Statesboro High School opened its doors for a new year on Monday. In addition to breaking out the pencils and textbooks in the classroom, the Statesboro Blue Devils also dusted off their shoulder pads and helmets as they opened fall practices under the shadow of Womack Field for the 2009 football season.
Although the first day of school is usually a time for getting acquainted and easing into the year’s goals, the Blue Devils got right down the business as they hit the ground running.
As fall practice begins, the Blue Devils must get right to work on filling 15 starting positions – eight on offense and seven on defense – that have been left open by graduated seniors.
One of the biggest questions that Statesboro must address is their vacancy at starting quarterback. Departed senior Luke Connell headed up the Blue Devil attack for the past three seasons and his contributions in both leadership and productivity will have to be accounted for. The leading candidates to take over as signal caller are seniors D’Anthony Stephens and Todd Cone.
“Right now we’re still looking at the quarterback position,” said Statesboro coach Steve Pennington. “The thing that we have going for us is that both D’Anthony and Todd were able to get some experience in some critical games last season.”
“Right now, I’m just looking to get better every day,” said Stephens. “I just try to do my job every day. Todd is a good quarterback too, so we’ll just keep working and see what happens.”
One position that returns a good deal of experience is running back. Lamar Stimage and Aaron Lester both saw quality time in the backfield last season and will be depended on to control the ball and move the chains in Statesboro’s pounding running game.
“It feels good to be back. I’ve missed it all year,” said Lester. “We’re going to need a bunch of juniors and seniors to step up and we’re going to get the right mindset to go out and win.”
“I’m excited to be back,” said Stimage. “All summer we’ve been running and lifting weights, so it’s good to get back on the field. We’re a little young, but we’re also pretty strong, so we’ll have to see. Coach (Pennington) said that this year is going to be a little like a blind date. We don’t know what we’re going to get until we get there.”
Another point of interest in the weeks leading up to the start of the season is the defense. Though always a point of strength for Statesboro, the Blue Devils will have a lot of holes to fill for the 2009 campaign as only four starters will be returning from a unit that was repeatedly counted on to shut down opponents last season. While many new faces may be in store, the SHS staff is looking forward to having the same old stubborn and hard-hitting defense that has become routine for the Blue Devils.
“We’ve still got a long way to go,” said Statesboro defensive coordinator Charlie Fales. “I’m happy with what I’ve seen so far. We worked hard all summer and I like the effort that we’re putting forward on the field to get better with each play. We are very young this year, but we’re just going to have to learn fast and grow up quick.”
While the lack of returning starters is a hurdle, the Blue Devils hope they will be able to turn the question marks of today into the motivation to improve and succeed once the season begins.
“We know that there are a bunch of holes to fill,” said Pennington. “We have a great competitive spirit amongst the players and these first couple of weeks, we’ll be looking to see who wants to step up their game to fill the void.”
Statesboro will continue preseason practices throughout the month of August. On Friday, August 14, the Blue Devils will travel to Bradwell Institute for a scrimmage. The season officially begins on Aug. 28, as Statesboro plays host to Josey in the first game of the 2009 season.
Mike Anthony can be reached at (912) 489-9404.