DWS quarterback Tripp Presley is one of several Knights getting their first varsity start tonight vs. SGA.
ALBANY — Just about everything is gone from last year’s Deerfield-Windsor state championship football team.
Two-year starting quarterback Dallas Margeson? Gone.
Dynamite Dozen running back Kh’Ron McClain? Gone.
Seventeen seniors who did anything and everything to lead the Knights to their third state title in five years? They’re all gone, too.
But the tradition of excellence that floats around the DWS sideline and is constant in everything head coach Allen Lowe teaches?
That hasn’t gone anywhere.
“There is a bunch of speculation that we won’t be as good as we were last year because we lost so many people and don’t have the experience,” senior running back Matthew Fox said. “But no matter who we put in, we think we can win games because our coaches know what they are doing.”
Fox is one of just six returning starters on both sides of the ball for the Knights, who are inexperienced at nearly every skill position and are hoping a new crop of leaders steps up to continue the proud football tradition Lowe has established in his 13 years with the program.
“One of the challenges that makes high school football so enjoyable is that you have to take what you get and mold it from there. This year we just have more pieces to the puzzle that we need to put together,” Lowe said. “But we feel really good about our program here that hopefully we are still going to be very competitive even if we have new faces. The kids are ready for their challenge and are ready for their turn, and hopefully they will respond to it.”
The kids at Deerfield have grown accustomed to winning, but they’ve heard whispers around both Albany and the GISA that 2013 is the year to catch the Knights.
“Yeah, I’ve heard that this is the year to beat us,” senior fullback Grey Lanier admitted.
Lowe doesn’t mind the doubters.
“I hope they are talking about us, because we feel like we are going to be in the hunt,” he said. “We still have some very good football players, and we still want to be there. Our goal, like it is every year, is to play in the last game. That’s what we are shooting for. That doesn’t mean we are going to be as good in Week 2 as we are in Week 11, but our goal is to be the best we can.”
Week 1 starts tonight with Southwest Georgia Academy, a team on the rise under new head coach Brent Miller, who led the Warriors to a blowout victory against Alabama Class A state champion Ashford Academy in last week’s opener, and then the Knights host Florida powerhouse North Florida Christian, which was the only team to beat Deerfield last season.
It’s a doozy of an opening month for the Knights, who close the first four weeks of the season with road games at rival Mount de Sales and 2012 state semifinalist Stratford Academy.
Even if the Knights pick up a handful of early losses, Fox believes his team will bounce back by the end of the season.
“I wouldn’t say (the first games) will be indicators of our season,” he said. “With so many new guys, we will be learning throughout the season. But by the end of the season we will have picked up the experience we were lacking.”
Fox could be the key puzzle piece to success for the Knights, who were used to McClain providing instant offense from the backfield last season.
“Kh’Ron McClain made scoring touchdowns pretty easy because we could go on a two-play drive really quick,” Lowe said. “Him and Margeson, a two-year starter at quarterback who had the system down, we are going to miss. Those two guys were huge for us.”
Lowe is expecting Fox to be the go-to guy this year.
“Fox is special,” Lowe said. “He is one that we have to find a balance for him between the offense and defense. Now that his role on offense has been taken up a notch, how is that going to affect him on defense? We have to figure out how that will play out down the line.”
Fox (6-foot-1, 200 pounds) played defensive end last year and is joined by senior linebacker Nick Michas (6-0, 210) as the only returners on defense. On offense, only linemen Davis Gill (6-1, 240), Will Roberts (5-11, 210) and Fazel Ahsan (6-0, 175) and backs Fox and Lanier (6-0, 175) have starting experience.
Lowe is turning to his returners to set the pace early, but he’s also going to be leaning on senior Tripp Presley, who will start at quarterback tonight against SGA. Presley’s future under center, however, is anything but guaranteed.
“Right now Tripp Presley is the guy who has been taking most of the snaps. Right now he is our starter, and then we will move from there,” Lowe said.
“Tripp has not been under fire yet. None of our guys have been under fire yet. Tripp actually has good speed, but we are waiting to see him under fire and find out what positives he brings to the table so we can highlight those.”
At least for now it appears as if it’s going to be Fox’s offense.
“In all honesty, with Fox back there we are just hoping our quarterback can just manage the game and help the team not necessarily win the game but do the little things right to keep us moving forward,” Lowe said. “Until we get a quarterback with more game experience, we have to rely on good defense and the running game. As Tripp grows as a quarterback, we will be able to expand more.
“And that might take four or five weeks. We are fighting for a lot of positions. There are guys out there from freshmen to seniors who are fighting for a role on Friday nights.”
NOTES: The Knights have 17 seniors for the second year in a row and have a total roster of 57 players, three fewer than last season. … The team’s biggest returner on special teams is junior Harry Vildibill, one of the top place kickers in Southwest Georgia. Last year, Vildibill made 59 of 64 PATs and three field goals, including a 40-yarder in a DWS win against rival Stratford Academy. “We expect good things out of him,” Lowe said of Vildibill. “Hopefully he can be an in-the-endzone type of kickoff guy.” … The Knights open with two straight games at home but then go through a stretch of six away games in eight weeks before closing the regular season back at Webb Memorial Stadium against GISA Region 1-AAA rival Southland.