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Blue Devil juniors, seniors learning new roles
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Statesboro quarterback Reid Pennington, left, listens to instructions during practice Monday.

    After a summer full of long hours in the weight room, the time has finally come.
    After attending the first day of classes Monday, the Statesboro Blue Devils retrieved their helmets and shoulder pads from hibernation and took to the field for the first day of fall practice.
    While Monday was the first day that prep teams could suit up, the Blue Devils have been working out for the past two months and are simply transitioning from the gym to the practice field.
    “Because we’ve been so consistent in our summer workouts, the transition should be smooth as we enter our first official practices,” said SHS coach Steve Pennington. “Our players have prepared themselves mentally and physically for the great demands of the upcoming season.”
    Important to the beginning of every season is finding the players who will step up. Starters leave every season, and the teams with returning players who can pick up the slack and become the new leaders have a leg up as the season kicks off.
    In this aspect, Pennington is very excited about the Devils as a handful of this year’s players have shown their commitment and leadership in the offseason.
    “It is a collective effort by many of our juniors and seniors to step up and understand their rolls,” said Pennington. “They have taken it upon themselves to improve themselves individually which, in turn, provides a good example for our younger guys to look to.”
    Looking at the roster for the Devils, there are some holes to be filled, but there is also a lot of talent that Statesboro can lean on.
    The running game — which has long been Statesboro’s bread and butter — will again be heavily relied on, and senior Aaron Lester looks to be one of the better running backs in Region 2-AAAA.
    “Aaron is a tough runner and we look for big things from him,” said running backs coach Greg Hill. “The biggest thing will be to keep him healthy. If he can stay healthy for the whole year, he should have some good numbers. Overall though, he’s just a great leader. You wish you had a whole team full of him.”
    Also figuring to appear in the offensive backfield will be Trey Gaston and newcomer DeQuan Daniels who should see plenty of action in the Devils’ wishbone attack.
    On the other side of the ball, the linebackers corps should be instrumental in keeping up with Statesboro’s reputation of stingy defenses.
    “We’ve got a lot of skill and experience with our outside linebackers,” said defensive coordinator Charlie Fails. “They should be instrumental in bringing the defense together. We’re still a little young on the inside, but we have a good secondary and hopefully we’ll come along by the first game.”
    Although the Devils’ first game against Brunswick is still 25 days away, there is a sense of urgency to every practice leading off to that first kickoff.
    With many players to evaluate and positions to fill, the excitement of the first day of fall practice quickly gives way to the grind of building a team that is prepared for the grind of the season.
    Adding to Statesboro’s determination to succeed is the not-so-happy ending to the 2009 campaign.
    After consecutive wins had the Devils in position to grab a No. 2 seed in the GHSA state playoffs, a close defeat at the hands of Brunswick forced Statesboro to go on the road, where it was eliminated in the first round by Lakeside, Evans.
    The Devils readiness will immediately be on display as their first five games — four of which are on the road — are against opponents that reached last year’s postseason and feature rematches with both Brunswick and Lakeside, Evans.
    “We know that every time we step out on the field, we’ll have a chance,” said Pennington. “We know that the path we travel will be tough, but the tougher it is, the greater those rewards will be.”

    Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.