When the Statesboro Blue Devils take the field, it doesn’t matter how the roster is shaping up or what the previous season’s team was able to accomplish. The goal is always the same.
"We walk onto the field each game and expect to win," said SHS coach Steve Pennington. "We prepare to win, and that’s what we expect to do. We always expect to be playing in December. That’s what we spend every season trying to achieve."
To that end, the last two seasons of Blue Devil football have seen strong efforts, but different results.
Statesboro’s 2010 squad came within a last-second field goal of heading to the Georgia Dome in search of a sixth state championship. Last season, the Devils clinched a second consecutive region title and a perfect 10-0 regular season, but were upset in the first round of the state playoffs.
The goal for this season — as always — is to utilize and build upon the lessons and experience of the past , yet strive for the ultimate goals that can be achieved in the present and future.
"This is a new year and a new team," said Pennington. "With our past successes, there are going to be expectations. But we always put high expectations on our teams. That might lead to a little bit of anxiety here at the beginning of the year, but when those boys have to deal with expectations, it creates the spirit and determination that is necessary to achieve the goals that we set for ourselves."
The last two playoff runs have seen the Devils rely on roughly the same formula. Statesboro has fashioned itself an intimidating and devastation running game and has been able to pull off gamebreaking defensive plays to put opponents away.
There may be some tweaks in store for the game plan this season, but the Devils will still operate in roughly the same fashion.
"I believe that we take great pride in the way that we do things," said Pennington. "We know what we want to do on the field, and we take pride in being able to execute those things."
When that vaunted offense takes the field this season, it will have a new general. Reid Pennington has departed after two seasons at the helm and will be replaced by junior Colin Chance. After two seasons as the Devils’ backup, Chance is ready to make his own mark on the offense.
"When I first saw Colin in middle school, I was convinced that he was a winner," said Pennington. "That opinion hasn’t changed. We’re very confident putting the game in his hands."
Chance will look to expand the option and passing game for the Devils, but the bread and butter will continue to be the power running game and a stable of capable running backs.
Quan Daniels highlights the offensive backfield as a senior with two years of experience and both the speed and moves to be a home run threat whenever the ball is in his hands. Sherrodric Rawls and Diquan Brunson both earned their stripes last season and will pick up the slack with the departure of Georgia Tech recruit Michael Summers.
Defensively, the Devils are continuing to find their identity.
The hard-hitting, virtually impenetrable defense of the SHS teams from the early 2000’s are no more. The Devils still have plenty of talent and ability, but have to scheme for an array of talented offenses that they will face in Region 3-AAAA.
The defensive front is led by senior end Lex Womack. The line isn’t as physically dominant this season, but has increased speed, which should help with the ever-growing number of opponents that run a spread offense.
Statesboro’s linebacking corps took a hit with the departure of Reggie Owens to South Carolina State, but there is still a wealth of talent.
"It’s not that injuries are a good thing," said Pennington, "But with so many linebackers getting hurt the last couple of years, we have built up a lot of depth and experience."
That comes in the form of Andrew Taylor, J.D. Pope and Carl Moore on the inside. On the outside, Corey Harden will look to make an impact after missing much of 2011 with a knee injury while Anthony Gore — who stepped up to replace Harden — now holds his own starting spot.
The Devils should compete for a region championship once again, although the landscape is a bit different this season. Statesboro now resides in a four-team sub region with the likes of South Effingham, Wayne County and Liberty County. Defending Class AAA champion Burke County has made the leap to Class AAAA this season and will be one of the primary contenders on the other side of Region 3-AAAA.
"There is a lot of good competition out there," said Pennington. "Some of it is familiar, and some of those faces are going to be new. That doesn’t change our goals. We still expect to win and that’s what we’ll have in mind each Friday night."
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.