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New QB, new division, new region for Statesboro High
092013 SHS FOOTBALL 06 WEB
Statesboro linebacker Tim Key, top, steps over Burke County running back Kristopher Skinner after a tackle for a loss in the first quarter in this Friday, Sept. 20, 2013 file photo. Statesboro won 21-7.

Region: 3-AAAAA
Head Coach: Steve Pennington (11th season, 102-23)
Last Season: 10-2 (2-1, 2nd in Region 3A-AAAA)
2013 Postseason: Lost to Griffin in second round of AAAA state playoffs
Key Losses: Colin Chance, QB;  Anthony Gore, LB; Jacob Schofill, DB
Key Returners: Austin Kleinlein, QB; Ricky Lee, LB; Mahlon Williams, RB

2013 Results
Lakeside, Evans        W 25-15
Richmond Academy    W 42-13
Tattnall County        W 28-0
Burke County        W 21-7
Butler            W 44-6
Swainsboro        W 34-7
Liberty County        W 24-7
South Effingham        W 41-14
Wayne County        L   7-6
Glenn Hills^        W 45-18
Cairo*            W 21-0
Griffin**            L   42-7
^Region 3-AAAA play-in game
*First round, Class AAAA playoffs
**Second round, Class AAAA playoffs

2014 Schedule
Aug. 23     BURKE COUNTY
Aug. 29    BYE
Sept. 5    WAYNE COUNTY
Sept. 12    BYE
Sept. 19    at South Effingham*
Sept. 26    BRUNSWICK*
Oct. 3    at Coffee*
Oct. 9    RICHMOND HILL*
Oct. 17    at Bradwell Institute*
Oct. 24    Ware County*
Oct. 31    at Glynn Academy*
Nov. 7    EFFINGHAM COUNTY
*Region 3-AAAAA

    The more things change, the more they stay the same.
    When the Statesboro Blue Devils last took the field, they were on the wrong end of a blowout against eventual Class AAAA state champion Griffin.
    Since that night last November, plenty of things have been shaken up. In addition to the annual departure of seniors, the Devils also bid farewell to both of their coordinators.
    Adding to the challenge for this season is Statesboro’s reclassification into Class AAAAA – the second largest in the state – for the first time in school history.
    The one constant is the Devils’ expectations.
    “We preach realistic goals,” SHS coach Steve Pennington said. “At the beginning of the season, a realistic goal is to improve with each day and with each game. Now, if we can accomplish that, who’s to say that a realistic goal in Week 8 or 9 wouldn’t be to win a championship?”
    To enjoy success of any sort, the Devils will need heavy contributions across the board from players who are new to their starting positions. Between departed seniors and injuries, four sophomores currently line up on the offensive front with fellow sophomore Austin Kleinlein under center.
    The roster doesn’t age much at other positions as many of the Devils’ potential running backs are underclassmen and the defensive secondary is the youngest unit on the squad.
    Versatility from experienced players will be a big factor until it is clear who will lock up starting positions.
    Chase Hutchens can play nearly every position on the offensive line — including tight end — and will also be the team’s long snapper while Tevin Thomas could pull double duty, holding down a defensive end slot and then staying on the field as a fullback to help Statesboro’s power run game.
    The task of getting the Devils playing like seasoned veterans will fall on first year coordinators Bragg Thompson (offense) and Josh Moree (defense).
    “Right now, it’s about fitting a system to the abilities that we have,” Pennington said. “We’re young, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If we continue to meet our goals of constantly improving, there’s a lot that can be accomplished by a team, no matter how old they are.”

Here are five things to look for when the Statesboro Blue Devils begin the season at Paulson Stadium:
    NOTHING COMES EASY: Along with Statesboro competing in Class AAAAA — the second largest classification in Georgia — the Devils also face a strong non-region schedule. The Devils will face six teams who made the playoffs last season and the 10 schools on their regular season schedule combined to go 70-43 last fall.

    WHERE DID THE STATS GO?: Nearly every yard that the Statesboro offense gained in 2013 graduated along with the Devils’ large senior class. In terms of offensive threats, the Devils lost their quarterback, top two receivers, and top four running backs. Talent remains on the roster, but the opening month of the season will determine where Statesboro will go to on a regular basis.

    GOING STREAKING: Moving up one classification doesn’t make for a guaranteed tougher season, but things rarely get easier when playing larger schools. Statesboro will have to hit the ground running if it wants to make the state playoffs for an impressive 16th consecutive season.

    ROOM TO BREATHE: Despite the tough schedule, Statesboro also has more room for error than in seasons past. One sub-region loss has prevented the Devils from competing for a region title or hosting a state playoff game in each of the last two seasons. With eight region games this year, just one loss won’t be nearly as damaging.

    THE AIR UP THERE: Statesboro showed some offensive flash in 2013 as it had its most productive passing season in years. But the graduation of two-year starting quarterback Colin Chance and his top two receiving targets might have made that outburst a one-time treat. Juhwan Osborne is a legitimate deep threat, but one of only three receivers on the roster that isn’t a freshman or sophomore.

    Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9408.