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Sick of losing, Eagles begin new season
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    MILLEN — Jenkins County Eagles fans have gotten accustomed to 1-9 seasons and running second-half clocks for a while now, but when head coach Chuck Conley took over the team in 2005, he thought it was a time for a change.
    With a new image, a new attitude and a quarterback named Houston Bowers running the Eagle offense, things are finally starting to turn around in Millen.
    “I am just so proud that the kids have a whole different attitude,” said Conley. “How many W’s that converts to, I have no idea. But it’s a pleasure to come and work with these young kids. They’re trying, they’re focused, they’re trying to take coaching and it’s just a whole lot more enjoyable.”
    Before the start of the season, Bowers noticed the lack of leadership on the team. He decided to take matters into his own hands. Keeping guys in the game when they get down after a bad drive has become his specialty.
    “I’ve tried to get up when we’ve been down,” said Bowers. “(If we) come to the sideline dead, I try to get the defense fired up, and when we get back out there on offense I try to get everybody up — get the motor back running.”
    The newfound leadership, says Bowers, has been the difference so far in both the teams attitude and play on the field. It has also made a difference on the scoreboard.
    “Close games that we would have lost last year would be wins this year,” said the junior quarterback.  
    In the Jenkins win against Wheeler County earlier this season, the Eagles got off to a quick lead. After jumping ahead 28-7, things started falling apart for the JCHS defense.
    “We had a bad kickoff,” said Bowers. “We fumbled it, and they got it. They scored, and then they scored again. It was 28-21, and that’s when I tried to get the defense fired up. I told them, ‘They can’t score any more.’ We won that one 28-21.”
    The Eagles (2-3, 0-1 Region 3-A) opened up region play against powerhouse Emanuel County Institute last Friday. The overpowering Bulldog defense played a big part in the game, and ECI picked up a 28-0 win, but JCHS feels that they can build on the defensive performance and make a statement against the rest of its schedule.
    “The kids played extremely well (against ECI),” Conley said. “Now we got our hat handed to us, but we held our own for the most part, and it’s a growth process. We feel very fortunate to be in the situation we’re in, and we look forward week to week from here on out hopefully doing better.”
    Playoff expectations for a team that has only won four games over the previous four seasons seem a bit presumptuous, but with the new aura around the program, it doesn’t seem that far off.
    “We’ve got to have a goal,” said Conley. “That is our goal — to try to win out. Are we good enough? I think so. Does that mean we will? No. Anything can happen on any given Friday night, particularly in high school football. I think that we certainly have the horsepower and the athleticism to do well, if not win. If we can just keep all of the oars in the water, we’ll be able to hold our own.”
    Jenkins County resumes region play tonight at Claxton, and the Tigers hope to stop Bowers and the Eagle backfield.
    Claxton (0-6, 0-1) will use its triple-option offense to try and outrun a Jenkins County defense that will use a 50 defense to slow the running game of the Tigers.
    Jenkins loves to run the football, and does so primarily out of the I-formation. That hasn’t stopped Conley from adding a few wrinkles to the Eagle offense. To better utilize Bowers’ arm, JCHS has added some shotgun looks to mix it up when they need to. Bowers doesn’t mind.
    “He really has accepted his role, but he would love to throw it every down,” said a smiling Conley. “We may throw it more as the season wears on. I get stubborn and want to play smash mouth. In Houston’s defense, we’re probably more suited to throw it more than what we do. I want to get the three yards and a cloud of dust. We’re trying to grow together there, I guess.”

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.