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The biggest questions entering 2011

All of the hard offseason work that they've been putting in boils down to this week.
    Summer weight lifting sessions and grueling two-a-day practices have been working their magic over the past couple of months, but when the football stadium lights come on this week, everyone begins at 0-0 as the three-month race that is the regular season begins.
    Just a couple of seasons ago, the majority of area schools were hurting on the gridiron as just two teams — Statesboro and Bulloch Academy — advanced to the state playoffs. Last year saw big improvements across the board as some coaching changes started to take things in the right direction and this season, there are many teams that are looking to make a playoff push if their biggest questions can be answered.

Living up to expectations?

    With truckloads of talent and experience at the top of the depth chart for Statesboro this season, the biggest question is how to get three more seconds off of the clock.
    That was all the time that remained in last season’s state semifinal playoff when Chattahoochee — which went on to win the Class AAAA championship — kicked a field goal to come from behind and end the Blue Devils’ best season since their state title run in 2005.
    This season, the Devils are certainly capable of repeating — and possibly surpassing — that success, but will have to deal with the added burden of expectations as they enter the season ranked third in the state after cracking the polls just once last season.
    Fans will get a good look at Statesboro’s ability and mindset as the Devils are thrown right into the fire this season. Statesboro opens with Brunswick — No. 5 in Class-AAAA preseason poll — Friday before taking on another pair of 2010 playoff teams in Washington County and Tattnall County in the following two weeks.

Bulloch Academy
 New offense, same results?

    For years, Bulloch Academy has terrorized defenses with its flexboe, triple-option running attack.
    Although often outnumbered and undersized — especially with last year’s move to the top classification of GISA — the Gators have continued to find a way to produce results on the scoreboard. This season may carry the biggest challenge to that trend as a new offense is being installed to go along with a new head coach and many new faces on both sides of the ball.
    After seven seasons as Clint Morgan’s assistant and defensive coordinator, Ronnie Hodges will lead Bulloch into battle this season. His I-formation offense will look different, to be sure, but will still focus on a powerful running game.
    If the Gators can get their legs under them by the middle of the season — which holds their toughest matchups — they will be a team to be reckoned with in the postseason.
Southeast Bulloch
Is Region 3-AA too tough?

    Despite managing just a 2-8 record last season, Southeast Bulloch was worlds removed from the winless 2009 squad.
    The Yellow Jackets broke their long losing streak in Week 1 last season and improved to 2-0 before getting beat up in a region that had four different teams make an appearance in the Top-10 polls last season.
    Pat Collins is now in his second year at the helm of the Yellow Jackets and has to be pleased with the continued improvements that he is seeing.
    Last Friday, SEB was noticeably bigger, faster and deeper than any recent Yellow Jacket squad as it took on Bryan County in a scrimmage. The Yellow Jacket defense didn’t allow a touchdown and — despite a couple of turnovers — the offense was able to sustain drives and convert on key plays.
    Just one team — Swainsboro at No. 7 — made the preseason poll out of Region 3-AA this year, but schools like Dublin, Laney and Jefferson County will still have plenty of talent to work with. SEB will have to shore up its mistakes and will definitely be tested almost every week throughout the season, but this is the year that the Jackets can break back into the win column in region play.

How quick can the Panthers adjust?

    The Portal seniors have seen just about everything — literally.
    For those in their final season, 2011 carries with it their third head coach, fourth offensive scheme and, for many, the fifth or sixth different position that they have had during their tenure.
    The Panthers have been changing things up, building, tearing down, and then rebuilding in hopes of rediscovering the formula that earned them playoff trips from 2004-06. This season is no different as David NeSmith arrived from Statesboro High this spring to try his hand at improving the program.
    Although the Panthers had only a few months to learn their new wishbone attack, there was a lot to be optimistic about as Portal’s first string held its own with Tattnall County in a scrimmage two weeks ago.
    The class of 2012 entered into a program that had been a perennial playoff contender. The same postseason success hasn’t continued, but this season’s seniors have the talent and determination to leave their team a little bit closer to the way they found it.

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