Posted: Thursday, August 15th 2013 at 9:45am
Football 2013: Dragons re-fitted and ready to defend state title
By Jeff Hart Staff
JEFFERSON: NEED TO KNOW
TEAM COLORS: Royal Blue, Red, and White
CURRENT REGION: Region 8-AA
HEAD COACH/RECORD AT SCHOOL: Ben Hall, first season
2012 RECORD/ ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 14-1, Region 8-AA champion, Class AA champion
KEY LOSSES: QB Bryant Shirreffs, WR McKay Dickens, LB Wesley Simonton, LB Kody McDonald, OL Connor Paul, DL Justin Holcome
OFFENSIVE STYLE: I-formation and spread -- the Dragons look to get the ball into the hands of their playmakers in space.
KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: Return 6 starters -- Sr. FB Tristen Jackson, Jr. WR Isaiah Blake, Sr. OL Jordan Tyler, Sr. OL Eli Griffin, Sr.OL Ethan Hix, Sr. TE Donnie Hatfield, Sr. WR Chandler Thompson, Jr. QB Evan Shirreffs
DEFENSIVE STYLE: 4-3 -- Jefferson likes to attack and penetrate and create pressure.
KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: Return 5 starters -- Sr. CB Hanon Price, Sr. DL Tyler Bowen, Sr. FS Austin Mixon, Jr. S Tradd Porter, Jr. LB Trent Sorrels
SPECIAL TEAMS: Sr. Isaiah Blake and Jr. Rodney Carr will share kick return duties, Sr. PK Austin Pankevich, Jr. P Dalton Hill
STRENGTH: Defensive secondary and line/senior class -- The defensive backfield and front will be strong with several returning players. Meanwhile, the Dragons will rely on another strong senior class and the experience of having won a state title.
QUESTION: Finding a replacement for Shirreffs, the Class AA Offensive Player of the Year. Depth could be an issue at several positions.
KEY GAMES: The opener against Commerce, which handed the Dragons their only loss last season, could set a good tone to start after coming off a state title. They open with three of their first four at home but have key road region games at Washington-Wilkes and Union County in the second half of the season.
TRENDING: When you’re at the top of the heap its hard to go anywhere but down. The Dragons will have targets on their backs every game as teams try to knock them off their perch. But the Dragons return a wealth of talent and a favorable schedule to begin the season to build some early momentum as they try to repeat as region and state champions.
Aug. 30 vs. Commerce
Sept. 6 at Jackson County
Sept. 13 vs. North Hall
Sept. 27 vs. Greene County
Oct. 4 at Washington-Wilkes
Oct. 11 vs. Rabun County
Oct. 18 at Oglethorpe County
Oct. 25 vs. Social Circle
Nov. 1 at Riverside Military
Nov. 8 at Union County
JEFFERSON -- New Jefferson football coach Ben Hall just smiled when asked if he had any idea that legendary coach T McFerrin -- on the heels of the Dragons' first-ever state championship -- had been thinking of retirement.
Now Hall, who had been Jefferson's offensive coordinator, will have the unenviable task of trying to replace a legend while navigating through his first-ever head coaching job and trying to keep the Dragons on top of the Class AA heap.
“You don’t replace a guy like T McFerrin. He’s a legend, not just in Georgia but around the southeast,” Hall said. “I’m just going to try and keep us moving forward and get better every day.”
To complicate matters, the Dragons are having to replace the Class AA Player of the Year in quarterback Bryant Shirreffs, top receiver McKay Dickens, and leading tackler Wesley Simonton.
“Those guys were great players and the heart and soul of the team. But every year in high school you have guys to replace, and we’re taking that attitude that the next guy needs to step up,” Hall said.
Senior fullback Tristen Jackson returns as does junior receiver Isaiah Blake and senior receiver Chandler Thompson. Preseason All-State tight end Donnie Hatfield (senior) will also feature. The line will be anchored by seniors Jordan Tyler, Eli Griffin, and Ethan Hix.
“We’re still going to be a ball-control offense that runs out of the no-huddle,” Hall said. “We won’t have the big runner at QB like Bryant but Evan brings his own strengths. We still have some great receivers so I feel we can be just a potent as last year, just in a different way.”
The defense, which was underrated and overshadowed by the offense, should also be strong, led by an experienced secondary. Seniors Hanon Price (cornerback), Austin Mixon (free safety) and junior Tradd Porter (safety) give the Dragons plenty of speed in the backfield. Junior Trent Sorrels will anchor the linebackers and senior Tyler Bowen will lead the defensive line.
Hall said he knows fans will be watching to see how the Dragons transition from their best season ever. But he said he’s ready for the challenge.
“This is the only job I wanted,” he said. “It’s a special place, a great school, and it feels like home to me every time I walk in here. It’s been a very smooth transition so far. It’s been more than I could have ever imagined.”
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