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Years of underclassmen finally paying off for SEB
102811 SEB FOOTBALL 02
Southeast Bulloch running Back Antonio McMillan, left, holds hoff East Laurens defender Ken Dewberry for a long-gainer in this Friday, Oct. 18, 2011, file photo. - photo by SCOTT BRYANT/staff

Southeast Bulloch Yellow Jackets
Head Coach:
Pat Collins (3rd year — 3-17)
2011 Record: 1-9, 0-8 (9th place Region 3-AA)
Postseason: None. Finished 9th in Region 3-AA
Top Prospects: Cole Carter, QB; Tyler Epps, RB; Antonio McMillan, RB; James Coto, LB
Key losses: Taylor Burroughs, QB; Jamal Johnson, LB, TE
Circle the Calendar: Aug. 31 at Portal, Sept. 28 vs. Johnson, Savannah

    BROOKLET — The last few years haven’t been the greatest for the football team at Southeast Bulloch, but with the 2012 regular season just a couple of weeks away, there have never been more reasons to believe that things are about to turn themselves around.
    The Yellow Jackets have struggled to just three wins over the last three seasons, but this year’s team will enter competition as a more seasoned group with plenty to prove.
    Pat Collins enters his third year at the helm with hopes that his first two years at SEB have been a maturing process and that all of the strides that he has seen on the practice field will soon start to show in the win column.
    “There is no question that this current team is the most motivated that we’ve had,” said Collins. “We’ve had a couple of very spirited teams in the last two years, but I am continually impressed with the heart and effort and determination to get better that I see out of our current team every day.”
    Collins has also recognized a better team chemistry — something that he attributes to the same coaches and schemes being used as younger Jackets progress through the ranks.
    As the Jackets have become more seasoned under Collins, 2012 could be the year that all of the previous lumps that SEB has taken finally start to show in the form of a more battle-tested team.
    At times last season, the Jackets fielded 10 sophomores on offense. All of them return this season one year stronger and even more motivated to reverse their recent fortunes.
    “Everyone is a little bit bigger and faster and stronger,” Collins said. “But it isn’t always about just being the most physically gifted. We have guys that are a little more grizzled. They got thrown in there as freshman and sophomores. Now they’re more prepared.”
    The Jackets will also benefit from an experienced quarterback. Cole Carter split snaps with the departed Taylor Burroughs last season, but is now poised to lead the SEB offense.
    Behind him will be a trio of running backs as Antonio McMillan, Tyler Epps and Cory McCollum offer plenty of potent options. McMillan and Epps —both juniors — shared the bulk of the carries last year while McCollum rejoins the Jackets for his senior season.
    Largely a running team in the past few years, the Jackets want to become a bit more balanced this season. But everything will have to click up front to accomplish that.
    “I think that we have the ability to distribute the ball well through the ground and the air,” said Collins. “But our offensive line will be key. We have some good returning talent, but our depth isn’t great. Hopefully we can stay healthy while continuing to improve.”
    Defensively, one huge presence will be sorely missed this season. Jamal Johnson was a force as both a defensive lineman and linebacker during his SEB career, but has moved on to the Georgia Southern roster. Replacing him with a single player isn’t an option, but the Jackets are looking to shore up the defense with a more consistent team effort this season.
    “We definitely lost a special player,” said Collins, “But we have plenty of guys that can do a good job for us.”
    A pair of juniors will anchor the defensive line in Kaelin Jones and Marshall Dukes. James Coto enters his third year as a starting linebacker and will be making the calls in the defensive huddle.
    The secondary is still a work in progress, but Keagan Carter provides some valuable experience and both McMillan and McCollum will also be shuffled in and out as needed.
    Due to the addition of a new classification in GHSA, the Jackets now compete in Class AAA — a step up from their previous home — but Collins sees the move as another chance to begin anew.
    “I think that we have a region that fits us well,” said Collins. “We have some rural schools that have been rivals of SEB in the past and we also have same Savannah schools to compete with.”
    But no matter who is on the schedule, the goals are clear for the 2012 Yellow Jackets.
    “We want to win one game,” said Collins. “After that, we want to win another. That’s the way that we’re approaching the season. That’s the way that we’re going to grow and improve.”

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