SYLVANIA — Armed with a talented roster and a new coaching staff, the Screven County football team is ready to take the next step.
In three of the last six years, the Gamecocks have made the first round of the Georgia High School Association state playoffs, and the past two seasons have ended with Screven falling just one win short of returning to the postseason.
This season, Greg Manior comes to Sylvania fresh off of a stint as the head coach at South Effingham ready to hit the ground running, and his new team has followed suit.
“Everything is going well,” said Manior. “Just like any other team in the state, I think we’re ready to just get out there and hit someone else for a change. We’re still learning and still working, but we’re anxious to get started with the season.”
Another change for the Gamecocks will be the defensive scheme that Screven deploys.
With speed and athleticism aplenty, Manior has instituted a 3-5-3 scheme that creates more space for defenders than normal four or five-man defensive lines and looks to create more opportunities for playmakers.
“We want to use the defense to put a lot of pressure on teams,” said Manior. “There’s a lot that you can do from that set and you can bring pressure from different places. We’re looking to disrupt opponents’ offenses and create some big plays for ourselves.”
Offensively, not much will be different for a Gamecock offense that averaged 17.8 points per game in 2009 — a figure dragged down only be single-digit performances against the top two defenses in the region.
Calling the signals for Screven will be sophomore Aikeem Mingle. As a freshman last season, Mingle was eased into the offense. A good arm and the ability to make plays with his feet quickly led to more playing time, and he finished the season as a threat to any defense.
Mingle now enters the 2010 season as the established quarterback and will be depended upon heavily to keep the Screven attack on track.
“Starting as a freshman definitely helps with experience,” said Manior. “He’s come a long way over the summer and I’m really proud of his progress. We think he’ll do a good job for us at quarterback this season.”
Along with Mingle in the offensive backfield will be senior running back Rodderick Grace. The two should form good balance in the offense behind the blocking of a solid offensive line.
“Cade Weaver and Eric Bryant are both guards on the line,” said Manior. “We think that they should do a good job for us and allow us to attack defenses in different ways.”
After a couple of years spent on the outside looking in, Screven believes that it has all of the pieces in place to get back to the playoffs. Region 3-AA is still loaded with talent, but the Gamecocks are poised to be the dark horse in one of the most difficult regions in the state.
“Every year, you’re starting over,” said Manior. “We forget about the past and begin again. We want to be competitive every week and our goal is to win those games that we aren’t supposed to win.”
A new coaching regime is also in order at Metter.
Mike West arrives from Fitzgerald to try his hand at reviving a Tiger program that has avoided a losing season just once and has yet to return to the playoffs since a run to the quarterfinals in 2003.
To do so, Metter has rethought its game plan to better utilize the talents of its playmakers.
Rifle-armed senior quarterback Pete Nagel may not throw as much in Metter’s new Wing-T attack, but a renewed focus on running the ball with track star running back Dean Eason should make defenses more honest and allow Nagel to be more effective in his passing.
With a few giants looming at the top of Region 3-A, Metter will look to make its move against the crowded middle of the region to earn a spot in the region play-in round and once again get to the postseason.
For two years, the Claxton Tigers have advanced to the Region 3-A play-in round, but have come up just short of the state playoffs.
This season, the Tigers have some rebuilding to do, but remain optimistic that they will continue their recent run of success.
The biggest challenge will be replacing departed senior Jamalcolm Morgan. A four-year starter, Morgan was the main weapon in the 2009 Cloxton offense, amassing over 1000 yards and being named to the All-Region team. Much of the offensive line that blocked for Morgan is also gone, leaving the Tigers to rethink their offense.
Michael Peel will now lead the charge for Claxton. A junior this season, Peel already has two full seasons of starting quarterback experience under his belt. This year, Claxton figures to turn loose Peel’s arm and become a more balanced attack.
“I’m excited to throw the ball a little more,” said Peel. “I think I can help us out, but I’ll do whatever is necessary to help us win. We lost some talent from last year, but we also have a lot coming back. I think that we have a chance to be really good again.”
For the past two years, Jenkins County has been taking small steps forward.
This season, they hope to continue the trend.
The Eagles’ senior class has gone through some adversity in its time, but has a chance to improve on every year that they’ve been a part of the team with a good showing this season.
A 1-9 mark in 2007 quickly improved to a 4-win total in 2008. Last season, Jenkins caught fire at the end of the season, winning three straight games to reach the Region 3-A play-in round, but falling one win short of the state playoffs.
This season, an experienced and talented group returns to try to pick up where last season left off.
The Eagles’ best shot at going back to the region play-in round comes early, as three of Jenkins County’s first four games come against opponents that did not make the play-in game in 2009.
Still licking its wounds from last year, Bryan County will try to begin anew in 2010.
Last season saw the Redskins drop their first eight games before notching a narrow win over Savannah Country Day that served as their only victory of the season.
This season, Mark Wilson takes the reins as new head coach and will try to get the ball rolling back in the right direction.
The road won’t be an easy one as the Indians face a brutal schedule.
Six teams on the 2010 run come against teams that walked away victorious from their encounter with Bryan County last year.
Emanuel County Institute
The Bulldogs of Emanuel County Institute have proven themselves to be a juggernaut in Class A football, but with that title comes the burden to continually strive for the top of the mountain.
State champions in 2007, the Bulldogs were runners up in 2008 and bowed out in the second round of the playoffs last season.
To get back to December football, ECI will have to dig a little deeper and improve on a team that already contends for a region title annually.
The biggest challenge this season will be the replacement of Michael Robertson. The quarterback spent three years behind center and had perfectly controlled the potent Bulldog rushing attack and must now be succeeded.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.