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PREVIEW CAPSULE: Southland Academy

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CLASS/REGION: GISA Region 3-AAA

2013 RECORD: 8-5; lost 27-24 to Westfield in state semifinals

COACH: Rod Murray (1st year)

RETURNING STARTERS: QB/DB Ryan Weaver (Sr., 5-8, 165); WR/DB Blake Shattles (Sr., 5-9, 165); TB/LB Colt Stephens (Sr., 6-0, 190); OL/LB Cauldin Smith (Sr., 5-11, 215); OL/DT Hunter Weldon (Sr., 6-0, 280); K Cleve Bass (Sr., 5-10, 162); WR/DB Cason Fort (Sr., 6-3, 186); TE/DE Taylor Weldon (Sr., 6-2, 240)

TOP NEWCOMERS: WR/DB Keyon Stone (Sr., 6-0, 183); FB/LB Brian Stone (Sr., 5-10, 220)

2014 SCHEDULE:

Aug. 22 — at Westfield

Aug. 29 — Robert Toombs Christian Academy

Sept. 12 — at Southwest Georgia Academy

Sept. 19 — at Terrell Academy

Sept. 26 — Brookwood

Oct. 3 — Valwood

Oct. 10 — at Deerfield-Windsor

Oct. 17 — Westwood

Oct. 24 — at Tiftarea Academy

Oct. 31 — Memorial Day

DOOZY OF AN OPENER: Rod Murray will have his work cut out for him in his first game as a head football coach when the Raiders travel to Westfield on Friday.

Westfield, the defending GISA Class AAA state champions, beat Southland in last year’s state semifinals and also handed the Raiders a 48-21 loss in the regular season.

“That’s a great atmosphere to go play in, and we are excited about the challenges in front of us,” Murray said. “It will be a good way for us to prepare for region play. Our region is going to be very tough, and when you play tough opponents early on you can work on some stuff that will get you prepared.”

MURRAY’S DEBUT: Murray, who spent the last decade coaching baseball at Deerfield-Windsor and served as the defensive coordinator for the Knights, started his 18-year coaching career as an assistant at Southland after graduating from Georgia Southwestern.

Now he’s back in Americus and couldn’t be happier.

“I’m really excited about this opportunity,” he said. “It’s something I’ve worked hard for. The timing was right for this, and I have to think everybody who helped me get to this point.

“The kids have embraced the way we like to do stuff. The kids work hard every day and have bought into the mindset of the next team on our schedule being the most important game.”

Murray will double as the defensive coordinator and installed a 4-3 formation, while Nathan Hammack is back as Southland’s offensive coordinator. The Raiders will run a Wing-T offense and rely on rushers Colt Stephens and Brian Stone and quarterback Ryan Weaver, who is one of eight returning starters.