For the past two seasons, the Statesboro Blue Devils have come within a win of a region championship. Fall practice has brought a renewed spirit to get over the hump, but a truckload of question marks leaves a prediction for how the 2010 season may go hanging in the air just days before the start of the regular season.
It seems that, for every strength, there is a weak point. For every opportunity, there is a potential pitfall. Prognosticators around the state seem to share the indecision on the Devils as projected finishes have ranged from a region title to missing the state playoffs altogether.
So what is causing all of the confusion?
One great example is the starting quarterback slot. Junior Reid Pennington is set to take the reins after a year of backing up DeAnthony Stevens and Todd Cone as the third-stringer.
Pennington has great command and understanding of the offense and the ability to stay calm under pressure – he almost led Statesboro to a playoff win last season when called behind center for emergency duty. Pennington also looks effective running the option, a play that made very few appearances in the run-heavy Blue Devil offense.
While all of these signs point to improvement, the insertion of Pennington on offense takes away a valuable defensive weapon. Starting at safety in 2009, Pennington made many touchdown-saving tackles and will be sorely missed in pass coverage.
Which leads to the defense.
A perennial powerhouse for years, the Statesboro defense had its share of struggles. The Devils yielded a total of just 12 points in their six wins last season, but gave up 135 in their five losses.
The biggest challenge last year seemed to be stopping spread offenses. Burke County and Glynn utilized dual-threat quarterbacks with multiple receivers and thinned out Statesboro’s formations. Many times, the Devils got to the hole a half-step late, opening up big play opportunities.
The outside linebacking and the secondary should be strong this season, but will get many tests against the offensive style that was Statesboro’s kryptonite last year.
Finally, there is the variable beyond the Devils’ control. Four new teams move into Region 2-AAAA and Statesboro has all of them on the schedule. Three of the four reached the state playoffs, including the squad from Lakeside, Evans that sent the Devils packing in the first round. Not part of the sub-region schedule, but also factoring into the overall equation are dates with two-time defending region champs Brunswick and triple-A powerhouse Washington County.
In all, it will probably take a few weeks to see where the Devils are headed. Their toughness will be tested early, as the first five scheduled opponents all made playoff appearances in 2009.
This could be a very tough year for Statesboro, but all of the struggles might just serve to make late-season success that much sweeter.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.