The Southeast Bulloch Yellow Jackets will officially kick off the Jared Zito era Friday night at Screven County, but the ultimate goal for the Jackets remains the same and that is to get past the first round of the state playoffs.
The 2020 season ended like so many other seasons before with high expectations after earning the No. 1 seed in the state playoffs only to fall to No. 4 seeded Upson Lee 31-13 in the opening round at home. The Jackets remain winless in the state playoffs since their 1973 state title.
"Our slogan has been RTG which stands for return to glory,” said Zito. “We are well aware we haven’t won a state playoff game since the 73 title and return to glory doesn’t necessarily mean we expect to win a state championship it means return to glory in everything that we do. We are trying to raise the bar and raise the standard. Winning the region championship is a goal, but that can’t be the only goal. We want to raise the bar to be that team that advances past the first round.”
The Jackets look to be equipped to make a run this year. They return plenty of speed and athleticism on offense and defense along with a few good-sized linemen.
“Like most coaches we are really optimistic and think things are looking good at this point,” said Zito. “Things usually change a bit once the lights come on and you play a real game. I feel like the team has continued to work hard and get better and the big thing is the players now know what to expect from our coaching staff and we know the players a lot better than in the spring.”
Leading the way on offense is the Jackets first Power-5 recruit since Alabama came to Brooklet for Justin Smiley as wide receiver/safety 6-5, 205-pound Tyler Griffin has plenty of offers from SEC and Big-10 schools. Getting him the ball will be another college prospect in 6-3, 220-pound quarterback Khristian Clark who possesses a strong arm and quickness in the open field.
“Khristian has really taken command of the offense at quarterback for us,” said Zito. “He has caught on quickly to what we need him to do in our new spread attack. Tyler Griffin heads up a very talented receiver group for us. We will probably have a running back by committee with A.J. Johnson, Tradon McBride and Logan Herring among others. Up front we have a solid blue-collar group led by Kyle Knight and J.R. Raub.”
The Jackets will have a handful of players playing on both sides of the ball, but Zito likes what he sees on defense as well.
“The key to us is staying fresh rotating a lot of our running backs and receivers on the defensive side of the ball as well,” said Zito. “The biggest improvement I have seen on our defense is they are getting in their alignments correctly and we are really flying to the ball. Coach Anthony has brought the philosophy that if you have 11 guys flying to the football together someone will be able to make the tackle for us.”
The Jackets region consisted of two teams last year as the Savannah schools opted out of playing anyone outside their school district. This year they are all scheduled to return, and while Windsor Forest has shown the capability to be competitive the title should once again come down to Southeast Bulloch and Liberty County.
“Right now, this region is new to me and it’s hard to say much about them without seeing them on video,” said Zito. “ I do know that we can’t overlook anyone on out schedule, and I have heard from some of the coaches that have been here that Windsor Forest and Liberty have traditionally been a couple of the better teams.”
The Jackets had a scrimmage game scheduled for last Friday against Claxton cancelled due to weather. They were able to work something out Thursday with Swainsboro as the two teams met in Brooklet with Swainsboro coming out on top 27-10. Zito was happy to be able to get some idea of what he can expect this year and is hopeful the Jackets can iron out some problems he saw Thursday against the Tigers.
“It was something we really needed to see in order to get better,” said Zito. “You learn a lot when you get under these lights and play, and I can say we have a way to go before next Friday. I did see a lot of guys improve as the game went along and that’s all you can hope for.”
The Jackets only scores of the night came on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Clark to Taylor Kaden and a 28-yard field goal by sophomore Cole Snyder.
“We made a few big plays on offense and threw the ball well at times,” said Zito. “Defensively I felt we played more physical as the game went along and we made a field goal which was nice to see because that is another important part of the game.”
Southeast Bulloch officially opens the 2021 season Friday Aug 20 at Screven County at 7:30 p.m.