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Yellow Jackets look to make noise in region
Southeast Bulloch running back Tyler Epps, left, shakes off Portal defender Marquis Wells during the Yellow Jackets' 21-6 victory last season.

    BROOKLET — The 2010 season saw a coaching change at Southeast Bulloch.
    The Yellow Jackets’ previous four seasons had produced a cumulative record of just 5-35 with no more than two wins in any of those campaigns.
    Pat Collins arrived from Screven County and has had a clear-cut plan for the program’s rejuvenation from his first day on campus.
    “When I got here, we were coming off of a winless season,” Collins said. “Our first goal was to win a game. After that, we wanted to win a region game. From there, we wanted to win the rest of the games and compete for a region title.”
    It’s been three years in the making, but there is no doubting that plan’s success. The Jackets did win a pair of games in that first season, but won just once more in 2011. Last season saw SEB move up one classification in the GHSA, but the region wins were finally achieved.
    As the 2013 season is ready to begin, this year’s Jackets have their sights set on the final part of that plan.
    Southeast Bulloch’s four wins in 2012 was the school’s best showing since 2005. Almost every big contributor from that squad returns this year as the Jackets are determined to be a force in Region 1-AAA competition.
    SEB has had its share of standout performers in recent years, but this season boasts the most well-rounded and experienced team in quite some time. From veteran leadership, to physical strength, to game-breaking ability, these Jackets definitely aren’t to be taken lightly.
    “We have a group of boys that have taken some lumps, but who have also put in a lot of hard work,” Collins said. “The first couple of years, we were forced to use some freshmen and sophomores who struggled to hold their own in games. Now we’re blessed with a very good group of upperclassmen who have seen what it takes to succeed and who have worked hard for three years to get to where we are now.”
    Where SEB stands now is an upcoming season with nearly 20 returning starters looking to attend to some unfinished business.
    The Jackets proved that they could play in their new classification, but also let a couple of games slip away — games that could have meant the difference between a state playoff berth or an early winter.
    The road isn’t any easier this time around, but SEB should definitely be considered a postseason contender as the regular season begins in two weeks.
    Cole Carter returns for his second year under center and will have Tyler Epps and Antonio McMillan — both 900-plus yard rushers last season — behind him in the Jackets’ Wing-T attack. Once a weak point of the offense due to lack of size and experience, SEB’s offensive line is now a veteran, well-oiled machine poised to control the tempo of games and wear down opposing defensive lines.
    Speaking of defensive fronts, the Jackets are another year older and wiser there as well.
    Marshall Duke and Kaelin Jones both have the size and strength to take on any blockers or ball carriers. The back of the defense could still be an issue, but Collins remains optimistic.
    “I think that we have the ability to have a very sound offense and defense,” Collins said. “We still lack some speed in our defensive secondary, but if we can execute correctly, we can hopefully have the success we want.
    “Offensively, it’s great to have nine returning starters. I think that we know what we are trying to do and now we have the ability and experience to do it.”
    Once again, the Yellow Jackets will have about a month of regular season play to iron out any issues before region competition begins.
    The Jackets begin with cross-county rival Portal on Aug. 30 before following up with other non-region games against Montgomery County and Telfair County. With Appling County and Pierce County still standing as region heavyweights — and making the final two weeks of the season look rather imposing — SEB’s best shot to get over the postseason hump will be finding early region success against Johnson and Savannah.

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