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SHS football looks to keep building
Statesboro senior Jania Joseph leaps over a hurdle as she would take first place in the 100 hurdles Saturday in the 51st annual Statesboro Relays held at Womack Field. - photo by JOSH AUBREY

The Statesboro Blue Devil football team is coming off back to back state playoff appearances. This year the Blue Devils make the move to a new region, and are moving up in classification as they get set for their first year in Class 6-A.

“It’s going to be a challenge this year,” said Statesboro coach Jeff Kaiser. “Everybody we play on our schedule is a championship caliber football team. That makes it fun to me, but it’s also very challenging for our kids.”

Another challenge the Blue Devils are experiencing is the same many schools are, and that is the uncertainty that comes with playing sports during the coronavirus pandemic.

“The kids have done a great job in moving forward,” said Kaiser. “As of right now I feel pretty confident in us being able to play football Sept. 4th. That could all change quickly as anyone who has watched the updates on the coronavirus on the schools website each day. I think our County and our administration have done a great job of handling things.”

On the field the Blue Devils lose a couple key starters from last year on offense, but Kaiser feels there shouldn’t be much of a drop off.

“Ames Rackleff has really stepped up at the quarterback position,” said Kaiser. “Our offensive line is really young. We have two seniors, but the other three are two sophomores and a freshman. We do have some depth at offensive line this year though. Our running back corps is deep. We feel we have four kids who can all play. Our receiving corps are deep as well. We feel pretty good overall in regards to our offense.”

Rackleff played defensive back and linebacker his first three seasons, but Kaiser feels he has picked up the position very quickly despite not having played since middle school.

“Ames brings the run threat,” Said Kaiser. “He throws the ball well, and makes good decisions. The best characteristic about Ames is he is an extreme competitor. He is very coachable, and he is still learning the position, but he adds another aspect to our offense.”

“My defensive background actually helped me a lot in moving to quarterback,” Rackleff said. “Making pass and run reads came a little quicker than I thought they would. The toughest thing about making the move is actually the leadership that comes with being the quarterback. Last year I was used to listening to the calls, and now I am actually making the calls.”

Defensively is where the Blue Devils were hit hardest by graduation. Key losses include linebacker Brendan Jackson, and defensive lineman Xaivier Lee.

“Our back end on defense is back and intact,” said Kaiser. The bad news is we are having to fill in five positions in the box. We are really concerned because our already thin linebacking corps has to key injuries with Jace Perossa and J.D. Kaser currently unable to practice. I don’t think people understand what an impact Xaiver Lee had as he was double teamed so often allowing others to make plays.”

“I feel like our defensive backs, and our perimeter defense is very good,” said defensive back Hunter Saussy. “It’s going to be a challenge moving up to 6-A but I think we are ready. There are going to be some tough tema, but I think we are a tough team too.”

“I feel like our secondary is the heart of the defense,” said defensive back Jordan Gaines. “I feel like we are the ones they look to right now for leadership. It’s been a different kind of season already as we usually would have had a couple scrimmages by now, but at the end of the day you just have to push through and do what you need to do.”

Unlike years past the Blue Devils first chance to evaluate the team in action won’t come with a scrimmage, but rather the season opener against a very tough opponent in the Wayne County Yellow Jackets.

“Usually at this point we would have played a scrimmage game to give us some kind of an indication where we are,” said Kaiser. “The good thing is we have a week between our game with Wayne County, and our next game to change things around if need be.”

The Blue Devils will host Wayne County Friday Sept. 4th in a game that was originally scheduled for Sept. 5th at the Erk Russell Classic.