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Mitchell County aims to make another run at postseason

After surging late in 2013 season, Eagles lost in first round to Hawkinsville

Mitchell County assistant coach Jermaine King looks on as Jertavious Wimberly, left, and Quadrick Haynes go through blocking drills during a recent practice at Mitchell County High School. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)

Mitchell County assistant coach Jermaine King looks on as Jertavious Wimberly, left, and Quadrick Haynes go through blocking drills during a recent practice at Mitchell County High School. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)

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MITCHELL COUNTY

CLASS/REGION: GHSA Region 1-A

2013 RECORD: 6-5; lost 17-12 to Hawkinsville in first round

COACH: Larry Cornelius (3rd season)

RETURNING STARTERS: DL/C Quintin Sanders (Jr., 6-3, 290); NG Davon Hicks (Sr., 6-3, 350); DE Milik Rhodes (Jr., 5-9, 195); OLB Vernon Johnson (Sr., 5-9, 160); OLB Kezian Jackson (Sr., 5-9, 170); FS/WR Josh King (Sr., 6-2, 190); SS Terry Burley (Sr., 6-2, 180); CB/WR McKinley West (Sr., 5-6, 140); OT Darius Hicks (Jr., 6-3, 315); G Jordan Williams (Jr., 6-1, 210); QB Troy Chester (Sr., 5-10, 160)

TOP NEWCOMERS: WR Justin Wynn (Sr., 5-9, 160); ILB Anthony McIntyre (Fr., 5-9, 190)

2014 SCHEDULE:

Aug. 29 — at Albany

Sept. 5 — at Pelham

Sept. 12 — Seminole County

Sept. 19 — at Manchester

Sept. 26 — at Lee County

Oct. 10 — Baconton Charter

Oct. 18 — Miller County

Oct. 24 — at Terrell County

Oct. 31 — at Calhoun County

Nov. 7 — Randolph-Clay

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Mitchell County head football coach Larry Cornelius, right, talks with linebacker Anthony McIntyre during a recent practice at Mitchell County High School. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)

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Mitchell County’s Demetrius Jones (55) tackles D’Antoy Williams during tackling drills at Mitchell County High School. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)

CAMILLA — Mitchell County head football coach Larry Cornelius has watched many game films from last year’s season. But there remains one that he won’t watch.

Cornelius knows there will come a time when he will need to review his Eagles’ first round Class A public school playoff game at Hawkinsville, a game Mitchell County lost 17-12 to end its 2013 season at 6-5.

Nearly nine months have passed. For the coaches and players, that night is still a painful one.

“We had the game,” senior nose guard Davon Hicks said. “Everybody wanted to win that game badly. I think (that by losing) it’s going to make us hungrier.”

The Eagles have 11 returning starters and in their third season under Cornelius are looking to take things a step farther. After a rough nonregion schedule last year, one in which Mitchell began the season 1-3, the Eagles put together a five-game winning streak before losing the Region 1-A title at Seminole County in the final game of the regular season.

But the Eagles’ resume was good enough to earn them a playoff spot, and they suffered what they called a heartbreaking loss at Hawkinsville.

The Eagles plan to pick up where they left off at the end of the regular season. Cornelius isn’t promising Mitchell County fans a state championship. However, he said the team will continue to improve and have a chance to make a deep postseason run.

The Eagles’ first five games are at Albany, at Pelham, Seminole County, at Manchester and at Lee County, all larger schools.

“Our approach during our first five (nonregion) games is about improvement,” Cornelius said. “Obviously, we’d like to win those games, but as long as we’re better each week, that’s more important than a win.

“Our main goal is to win region but improve every step of the way. I’ve seen a lot of 10-0 teams lose in the first round of the playoffs. If you’re just as good in Week 1 as you are in Week 10, you’re not making any progress. We don’t want to be like that.”

Senior strong safety Terry Burley likes the progress the Eagles have made under Cornelius and believes Mitchell is ready to turn the corner.

“When coach first got here, things were a little complicated,” Burley said. “But we all worked through it and worked everything out. I believe this year is going to be our year.”

It has been more than 20 years since Mitchell has tasted a state title, winning the Class AA championship when the school was combined with Baker County. Cornelius knows there are lofty expectations for the football program and he’s anxious to help get the Eagles back on the state map.

“Just making the state playoffs is kind of on the low end for us,” he said. “We know we have some strong standards to uphold to. We know it’s been a while since there has been a state title. These kids have that ability. I’m not saying we’ll win one, but they have that ability.”

But for now, Cornelius wants his team to continue to show improvement. If they can continue to mature after their first five games, the Eagles should be tested when they open Region 1-A play against Baconton Charter on Oct. 10.

“We still have a lot of improvement to make,” he said. “I can definitely see a big difference from three years ago, but you can’t play selfish football and expect to win week in and week out.”