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Football Devils determined to improve
shs football web
Statesboro's Mahlon Williams manages to stay on his feet for a few extra yards in the second quarter against Ware County during the Blue Devils' 2014 loss to the Gators. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    With the start of the 2015 regular season just one day away, the Statesboro Blue Devils are taking the right steps to bounce back from a disappointing 2-8 season last season.
    The two-win season left a sour taste in the mouths of the football players and coaches. Last year marked the first time since 1939 that the Devils had won just two games or less.
    With a high level of expectation surrounding Statesboro football, head coach Steve Pennington said this year will come with challenges.
    The Blue Devils will open the regular season against Burke County at Paulson Stadium Saturday against Burke County in the fourth annual Erk Russell Classic.
    As SHS gets set to kick off the year, here are a few things to keep an eye on this season.
Ground and Pound
    The Devils will continue to be a run-heavy offense this year. With Mahlon Williams receiving the ball at running back, expect this team to work on ball control and clock management.
    “Our philosophy is not going to change. Unlike many offenses that are going wide-open spread throwing it, we are still going to be a power run team,” Pennington said. “We’re banking on our offensive line to sustain us through the course of the season.”
    The Blue Devils are very young on the defensive side of the ball. Sticking to a run-first offense will give SHS two advantages, Pennington said. Running the ball often on offense will allow the defense a chance to adjust as the season progresses and allow the Devils to dictate the pace.
    “If we can control the ball and the clock throughout the course of the season and allow our defense to gel and grow together, that’s a formula to help us be successful,” Pennington said..

Time to Prepare
    During the offseason, Pennington said his team was successful. The team participated in more 7-on-7 passing drills as well as more team-oriented activities.
    The increase in activities allowed the Devils to become more prepared this season than in years prior.
    Although Statesboro starts the season early, it will be the benefactor of two bye weeks in the first four weeks of the regular season.
    After the team’s matchup against Burke County, the Blue Devils will travel to face Wayne County Sept. 4. SHS won’t play again until the team’s first region game Sept. 18 against South Effingham.
    “It gives us a lot of time to evaluate players and to decide which route we need to go,” Pennington said. “We really try to focus on the non-region games and find the good in it and finding our weaknesses. Then from those games we can lay out a game plan for our region, which is extremely tough.”

Confidence is Key
    There’s been plenty of talk about the Blue Devils newest addition on offense. Senior quarterback Xavier Hollmon, a transfer from Ware County, looked good this offseason.
    Pennington said Hollmon’s confidence on the field sets him apart from most players. It’s also his competitive nature that stands out from the crowd.
    “He wants to win. It wouldn’t make a difference if you were playing marbles or whatever, he wants to succeed,” Pennington said. “What he also brings is a lot of confidence. He is demonstrating to our players what it takes to win 11 ball games. He’s been there and he’s done it.”
    The Blue Devils will face Hollmon’s old squad on the road Sept. 23. Last year Ware County finished the season 11-1.
    Tickets for the Erk Russell Classic will be on sale at SHS today for $10. Tickets at the gate are available for $15. Tickets purchased at the school go towards benefiting the Blue Devils football team.