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Jackets look ahead
Southeast Bulloch running back Tyler Epps celebrates a touchdown run in the first quarter against Jefferson County Friday in Louisville, in the first round of the GHSA Class AAA state playoffs. The Yellow Jackets lost a heartbreaker, 32-29. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

    BROOKLET — The Southeast Bulloch Yellow Jackets were one crazy — and controversial — play from pulling off an upset over Jefferson County in the first round of the Class AAA state playoffs last Friday in Louisville.
    Instead, the Jackets assembled on Monday afternoon to discuss the offseason workout program.
    “We’d certainly rather be spending Monday on the practice field,” SEB coach Pat Collins said. “We were very close last week, but we made a few too many mistakes. All we can do now is work towards next season.”
    It may have been a disappointing ending for the Jackets, but there is certainly nothing to feel bad about when looking back on the 2013 campaign. SEB took a huge step forward in 2012 by winning four games – its most since 2005 – then topped that by notching seven victories this season and qualifying for the state playoffs for the first time in a decade.
    There was plenty for the Jackets to be proud of this season. Collins shares in that excitement, but refuses to get too comfortable as he realizes that the program still has plenty of room to grow.
    “Making the postseason was great,” Collins said. “Not to downplay that, but it’s not as if we won a state championship. I’m extremely proud of the young men on this team, but we don’t want to stop here. We want to continue the growth we’ve seen in the last few years.”
Finding an identity
    When Collins arrived from Screven County in 2010, the Jackets’ cupboards were all but bare, leaving the program to rebuild from the bottom up. Collins installed his Wing-T offense and stuck with it through a couple more lean seasons.
    Everything clicked for the Jackets this season. The offensive line, including tight ends and wing backs, saw five players make the All-Region 1-AAA squad. The guys up front paved the way for SEB to tally over 3,000 rushing yards on the season. The main beneficiary was Tyler Epps, who exploded for 1,853 yards and 24 touchdowns.
    The Jackets will have to replace Epps and Antonio McMillan in the backfield next season, but it seems clear that SEB knows how it can find success moving forward.

Seniors getting their due
    This year’s senior class was there for the beginning of the Jackets’ turnaround and has been the main reason that success has come in such a relatively small timeframe.
    “I have to credit the hard work and perseverance of our seniors,” Collins said. “They were here for some of our darkest hours. They were forced into action when they were probably a little too young for it, but they never stopped fighting and improving.
    “It was great to have them be able to see their hard work pay off by getting to the postseason in their final year.”
    Those seniors will leave plenty of holes on the depth chart when spring practice rolls around, but they’ll have left a culture of winning that Collins hopes will stick around for a long time. The Southeast Bulloch junior varsity and middle school teams are now all on the same page with schemes and terminology, and have been enjoying just as much success on the field as their varsity counterparts.
    Working with a consistent game plan, Collins hopes that each new season brings a group of talented underclassmen who are ready to jump right into the mix.

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