The Statesboro Blue Devil football team has advanced to the state playoffs for the past three seasons, but this year head coach Jeff Kaiser’s Blue Devils are hoping to make it past the first round for the first time since 2013.
“We encourage our guys to think one game at a time because you can’t think about postseason until you get there,” said Kaiser. “With that being said I think we have the talent and depth to be able to compete this year and we will have to see if we can stay healthy and make a run.”
The Blue Devils went 4-7 last year with a very tough non-region schedule. Statesboro won three of their last four games of the season which were all region games as well. Among the key losses from a year ago are quarterback Ames Rackleff, lineman Dake Williams, linebacker J.D. Kaiser, and running back Aundrell Grace.
“We really only have two skill position players returning,’ said Kaiser. “We do feel like we have a lot of talented youth who are inexperienced. Only time will tell how they do in a game but there is a lot of talent on the field."
On offense the Blue Devils are replacing Rackleff who was also the team’s third leading rusher with sophomore Kam Mikell. Mikell, who is also the reigning region 200-meter champ, may be inexperienced, but he will be surrounded by some other players with plenty of speed. Leading returning rusher Jaylin Mikell is back for his senior year along with track standout junior Jordan Lovett who will be looking to fill the shoes of Aundrell Grace.
“We have a lot of speed and athleticism at our skill spots this year,” said Kaiser. “Kam at quarterback is very fast and athletic and catches on quickly to what we are throwing at him. He is very cool calm and collected, especially for a sophomore. He is going to need to improve throwing the football because we also have a lot of weapons out there. Jaylin is someone we know we can count on and with Jordan Lovett back there as well we like our backfield.”
At receiver Tim Taylor and James Flagg are both athletic and over 6-2 as is Blue Devil basketball player Willie Ballard who is playing his first year of high school football. The Blue Devils also return a lot of experience up front on the offensive line.
“Up front we had to play so many young kids last year that they have a lot of experience,” said Kaiser. “Tim and James have experience and can both go up and get the ball. I like what I have seen from Willie Ballard. He has a tremendous work ethic and is a competitor. He has really done all he can to try and improve day-to-day.”
On defense the Blue Devils lose leadership but gain depth and athleticism. Linebackers Jamie Speight, A.J. Eason and Creighton Horst have all impressed and another Blue Devil basketball player 6-5 junior Leslie Black is looking for a starting spot as well."
“We are big in some spots up front and have some depth for the first time in a while,” said Kaiser. “If we can stay healthy, we have quality players on our back end. We are going to play 22 kids on defense and after this Friday’s scrimmage all 22 will be evaluated to see who is in the first 11 and who is in the second group. We are going to do that in order to keep our kids fresh and keep the defense from getting tired.”
Special teams see the departure of a couple of long-time starters in kicker Cody Parker and punter Hunter Saussy as well as a new long snapper and holder.
“We have a soccer guy coming in at kicker in Michael Crews who has been doing a really good job for us,” said Kaiser. “Our punter right now is Avery Newton who is also our holder while Slade Gracen and Mathis Lanier will be doing our snapping. We have a lot of different guys we can put back there on our return unit.”
The Blue Devils region should be a little more wide open than it was last year as Richmond Hill loses 21 of their 22 starters from a year ago. Brunswick is expected to be the favorite to win the region but there could be quite a few teams vying for the other three spots including the Blue Devils.
“We have two teams with new coaches this year in our region,” said Kaiser. “Brunswick seems to be the consensus as the team to beat with all the returning players they have including at least three offensive linemen with Group of 5 offers. Richmond Hill being a 7-A population they tend to reload rather than rebuild, and I have heard Effingham County is much improved. There won’t be any easy games on our schedule.”
Kaiser is hoping to learn a little more about his team Friday night as the Blue Devils are scheduled for a scrimmage against Metter at 7:30 at Womack Field.
“Friday night will be the first varsity experience for a lot of our players, so we are hoping to learn a lot more about our team,” said Kaiser. “Kam Mikell will be among those getting their first start under the lights on a Friday night so we will see how he does in that environment. You really don’t know what to expect until you see your team face off against someone other than themselves. Metter made it to the state semifinals and return most of their players, so we know they are a quality opponent.”
The Blue Devils host Metter for a scrimmage game Friday at 7:30 and will open the season taking on Wayne County in the Erk Russell Classic Saturday Aug. 21 at 9 p.m.