While Aug. 6 signals the start of the new school year, diehard football fans probably have Aug. 1 marked on their calendars. The day marks the official start of football practice as allowed in the bylaws of the Georgia High School Association. It marks the start of two-a-day practices, football helmets, shoulder pads, tackling drills, offensive drills and defensive strategies.
It marks the return of starting players eager to make the first touchdown or first tackle. It marks the opportunity for new players to display their talent and grab the attention of the coaches.
It’s the return of the spread offense or the wing-T, the return of the zone or man coverage. It’s the return of the sport that epitomizes the start of a school year.
Here is a quick look at the Liberty County Panthers and Bradwell Tigers upcoming season.
In 2007, the LCHS Panthers finished 7-3 overall and 3-2 in region 3-AAA. Last year, the team was hit with the 2008-10 region re-alignment thrusting them against middle Georgia squads like Thomson, Baldwin, Washington County and West Laurens. In 2008 they finished 3-7 overall and 2-4 in the region.
The bright spot for the Panther is the return of their starting quarterback Julian Stokes.
Stokes proved he was comfortable in the spread offense the team put together last season giving him the opportunity to start from the shotgun formation and giving him the option to run when needed. Stokes is quick to scramble and, once in motion is hard to catch.
The return of Shadrach Thornton will close the gap left by start running back Roderick Jones who is now at Shorter College. Thornton started to see some play time as a freshmen last season in the last three games. In addition to being quick, Thornton is versatile with the ability of slipping into a receiver position or, on defense, a corner slot. His leaping ability accounted for a few interceptions last year. Showing a lot of improvement look for Michael Rodriguez to fill in the other running back slot left by Demetrius Stinson.
The defense returns a virtual who’s who of starting players. Jovan Jones, Artavious Frost, Shakur Cook, Tucory Rhodes, Soloman Ball, Byron Johnson, Trammel Morris, Marquis Jefferson and Jarqual Roberts all bring two seasons of game experience back on the defensive side of the ball.
Look for Jovan Bennett, Aaron Bennett and Demetrick Mothershed to get more time on the field this season after a successful spring program showing.
Look for veteran kicker Eddie Chipple to lead the special teams.
Head coach Kirk Warner will lead the offense while coach Jeff Daffron will conduct the defense saying there will be less blitzing and more heads up defense.
The Panthers will start with a home scrimmage against Wayne County on Aug. 21. The regular season starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday Aug. 28, at home against McIntosh Academy. They will follow with three more non-region games before hosting their region opener on Sept. 25, against Washington County. Last season the Washington County Golden Hawks clawed the Panther 42-0.
Like last season the Panthers don’t have a bye week until the end of the season on Nov. 6.
The Bradwell Tigers
The Tigers finished last season 8-4 overall and 6-1 in region 3-AAAAA. Last season was the first time in 11 years the Tiger made it past the first round of the playoffs before losing to Lowndes County
The Tigers welcome back starting quarterback Wilson Brown to the lineup. Brown took his first snap as a Tiger QB in 2006 as a freshman. He missed the 2007 season due to a knee injury. In 2008 the junior QB threw for 166 yards. More impressively he rushed for 433 yards and 6 touchdowns proving his knee was not a factor.
Head coach Jim Walsh Jr., defines football in one word, execution. With Brown returning as a senior this season the team is being led by a QB who knows the plays and how to execute the Tigers Wing-T offense. This year Brown will be backed up by Nick Smith who has led the Junior varsity Tiger sqaud the last season.
Rounding out the offensive is the return of standout running back Sheldon Barnes. As a junior Barnes rushed for 1649 yards getting 19 touchdowns. Barnes has a passion for the sport and is normally seen in the off season toting a football under his arm. When he turns on the after burners there is no stopping him. Defensively Barnes made 3 solo tackles last season and is likely to be the one smiling from ear to ear after the hit.
Veteran kicker David Miller returns to the lineup. Miller has made the kicks since his freshman year and is known for making them from 35-yards out.
This year coach Adam Bryie, who was the Offensive line coach in his first year last season, takes over as the offensive coordinator. Coach Jeff Miller continues to lead the defense in their 3-5 scheme.
Miller said his defensive secondary is strong with the return of Darveon Herron, David Swinford, Delrish Moore and Corey Gilliard.
Herron led the squad in solo tackles last season with 49. Swinford was second with 33 and Moore was third with 23.
The challenge for the offense will be the big guys up front. Ulrick John is the returning lineman, the rest of the line will need to learn the blocks to give Brown his opportunity to run or throw.
The Tigers first three games are non-region opponents in Glynn Academy, Wayne County and Houston County. The Tiger have a bye week before opening region action on Sept. 25 at Groves High School. All the Tigers’ games are Friday at 7:30 p.m.