Following their preseason scrimmage against Elbert County Aug. 16, the Apalachee High School football team went back to work to continue preparing for the 2013 season opener.
The Wildcats will see how much they learned during that two-week span as the season opener is now at hand. AHS will host Lanier High School, a Class AAAA program, Friday at R. Harold Harrison Complex with kickoff at 7:30 p.m.
Head coach Shane Davis enters his ninth season with the Wildcats. He has directed the program since 2005. Does this new season hold any more special meaning than the previous ones he’s been on the sidelines?
They are all special,” Davis said recently. “It’s something you work for for months. It’s always special once the new season finally arrives. It’s an exciting time for the players, coaches and fans.”
For the second season in a row, AHS will face Lanier High School in the opener against the non-region opponent.
“Lanier is a good team,” Davis said after Monday’s practice. “It is a school that has not been around that many years, but when they do reclassification, they will be a AAAAAA school.”
The AHS coach said his team’s opponent this week is “big up front” with “athletic skill players.”
“We won last year, but that doesn’t mean much in high school football,” Davis said. “You have to look at how many players graduated from that season. We are going to have to sustain some drives and not turn the football over. I believe we’ve made progress since our scrimmage. We did some good things in the scrimmage, but had some things we needed to improve on.”
The AHS football team went back to work following the scrimmage and is now ready to take the field for a game that counts.
“Whether we are ready to play or not, it’s time to play a game.
Davis said. “It seems like we have been practicing a very long time. If we weren’t playing this week, the coaches would have to change some things up to break out of the normal routine. What we will have to do Friday is not give Lanier a short field offensively. Hopefully we can make good things happen.”
Davis said he has been pleased by the offseason work ethic of his players and believe they are set for a quality season based on that work.
The offseason has seen plenty of work by the Wildcat players.
The football team has also had to deal with the death of a teammate during the summer.
“It seems like it’s been an extra long offseason with the all things that have gone on,” offensive coordinator Joel Miller said. “We are excited it’s game week.”
Defensively, Lanier will be a test for AHS.
“They are big, fast and well coached,” Miller said. “Their size on the defensive line worries me. We will need to play with good leverage, but the great thing about the Wing T is the blocking angles it creates so we can at least give ourselves a chance against players with more size.”
The Longhorns appear to run mainly a zone coverage in their secondary with some man coverages thrown in.
“They are aggressive at linebacker and in the secondary so our edge blocking will be very important as well,” Miller said. “ The number one thing we have to do is hold on to the football. Turnovers will be the single most important factor for us this year on offense. We have to limit turnovers and penalties. We also have to execute which means to block the right man and line up in the right formation.”
Miller said “there should be a great crowd for the opener and we look forward to the challenge.”
Defensively, coordinator Matt Sorrells hopes the new players in the lineup (only three starters return) will be able to perform well in their debut.
“Lanier is really big on the offensive line and has quality backs,” Sorrells said. “One key for us will be to adjust to various formations and plays that we have not seen from them. They appeared to be fairly vanilla in their scrimmage versus Lambert so we are expecting to see much more from them this Friday.”
AHS OFFENSE 2013
Miller said the team will continue with its same base Wing-T offense in 2013.
While AHS lost its offensive backfield from 2012 to graduation, Miller said this is not the first time that has happened.
“After the 2009 undefeated year, we lost every skill player including running back, wide receiver, quarterback and their backups,” Miller said. “We did, however, have a majority of the offensive line return and went 6-4 in 2010.”
Skill wise, players such as Jody Mathis, Alantae Billings and Kent Knowles are just a few of the team members Miller and the AHS offensive coaches will count on.
Up front, linemen such as Keyvontreal Jefferson, Jonathan Taylor, Christian Dufrene, Justin Stephens, Chu Yang and Logan Jackson will be all be counted on to produce on the field on Friday nights.
Brian Wilson and Chance Rodriguez have battled throughout the offseason for the starting quarterback job following the graduation of Clint Ashe.
“It’s going to take an effort from a lot of people this season,” Miller said.
Lineman Roosevelt Crum and running back Kyle Jackson are the lone returning starters offensively.
“Staying healthy is a huge issue for us this year,” Miller said. “Our depth at some positions is thin, so we must stay healthy. Conditioning is also an issue as we have a few kids who will play on both sides of the football, so they have to be in great shape.”
Players stepping into the varsity level for the first time will also have to adjust the speed of the game.
“A lot of our offensive players have never been in a varsity game, so the speed on Friday night will be different than in practice and there will be an adjustment period, although hopefully not a long one,” Miller said. “A positive for us is that we are staying the same system-wise. The players have run the same players for two, three and four years now and that comfort level is a key to the success we have had in the past and any future success we have this year.”
AHS DEFENSE 2013
Similar to the offense, graduation took a toll on last year’s team.
Only three starters — safety Jody Mathis, linebacker Alantae Billings and defensive lineman Christian Dufrene — are back for 2013.
“Having lost eight starters from last year’s team, we need some guys who don’t have a lot of varsity experience to step up and mature quickly as football players,” said Sorrells. “For us to be successful on the defensive side of the football, we also have to be more physical overall.”