As we conclude our look back on the Statesboro football dynasty from 2000-2005 we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss some of the key players from the Blue Devils dominant run.
The 1999 team featured the first SEC signing for the Blue Devils since Jeff Kaiser signed with UGA in 1991, as Jason Rawls signed with the University of Alabama.
“Jason was a running back when I first got here,” said coach Buzz Busby. “Physically he was very impressive, but I felt like Jimtavis Walker was a little bit better running back. I told the coaching staff he needed to move to the defensive side of the ball. That didn’t go over too well, because many of them only knew him to be an offensive player.”
“We decided to put him at linebacker, and in his first game he had 15 solo tackles,” Busby said. “I sent that film from that game to a coaching friend of mine at Alabama, and I believe they offered him a scholarship the very next day.”
Among the seniors on the 2000 team to earn All-State accolades were Adam Jones and Parker Webb, while junior running back Jimtavis Walker was named as an All-State honorable mention. Webb signed a scholarship with Georgia Southern, while Walker signed with the University of Florida after a stellar senior season.
“Jimtavis was a special person, and a special talent,” said offensive coordinator Kenny Tucker. “He was 5-11 and about 200 pounds and could run over you, or run by you. I remember telling coach Busby we started RPO, and he asked me what I meant and I told him to run people over. That’s what Jimtavis brought us.”
After the 2001 season the Blue Devils had to replace their entire backfied, all of whom signed college football scholarships. In addition to Walker and Tanner, quarterback Eugene Gross signed with Middle Tennessee State where he played running back.
“Eugene had a great arm, and was one of our strongest players on the team,” Tucker said. “He could bench over 360 pounds as a quarterback, and that is very rare. “If it weren't for Delandry and Jimtavis being back there Eugene would have been a star at running back. He went on to start at tailback for Middle Tennessee and was an excellent return man as well.”
On the defensive side of the ball Jeremy Mincey may not have made the All-State team, but had arguably the best football career. Mincey played two seasons at Florida, and then went on to play for nine seasons in the NFL.
“Jeremy is beloved in Statesboro, and most people know about his journey,” said Steve Pennington. “Jeremy overcame quite a bit. He had to start off in junior college, went on to be named captain at the University of Florida, and had a stellar NFL career. He proved you can do great things with determination and hard work. He worked his tail off in the weight room, and his passion was special.”
Among the standouts from the 2002, 2003 and 2004 teams were running back Nick Wedlow, who went on to sign with Ball State. Defensive lineman Josh Thompson who played for four years at Auburn, and linebacker Tommy Watkins who played two seasons at the University of Georgia.
“Josh Thompson loved to play football,” Pennington said. “One of the hardest workers we have ever had in the weight room, and probably the strongest as well. A pack of wolves couldn’t get him off the field. I remember he had an injured ankle that would have kept most players off the field, but he was determined to play, and had a great game if I remember correctly.”
“Tommy Watkins was one of the most intelligent players I have ever coached,” Pennington said. “He had tremendous heart, and a passion to play the game. He was a model leader and was a catalyst on the defensive side on a couple pretty special teams.”
“Nick was a shifty runner,” Tucker said. “He could really make defenders miss in the open field. He got injured his junior season, but came back for a big senior year. He had a couple big games for us in key situations, like when we played in the Final Four in the Georgia Dome.”
The 2005 state championship team featured a trio of players that signed with the University of Georgia on the defensive side of the ball. Jon Knox, Deangelo Tyson, and Justin Houston. In addition quarterback David Cone signed with Michigan and defensive lineman Alex Dekle signed with Mississippi State.
“Alex Dekle may have been one of our most talented defenders, and that’s saying a lot since we have had players that have gone on to play in the NFL,” said Pennington. “He had as much talent as anyone who’s come through here. Alex had tremendous strength as well as terrific footwork. He was a terror on the defensive side, and a center’s worst nightmare.”
“David Cone played in three straight championship games,” Tucker said. “He had a great arm, and despite playing in our run first offense he threw for over 2,000 yards his junior and senior seasons. He had a great arm and was a cool customer no matter the circumstance.
“Jon was one of our rare players who contributed on both sides of the ball,” Pennington said. “Talent wise and athletically he was such a special player. He will always be known for the possible game winning hit he put on the Northside receiver who fumbled the ball, and led to our state championship. Jon also made some key receptions for us that year on offense.”
“Justin Houston was a beast, and he loved the weightroom,” Pennigton said. “Something clicked in the Georgia Dome his junior year, and college recruiters took note. He became one of the most sought after players we have ever had. A rare mix of speed and strength that has only continued with his success at the University of Georgia, and onto the NFL.”
“Deangelo Tyson is like Jeremy in the fact that he pulled himself out of a tough situation through determination and hard work,” Pennington said. “As far as a natural gifted athlete, he may be as gifted as anyone who came along. He had to develop a work ethic to go along with that talent. When he finally found that he really blossomed.”