason practice. And with three horses at running back (Edore, C. Worsham and Smith) behind him, he’ll have some help.”

PLAYMAKER: It’s RB J.T. Edore, and there’s zero doubt about it. The four-year varsity star, who began ripping defenses for 200-plus yard games as a freshman, is now a senior — and bigger and stronger than ever. Colleges have taken notice, including active recruitment by Kennesaw State and West Georgia. “He’s proven himself,” Worsham said. “His new goal is go past the 1,660 (yards) he had last year. I don’t see why he won’t.”

SPOTLIGHT ON OCT. 18: That’s when Westwood meets Valwood in a regular-season region matchup that could decide this year’s title, although it will also be a rematch of last year’s GISA Class AA State Championship game, won by Valwood in a 48-13 romp. Valwood will be just as good, if not better, this year with 17 returning seniors and 17 returning juniors. “No doubt they had the better team last year and deserved to win,” Worsham said. “But that loss has motivated us to get back.”

TONIGHT’S SEASON OPENER IN MONTICELLO VS.REGION 4-AA PIEDMONT (7:30 p.m.): “They’re kind of in the same boat as us — a really good program for the last 2 or 3 years that has expectations to win all the time, and like us, they’re coming off a mediocre season. They’ve got a good bunch coming back, and both teams will be hungry to get a win,” Worsham said.