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Posted: Thursday, August 15th 2013 at 9:38am

Football 2013: 'Hungry' Indians rebuilding with talent

By Morgan Lee Editor


MASCOT: Indians

TEAM COLORS: Red and Black


HEAD COACH/RECORD AT SCHOOL: Travis Noland, ninth season, 60-21

2012 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 8-3, first round Class AAAA playoffs

KEY LOSSES: RB Chaz Thornton, QB Dionte Mayfield, FB DK Dooley, WR T’omas Colbert, LB Jabacus Wiley, LB/DE Jordan Williams, SS Luke Gibbs, PK Matt Moon

OFFENSIVE STYLE: Multiple-I -- the Indians will look to run first, controlling the ball, but will also take shots downfield when possible. Stephens County must replace all but two starters.

KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: Sr. OL Thomas Lowery, So. OL Ben Cleveland (preseason All-State selection), Jr. QB Mason Long, Sr. RB Sapario Reese, Jr. RB Jai Brown

DEFENSIVE STYLE: 4-3 -- Stephens will try to control offenses by keeping everything contained but will blitz on occasion.

KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: Jr. DE Gary Walker, Sr. DL Devin Ferreira, Jr. DE Kenneth Brock, Sr. NG Ben Harris

SPECIAL TEAMS: PK Jacob Oliver, Jr. P Kenneth Brock

STRENGTH: Senior class -- Despite graduating a ton of talent and experience from 2012, the Indians will rely on a large senior class again in 2013 -- one that Noland says has displayed great character and attitude and is ready for the challenge ahead.

QUESTION: Game experience -- For the first time in years there is no Chaz Thornton, DK Dooley, Dionte Mayfield or T'omas Colbert on the roster. There is potential to find standouts amongst the current roster, but almost all of the players will have to prove themselves on the field this season.

KEY GAMES: With so many new faces, the opener against Franklin County will be intriguing for Indians fans. The Region 8-AAAA schedule will also feature plenty of tough tests, including a trip to Chestatee (Sept. 27) and a bye before playing host to region preseason favorite Monroe Area (Oct. 11).

TRENDING: Last year's move into Class AAAA did not prove overwhelming, as Stephens County made it back to the state playoffs for the third straight campaign. Yet many of the standouts from that squad are now gone, and a large senior class will have to fight to get back into the postseason for a fourth straight year.

Aug. 30 vs. Franklin County
Sept. 6 at Habersham Central
Sept. 13 vs. Hart County
Sept. 20 at Walnut Grove
Sept. 27 at Chestatee
Oct. 11 vs. Monroe Area
Oct. 18 vs. Madison County
Oct. 25 at Lanier
Nov. 1 at Eastside
Nov. 8 vs. Lumpkin County
TOCCOA -- Stephens County football fans may not recognize all the names taking the field for the Indians on opening night -- but coach Travis Noland promises they will recognize his team's style of play.

"We're not changing how we play; we're still doing the same things," Noland said. "Even though we may not have a go-to guy, the kids we have are hungry, and they're great kids. And they've handled everything the way you would hope for a young team."

With just two starters back on each side of the ball, Stephens County will be learning on the job this campaign, but Noland is encouraged by what he's seen from his squad in the preseason.

"They're fun to coach and be around, and I love their attitude," Noland said. "But it's going to be a challenge too."

After graduating longtime standouts like running back Chaz Thornton, receiver T'omas Colbert, quarterback Dionte Mayfield and linebacker Jabacus Wiley, the Indians know they face a tough test in Region 8-AAAA this season and will turn to a new crop of players to provide the answers.

"We've still got a large senior class; we're just going to have some new starters," Noland said.

Stephens County will be buoyed by the return of two standouts on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

Ben Cleveland, who was named preseason All-State, and Thomas Lowery will anchor the offensive line, while Gary Walker and Devin Ferreira will hold down the Indians' defensive front.

Cleveland and Lowery will block for an attack that will be led by running backs Sapario Reese and Jai Brown and quarterback Mason Long. A junior, Long will be a key for the Indians in several roles this season, also returning kicks and punts and occasionally playing some snaps at receiver.

Tailbacks Reese and Brown, meanwhile, will provide a mix of abilities, with the senior Reese acting as the power back and the junior, Brown, as the quicker, cutback option.

"They're both good tailbacks, and we're excited to have both of them," Noland said.

Defensively, the Indians will break in a new set of linebackers, as well as defensive backs, which could prove difficult in a region that includes a state semifinalist from a year ago in region champ Monroe Area, as well as strong programs at Chestatee and Eastside.

"We have some uncertainties, but we're excited to get going with the kids we have," said Noland, whose team is looking to make a fourth straight state playoff appearance and 16th in 18 seasons.

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