• CLASS/REGION: GHSA Class A, Region 1-A
• 2012 RECORD: 5-5, finished third in the region and would have made playoffs under old system but instead barely missed out on the postseason after finishing outside of the Top 16 in the Class A power rankings.
• HEAD COACH: Larry Cornelius (2nd season as head coach at Mitchell, 5th overall)
• ASSISTANT COACHES: Jermaine King (DC); Josh Zeigler (DB/QB); Eric Gervin (DT/OL); Willie Martin (DB/WR); Cornellius Frazier (RB).
• RETURNING STARTERS: Bruce Bryant (Sr., QB); Anfreenee Williams (Sr., RB); Quintin Sanders (So., OL/DL); Josh King (Jr.,TE/DE); Anthony Murray (Sr., DB); Terry Emanuel (Sr., WR/DB); Tremel Emanuel (Sr., LB/RB); Terry Burley (Jr., DE); Casey Wood (Sr., LT).
• KEY NEWCOMERS: Demetrius Jones (Fr., DE/WR); Ben Jackson (Fr., OL); Davon Hicks (Jr., DL); Darius Hicks (So., OL); McKinley West (Jr., RB/DB).
• YEAR NO. 2: It took a while for Mitchell County to adjust to first-year head coach Larry Cornelius’ option-style offense last season, but once the Eagles got the hang of it they stormed back into the playoff picture with four straight wins and were a season-ending loss to Seminole County away from making the postseason. Cornelius expects success in his second year in Camilla to happen a little quicker. “These seniors have been with me for a year now, and they understand my philosophy and I understand them better,” Cornelius said. “This group of seniors we have now isn’t selfish. They are about team first. We lost some key athletes from last year, but what we gained this year is team chemistry.”
• RETURNING AT QB: No one got more comfortable with Cornelius’ option-style offense during the offseason than senior quarterback Bruce Bryant, who started the final six games of last season and finished the year 4-2 as a starter. “With the option, you need to have a couple thousand snaps to really understand it,” said Cornelius, who runs a hybrid wing-T option out of a pistol formation. “This year, Bruce feels comfortable with the option, and you are going to see a lot more of it this year.” Bryant is also going to be asked to throw the ball more after a junior season when he attempted 69 passes and didn’t throw a single interception.
• PLAYMAKER: Anfreenee Williams. There won’t be anybody who will benefit more from the option offense than Williams, who averaged 8.1 yards per carry last season as a junior and only finished the season with 466 yards and four TDs because Cornelius was patiently preparing him for a breakout senior season. Well, Mr. Williams … your time has arrived. Williams, who is 5-foot-10, 205 pounds and runs a 4.55 40-yard dash, touched the ball just three times in Friday’s scrimmage against Baconton Charter, but one of his rushes was on the opening play of the game when he took it 80 yards for a TD. “He isn’t scared to take it up the middle, and in fact he looks forward to it. And he can hit the edge and turn up field just as good,” Cornelius said. “I held him back a little last year because I wanted him to become a complete back who can also block, and that’s what he has become. I wanted to mentor him for that one year because I knew I had another year with him. Now he has become our best blocker.”
• X-FACTOR: Tremel Emanuel and Quintin Sanders. The duo is the foundation of the Eagles’ 3-4 defense and will be Cornelius’ de-facto coaches out on the field. Emanuel, a senior linebacker, led the team with 88 tackles last, 10 tackles for losses and five sacks last season, while Sanders is the anchor of the defense at nose tackle. “When you run a 3-4, you ask a lot out of your nose guard,” Cornelius said. “And Tremel is the heart and soul of the defense. He is probably one of the best linebackers I have ever coached. He can just cover so much ground.”
• FRIDAY’S 2013 SEASON OPENER AT HOME VS. CLINCH COUNTY (7:30 P.M.): The Eagles opened last season with a 36-20 loss to Clinch, which could have the upper hand this year as well after already playing Class AA powerhouse Brooks County in a regular-season game last Friday. And while Clinch battled Brooks in a 26-14 loss, Mitchell faced a young Baconton Charter team in a scrimmage two weeks ago and won, 40-0. “Yeah, Clinch got beat up a little bit by Brooks, but they stayed in the game,” Cornelius said. “We are coming off a scrimmage against Baconton Charter and they are playing Brooks. You compare the two teams.”
• CLASS/REGION: GHSA Class A, Region 1-A.
• 2012 RECORD: 8-3, reached first round of state playoffs, where Pirates lost to Wilkinson County, 27-26.
• COACH: Frank Killingsworth (18th year at Miller, 8th as head coach; also was head coach at Calhoun County for three years)
• ASSISTANT COACHES: Nate George (defensive coordinator); Jordan Simpkins (OL/DL); Sam Brown (RBs/LBs); Woody Kirkland (OL/DL).
• RETURNING STARTERS: Quantavious Thomas (Sr., LB/TE); Richard Sheffield (Sr., LB); Jackson Fleet (Sr., DL/OL); Algin Merritt (Jr., QB); Luke Sheffield (Jr., C); Nick Huntley (Sr., OL);
• KEY NEWCOMERS: Rodriguez Williams (Jr., FB/LB); Jarvis Burney (Sr., OL/DL); Antwan Oliver (OL/DL); Darius Wiley (Sr., RB/DB); Terrious Buggs (Sr., RB); Jadarian Douglas (Sr., LB); J.J. George (Fr., DB); Antravious Benton (Sr., SE/FS); Julius Figueroa (Jr., DL).
• WHERE’S ALL THE VETS?: This is not your typical veteran Miller team that Killingsworth has been accustomed to in the past with just seven total returning starters — well, actually, six because Jackson Fleet (DL/OL) plays both ways. The Pirates are traditionally one of the best teams each year in 1-A, but no one is quite sure how these host of newcomers will react under the Friday Night Lights. “You’re always a little apprehensive (when you don’t return a lot of guys), but we look at the season in three sections,” the coach said. “The first is the non-region schedule, which is our first four games. We hope to get better during that (slate) for the next section, which is our region schedule. We hope to go through that in good enough shape to make the playoffs. We believe those are all attainable goals still, even with the inexperience we have.”
• PLAYMAKER: This isn’t one person for Miller. It’s the entire line on both sides of the ball. Killingsworth has experience in one spot this year — his line — and he feels that as long as they can protect to give quarterback Algin Merritt enough time to find open receivers and make their blocks to blow open holes for top returner Rod Williams (350 yards, five TDs in 2012) and the rest of the backs, the Pirates will be in good shape. Of course, the defensive line also has to come up with stops, and Killingsworth feels confident they will after watching both sides of the ball work hard during the preseason. “It falls on the lines, 100 percent. If they get down to the nitty-gritty, we’ll be just fine,” Killingsworth said.
• X-FACTOR: QB Algin Merritt. He saw time as a freshman and then started as a sophomore. Now a junior, he’s had three years in Killingsworth’s system, and he should be able to direct the offense with ease. The coach doesn’t want to heap too much pressure on Merritt, who will only be tasked with throwing the ball 30 percent of the time in Miller’s run-heavy attack, but Killingsworth did have high praise for his signal caller. “He’s got experience and he’s got to be our leader,” he said. “And I think he will. We expect big things from him this year.”
• ONE TO WATCH: Frehsman DB J.J. George. He’s only a freshman, yes, but Killingsworth singled him out as one of the players on Miller’s team that could one day be as highly recruited as, say, former NFL star and Georgia Bulldog, Charles Grant. George, the son of Miller County girls basketball coach and former North Alabama Division II national champion Nate George, is 5-foot-9 and 170 pounds, and his athletic ability makes him versatile enough to use on defense at DB or on offense as a split end or wing back. “He’ll see time at both this year. He’s a great athlete, and we can’t not use him on both sides,” Killingsworth said. “In four years, he’s going to be something special.”
• TOP TARGET: While Williams will get the bulk of the workload in the running game, a key returner to the passing game is Antravious Benton, a senior who left the team last year before ever really getting started. He’s 6-1 and can pretty much go up and over any DB to grab just about any ball thrown his way. “We’ve got running backs we’ll throw too, but he’s our top wideout,” Killingsworth said. “We’re glad to have him back.”
• INJURIES: “Knock on wood, we’re OK right now,” Killingsworth said with a laugh — then loudly wrapped his hand on a wooden table nearby.
• FRIDAY’S 2013 SEASON OPENER AT HOME VS. SCHLEY COUNTY (7:30 P.M.): Miller won this matchup, 32-26, in overtime last year, but they had a hard time containing Schley star running back Tra Minter then with a far more experienced team. Friday won’t be any different, and Killingsworth knows the result — if they allow Minter to have his way — could be way worse. “He’s one of the top running backs in the state, and they just kept feeding him the ball last time. I’d say he had 30 carries to go along with his two kickoff returns for touchdowns of 70 yards he had against us,” Killingsworth said. “So we’ve been gearing up all week to stop him because he can almost single-handily beat you. He’s something all right, but we’ve already talked about it: He’s not going to get (a kickoff TD) against us this year. We’ll make sure of that.”
• CLASS/REGION: GHSA Class AA, Region 1-AA
• 2012 RECORD: 1-9.
• HEAD COACH: Frankie Carroll (3rd year as head coach at Pelham, 11th overall)
• ASSISTANT COACHES: Shane Wheeler (DC); Justin Sirmon (OC); Lee Taylor (DBs); Andrew Satterwhite (QBs); John Sirmon (RBs/DBs); Derrick Levette (LBs); Willie Frank Williams (ILBs); Vane Bill (WRs); Lester Moore.
• RETURNING STARTERS: Wilmon Clayton (Jr., C); Justin Smith (Jr., TE); Clarence Almond (Jr., QB); Desmond Parker (Jr., RB); Demonte Franklin (Jr., FB); Tre’von White (Sr., WR); Quenterrius Jasper (Sr., DE); Logan Barrett (Jr., LB); Darren Jackson (Jr., LB); Lorenzo Church (Sr., S); Christian Drake (Sr., CB); Jonathan Brown (Sr. S).
• KEY NEWCOMERS: Dylan Wallace (Jr., RG); Austin Waters (So., LG); Clifford Russell (So., OLB).
• REPLACING LEADERSHIP: They lined up shoulder-to-shoulder earlier this year, all with pens in hand and all with huge smiles stretched across their faces. Seven Pelham seniors committed to colleges — the biggest wave of college signees ever to come through the program — in the spring. And while it was a proud moment for the program, the reality soon set in for head coach Frankie Carroll that many of his top players from last season were gone, leaving him with several huge holes to fill. “You can’t lose seven guys that go to play football in college and it not be hard to replace them,” Carroll said. “They have definitely been hard to replace, but our kids have worked very, very hard.” Calvin Shelton was one of four Hornets to sign with Division II Concordia, and Carroll said Shelton, an outside linebacker, is the toughest to replace. “He was really an up-tempo player in practice and made practice go very well,” Carroll said.
• PLAYMAKER: Christian Drake. He might be the best defensive back in Southwest Georgia and is beginning to see offers from Division I programs fall into his lap. He already has scholarship offers from Kennesaw State and North Carolina A&T, and Georgia Southern is “really, really interested,” according to Carroll. “They just want to see what he does the first three or four games before they give him an offer.” Drake recently ran a 10.62 seconds, 100-meter dash in a recent showcase, and it was the fifth-fastest time in the state. He will use his speed at running back occasionally this season, but most of his damage will be done in the secondary, where he had six interceptions, 15 pass breakups and 43 tackles last season. He also scored on two kickoff returns and had a 97-yard interception return for a TD.
• X-FACTOR: Clarence Almond. Pelham’s junior quarterback started last season, but often got lost in the crowd among the team’s large group of seniors. Now Almond has emerged as the leader and will be the key to helping Pelham bounce back from its 1-9 season. “He has to have a great year for us to be successful on offense,” Carroll said. “He has to really be what I believe he is — a leader. He has to be a leader every game. I think he is the key.” Almond didn’t throw the ball much last season and finished the year with just 400 passing yards and four touchdowns, but the Hornets are expecting to air it out more this season. “He is throwing the ball a lot better now,” Carroll said. “He now knows the offense inside and out. We couldn’t throw the ball at all last year, but we are throwing it some now.” And if Almond is the X-Factor, then senior receiver Tre’von White is the
• X-Factor: Part Deux. White, who has an offer from Kennesaw State, had just 10 catches for 90 yards and a TD last season, but he will be Almond’s go-to receiver this year.
• FRIDAY’S 2013 SEASON OPENER AT HOME VS. CLASS A BACONTON CHARTER (7:30 P.M.): Pelham’s lone win last season was its season opener against Baconton Charter, and the Hornets will try to snap their nine-game losing streak against the visiting Blazers on Friday. Last year, Pelham scored 40 of its 94 total points in 2012 in the 40-0 win against Baconton, with five different Hornets rushing for touchdowns. Carroll, however, isn’t looking past Baconton to a Week 2 matchup with rival Mitchell County. “We just have to get better than how we played in our scrimmage and not worry about anybody else,” said Carroll, referring to last week’s 26-0 win in a scrimmage against Lanier County. “Baconton is much improved from last year. It’s going to be a good test for us.”
• CLASS/REGION: GISA Class A, Region 2-A
• 2012 RECORD: 6-4, made state playoffs for first time in seven years but lost in opening round to Dawson Street.
• HEAD COACH: Ron Drummonds (2nd year as head coach at Crisp; 20th overall)
• ASSISTANT COACHES: Don Odum (WR/DB); Michael Miller (OL/DL); George Kennedy (OL/special teams); Stewart Gottlieb (QBs/WRs).
• RETURNING STARTERS: Jake Smith (Sr., QB/DB); Hunter Chambers (Sr., RB/WR/S); Banks Folsom (Sr., WR/CB); Will Krause (Sr., WR); Matt Wright (Sr., FB/LB); Greyson Farrow (Sr., OL/DL); James Wessel (Sr., OL/LB); Thomas Hall (Sr., OL/DL); Chris McGee (Sr., OL/DL); Brad Richmond (Sr., NG).
• STILL NO ANSWER AT RB: Is Jeff McKinney going to play this season for the Crisp Academy Wildcats? That’s the biggest question surrounding the team as it prepares for Friday’s season opener, and on Tuesday coach Ron Drummonds still didn’t have an answer. McKinney rushed for nearly 200 yards per game in the first three weeks of the season last year, but broke his collarbone in Game No. 3 and missed the rest of the year. Drummonds said he is unsure why McKinney is still wavering on whether or not to return to the team, but if he doesn’t come back it will be a huge hit to Crisp’s running game. “We are a small school, so it hurts to lose anybody,” Drummonds said. “But you have to let them make their own decisions so they don’t have any regrets later on. Begging them to play isn’t the right way to go.” If McKinney doesn’t return, Crisp will likely lean on Hunter Chambers and Matt Wright to carry the ball.
• MOTIVATIONAL LOSS: After making the playoffs for the first time in seven years, the Wildcats had their hearts broken in the opening round with a 22-18 loss to Dawson Street. And not a day went by this summer when the kids at Crisp weren’t motivated by their disappointment. “It’s all we talk about. We know it woulda been different if we would have done this or that or not had those injuries,” said Drummonds, referring to the injuries to McKinney and receiver Will Krause. “Both of those guys were worth a lot more than four points. So this summer we have worked hard and tried to stay strong and healthy. That’s going to be the key for us this year, to stay healthy. Because I think we would have certainly moved on (in the playoffs) if we wouldn’t have lost Jeff McKinney last year.”
• PLAYMAKER: Hunter Chambers. He is 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds and one of the best athletes in GISA Class A. The All-State DB started at receiver on offense last season, but might be called on to run the ball some this year if McKinney doesn’t return. Drummonds knows it’s never a bad plan to stick the ball in Chambers’ hands and see what happens. “He has great hands and good speed,” the coach said. “He is being looked at by some colleges, and with his size and speed he is probably going to have a chance to play somewhere after this season.”
• X-FACTOR: Jake Smith. The senior quarterback will be a second-year starter under center, but his impact on the team stretches much further than what he can do on offense. He was also named an All-Region defensive back last season and picked up the team’s punting duties for this season. “He is the key for us,” Drummonds said. “He works hard and has been in the weight room all year.”
• FRIDAY’S 2013 SEASON OPENER AT CLASS AT NATHANAEL GREENE (7:30 P.M.): Crisp hammered Nathanael Greene, 40-0, last year to kick off a three-game stretch to start the season during which they outscored opponents, 121-0. Longtime Nathanael Greene coach Larry Harrison has returned to the Patriots after two years away from the school and will try to turn around a program that went 2-19 in his absence. “That could make a huge difference,” Drummonds said. Drummonds, however, has all the confidence that his players will start this season exactly like the last one. “I expect the same thing as last year, really,” he said. “I expect our kids to play hard and do the kinds of things we did last year. If that happens, it will be the same outcome.”
— Compiled by John Millikan and Danny Aller