Posted: Thursday, August 29th 2013 at 12:47pm
Jefferson hoping to get title defense rolling against rival (Video)
By Morgan Lee Editor
JEFFERSON – Bryant Shirreffs, Wesley Simonton, Kody McDonald, McKay Dickens, T McFerrin...
Those are some big names in the history of Jefferson football, and none of them are on the Dragons’ 2013 roster.
Yet just because a few of the names that helped lead Jefferson to its first state title in 2012 are no longer around doesn’t mean the program is hurting. And some of the new faces stepping into key roles are keen to put their own mark on a program just a year removed from history.
“Overall, we’re pretty experienced. We’ve got six starters returning on offense and seven on defense,” said new Jefferson head coach Ben Hall, the offensive coordinator from last year’s team that stepped up to take over the program when McFerrin retired in the offseason. “We lost some really good players, but the ones we’re replacing those guys with have some experience. And I think our kids are ready to get going and supply their own legacy.”
Earlier this week Access North Georgia.com sports editor Morgan Lee caught up with members of Jefferson’s team, as well as season-opening opponent Commerce, to talk about the season ahead. To watch a video presentation with the team, press “play” in the box to the right.
That legacy starts with a 19-player strong senior class that includes standouts along the line of scrimmage, as well as preseason All-State tight end Donnie Hatfield and fullback Tristen Jackson.
“We’re so ready to get this season started,” senior offensive lineman Jordan Tyler said. “We’ve been working all summer for this, and we’re ready.”
Indeed, despite graduating a few key players and losing its head coach, the Dragons say there has been little change under the guidance of a coaching staff that stayed largely intact.
“Actually it’s been a fairly easy transition because we retained our entire staff, and we’re running the same offenses and defenses,” Hall said. “There’s been more stuff to deal with for me, like talking to boosters and vendors, but it’s been easy on the staff and the kids.”
The transition at quarterback has also been relatively smooth -- even if there is a new Shirreff(s) in town.
This season, Evan Shirreffs, a junior, will take over for graduated standout and older brother Bryant Shirreffs, and while the siblings may not share the exact same skill set, the younger Shirreffs is determined to fill the shoes left by the All-State performer.
“It’s stressful at times, because you’re trying to live up to what he was,” Evan Shirreffs said of taking over for Bryant, who passed for 2,369 yards, rushed for 1,372 yards and totaled 38 touchdowns in 2012. “But it’s fun because everyone expects you to be good like him, so it’s good when you prove people right.”
A more prototypical dropback passer as compared with Bryant’s dual-threat ability, coaches like what they have seen from Evan Shirreffs so far this summer.
“Evan has had a solid preseason,” Hall said. “He’s got a ton of potential.”
It will help Shirreffs that he will be surrounded with players like Hatfield, Jackson and a deep offensive line -- and an entire team motivated to build on last year’s ultimate success.
The Dragons will launch that mission against a familiar nemesis -- in fact the only foe to get the better of Jefferson in 2012, as Commerce won last year’s season kickoff 22-7 before the Dragons responded with 14 straight wins.
The Dragons add that facing off against the Tigers in the season-opener -- for the 68th time in the series -- has added to the urgency they have felt this offseason.
“That was the team that beat us last year. That was the one, and that’s been a motivator for our kids in offseason and leading up to game week,” Hall said. “Mostly the team is just like every other team this time of year; they’re excited to get started. They’re ready to hit someone other than themselves.”
As far as Commerce is concerned, the feeling is mutual.
“I guess the biggest thing on the line Friday night is pride,” Tigers head coach Michael Brown said – who himself is in a new spot after taking over from Marvin Justice in the offseason. “It’s not the most important game we’ll play this year. It’s the first game. It’s something that certainly the kids put a lot of stock into, but this game doesn’t make or break your season. Look at Jefferson last year for an example.”
The game will feature a battle between Commerce’s pounding option attack, led by quarterback Drew Whitfield, and Jefferson’s balanced I-formation attack. And both teams expect a fight to the finish.
“Commerce is a hard-nosed team,” Hall said. “We’re going to have our hands full just like last year.”
Brown echoes that sentiment.
“I don’t see too many areas, especially on offense, where they’re weak,” Brown said of Jefferson. “There are probably even some areas where they’re better than last year.”
Tyler puts it another way.
“Everybody is gunning for everybody in that game; it’s so intense,” Tyler said. “We pretty much hate each other, and that adds fuel to the fire.”
It’s a fire that will be burning bright come Friday.
COMMERCE at JEFFERSON
-- WHEN: 7:30 p.m.
-- WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Jefferson
-- COMMERCE (0-0, 0-0 Region 8-A): The Tigers finished 5-6 in 2012.
-- JEFFERSON (0-0, 0-0 Region 8-AA): The Dragons finished 14-1 in 2012.
-- HISTORY: Commerce won the last meeting 22-7 in 2012. The Tigers lead the series 42-20-5.
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