After advancing to the state playoffs the three previous seasons the 2021 Statesboro Blue Devils looked like they may be in a position to host the state for the first time in about 10 years. A last second loss at Effingham County followed by a lackluster effort at Glynn Academy took them from a potential No. 1 seed to sitting at home the following week as they missed the state playoffs.
“When we lost the Effingham game the way we did, we didn’t rebound,” said Kaiser. “That loss, the way it ended really just sucked the wind out of us and we couldn’t recover. We preach to the kids how to react to adversity and many of those same guys are back this year so hopefully they will learn from what happened last year if something like that happens again.”
This year the Blue Devils drop back from Class 6-A to 5-A and enter a new region as well. The only team they played last year currently in their region is Bradwell. The rest of the region is teams they have seen in region play before, but it’s been a while as they join Jenkins, Coffee, Ware and Greenbrier to form the new Region 1-AAAAA.
“The only team we are really familiar with is Bradwell,” said Kaiser. “We know Ware and Coffee are traditionally pretty good programs and have a lot of talent. We haven’t played Greenbrier or Jenkins in a while and hopefully we can get some film on them and have an idea of what to expect, but we are happy to be playing in our designated classification this year.”
The Blue Devils should be in the mix for a region championship this season. They return arguably their most talented team over the past 10 years. Quarterback Kam Mikell rushed for over 1,000 yards last year as a sophomore and has already received an offer from UGA. Running back Jordan Lovett has received offers from Coastal Carolina and Georgia Southern, rushed for 500 yards last year and along with Mikell was among the top sprinters in the state.
At receiver the Blue Devils have a pair of 6-2 potential D-1 prospects in James Flagg and Payton Wedlow. Wedlow’s father Nick was one of the Blue Devils top running backs during the Statesboro state title runs of the early 2000’s.
“This is definitely a talented bunch,” said Kaiser. “We still have some question marks in some places especially with depth. We will probably play those skill guys at various spots. Kam and Jordan will play all over. Flagg and Wedlow have had extremely good camps and I also like what I’ve seen from Elijah Wells. We have five or six skill players we feel can play with anybody it’s just a matter of executing.”
The Blue Devil offensive line returns basically intact from a year ago and should be a strength of the team. The biggest question mark for the Blue Devil offense could be the progress at quarterback by sophomore Bruce Yawn. Yawn only threw one pass and rushed one-time last season. If he can withstand the heat of playing in a varsity game that would allow Kaiser to get very creative with the way he uses Mikell and Lovett, and could have opposing defensive coordinators pulling out their hair.
“Bruce has natural leadership abilities,” said Kaiser. “He is going to play a lot, but we are going to ease him into it. Kam Mikell is our quarterback, but obviously he can play multiple spots. We will package it where Bruce gets some snaps but again, he’s just a tenth grader and in most championship programs sophomores are playing with the JV.”
On defense Statesboro is led by a seasoned talented group of linebackers and they return some solid defensive backs as well. A pair of 6-5 defensive ends in Amontra’e Bradford and Leslie Black anchor the front line but Kaiser’s biggest concern is the middle of the line.
“The question mark is up the middle where we only have one guy with playing experience,” said Kaiser. “We are working seven guys at two spots and one of them is a freshman. We feel pretty good about all the other positions on defense we just hope we have someone step up and take those two spots.”
As far as special teams Kaiser raved about the play of punter Avery Newton and kicker Michael Crews who both played last season. The Blue Devils will travel to Metter for a scrimmage with the Tigers Friday night at 7:30. Statesboro opens the season August 19th at home against Glynn Academy.