BROOKLET — When Pat Collins rolled into Brooklet last season, he knew that a tough job lay before him.
After many solid years of being a consistent region power, the Southeast Bulloch football program started to show some in 2004 and then continued a downward spiral, bottoming out at an 0-10 record in 2009.
Undaunted, Collins went straight to work and set some concrete goals in 2010.
End the losing streak. Win a region game. Get back to the playoffs.
Expecting all of that to happen immediately would have been too much to ask, but the Yellow Jackets were able to get back into the win column last season and have been hard at work over the offseason to track down the next two items on the list.
“We set those goals, and that’s still what we’re striving for,” said Collins. “Getting that first one out of the way was a big step for us last season, but we still have a long way to go. Luckily, we also have some fine young men that are giving it their best effort each day to help us get there.”
One of the biggest factors helping the turnaround has been the number of SEB students willing to strap on a helmet and head out onto the field Friday nights. Two years ago, the Jackets struggled with depth issues and often had less than 40 players dressed out for any given game. This year, the Jackets began fall camp with over 75 players ready to go.
A lot of those players will be getting their first varsity experience on the fly as almost half of the SEB roster is comprised of sophomores, but what those 10th graders may lack in Friday night exposure, they make up for with a track record of winning.
“For the last few years, our middle school teams and junior varsity teams have been very good,” said Collins. “These guys that are now coming up to play varsity are used to winning and know what it takes to get the job done. That’s worth a lot.”
As the season gets underway, the Jackets will look to their defense to set the tone.
Jamal Johnson — a summertime verbal commitment to Georgia Southern — bumps back from last year’s spot on the defensive line and joins Ryan Adams and Tyler Biggs to form an aggressive and intimidating linebacker corps.
“Last season, whenever we put (Jamal) on one side of the line, we’d just see teams go the other way,” said SEB defensive coordinator Jack Webb. “He’s still getting used to playing out of a two-point stance instead of a four-point, but by sticking him at middle linebacker, he’ll be able to flow to the ball and get in on more plays.”
Things are also looking up for the Jackets’ kicking game as the powerful right foot of senior Drew Ware will handle the kickoff, placekicking and punting duties.
Offensively, Collins is hoping that his team can get more comfortable in the second year of his scheme. Johnson will lend a hand by playing both ways and serving as tight end and Antonio MacMillan — who impressed as a freshman last season — could step up to take the majority of carries left behind by departed running back Dee Odum.
Calling the signals will be
senior Taylor Burroughs, who has lined up at quarterback, running back, receiver and in the defensive secondary during his tenure with the Jackets. Burroughs has the most on-field experience of any Yellow Jacket this season and his workmanlike attitude is exactly what the coaching staff needs out of him and the other 21 SEB seniors.
“You can go as far as leadership takes you,” said Collins. “We have a group of men who have done everything that we’ve asked of them over the last year. This year, we look a little bigger and faster. We’ll have to see how it looks once we line up against another team.”
SEB gets a chance to do that tonight as the Jackets host Bryan County in a scrimmage at Fred Shaver Field beginning at 7 p.m.
From there, SEB has one more week to prepare for the regular season. The Jackets open up Aug. 26 against Portal — a rematch of last season’s 37-12 SEB win that accomplished the first of their three goals.
A game in Week 2 at Long County finishes the Jackets’ non-region schedule as the final eight games on the slate are another grueling trip through Region 3-AA.
The Jackets are still looking for their first region win since 2008, but could get one right away as they host a Bleckley County squad with many new starters in their region opener. The next week, SEB will try to beat bitter rival — and Collins’ most recent team — Screven County for the first time since 2005.
If the Jackets want to achieve their third goal of making the state playoffs, the final half of the schedule will be the toughest test as SEB faces a 2010 playoff qualifier in four of its last six games.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.