The Valdosta Daily Times
High school football teams throughout the state will get their final opportunity to tune-up Friday night before kicking off regular season play later this month.
All of the Valdosta Daily Times’ coverage schools will be in exhibition action Friday night, with the exception of Berrien, which will hold its scrimmage Aug. 24 at Sneads (Fla.).
Only three teams host games, while four hit the road Friday night. Among the teams hosting will be the Lowndes Vikings, who host Thomasville at Martin Stadium. Lanier County welcomes Pelham to the Dog Pound and Valwood welcomes former Berrien head coach and Valdosta assistant Ryan Branch and his new team, the Tiftarea Panthers.
Like in past years, Valdosta will visit Ware County, while Cook visits Coffee in Douglas. Brooks County visits former region foe Albany and Clinch County is at Miller County.
Thomasville Bulldogs at Lowndes Vikings
The Vikings’ preseason tune-up comes against the Bulldogs of Thomasville High. Led by a young group of players, including a sophomore quarterback, the Bulldogs are young and athletic. Expected to be in the hunt for a Region 1-AA championship in 2012, the Bulldogs finished the 2011 season with a 6-5 record and a loss to Appling County in the first round of the state playoffs. Lowndes enters Friday night looking for answers at certain positions, including quarterback. Senior Alex Stephenson and junior Seth Carlo enter Friday night’s game even on the depth chart. Expect players like Nick Burgman, Tre’ Jackson and Tiquan Lang to have massive impacts for the Vikings this season.
Valdosta Wildcats at Ware County Gators
For the third consecutive season, the Wildcats and Gators meet in preseason action. Valdosta enters Friday night’s contest in Waycross with a lot of heavy eyes focused on the defense after losing eight starters from last year’s region championship team. Offensively, the Wildcats will look to starter Shelby Wilkes and running backs Malcolm Joseph and Nelson Herring to provide consistency this season. Ware County enters the 2012 season with high aspirations after finishing 2011 with a 10-3 record and an appearance in the state quarterfinals.
Tiftarea Panthers at Valwood Valiants
Friday’s exhibition meeting at Goddard Field won’t count towards the records of the two schools, but the intensity on the field will be at an all-time high. Both schools are beginning new era’s under head coaches. Valwood hired longtime Valdosta assistant Ashley Henderson and Tiftarea hired former Brooks County and Berrien head coach Ryan Branch, who served on Valdosta’s coaching staff last season. Along with new coaches, the players have supplied this game with plenty of story lines after talking smack with each other all summer on the popular social media Web site Twitter. Valwood has won two-straight regular season games against Tiftarea, including a 62-0 victory in the last year’s season opener. The Valiants are a favorite to win the GISA Class AA state championship this season after back-to-back appearances in the semifinals.
Cook Hornets at Coffee Trojans
When the Hornets take the field Friday night in Douglas, it might look like two Class 6A teams facing off, rather than the Class AA Hornets visiting the higher-classification Trojans. This season, the Hornets have over 90 players on the roster, providing head coach Ken Cofer with ample depth at key positions. The Hornets are young at linebacker — three sophomores will start — but Cofer told media members earlier this preseason that he felt his defense might be as good as the region championship defense from 2010. Offensively, the Hornets have handed the reigns of the offense over to Ross Pickle, a former linebacker that is looking to replace the school’s all-time passer in Zach Folsom.
Brooks County Trojans at Albany Indians
Brooks County heads north to Albany Friday night to face former region foe Albany. With a new-look offense, the Trojans will surely be more explosive this season, and will feature a heavy load of passing with junior quarterback Malcolm Parrish. Brooks County is also a top-contender for the Region 1-AA championship after finishing second in the region last season. As for Albany, the Indians are loaded for their first season in Class AAAA.
Pelham Hornets at Lanier County Bulldogs
One of the newest members in Region 1-AA, the Pelham Hornets visit the Lanier County Bulldogs Friday night at Roquemore Stadium in Lakeland. With less than 35 players on this season’s roster, the Bulldogs lack depth and are looking to replace two massive keys to last year’s team, offensive lineman Jeremy Daniels — now playing at Valdosta State — and defensive end Junior Gnonkonde — now playing at North Carolina. The Bulldogs do return senior quarterback Jovan Smith, but are under the direction of their fourth different head coach in as many seasons. Last season, Pelham finished with a 4-6 record at the Class AA level. The Hornets were 0-10 in 2010.
Clinch County Panthers at Miller County Pirates
In the middle of a rebuilding process, says Clinch County head coach Jim Dickerson, the Panthers enter Friday night’s exhibition game against Miller County looking to rebound from an 8-4 record and a second round playoff last season. The eight wins in 2011 was the second-lowest total under Dickerson since he took over the program in 2004. Miller County, a member of Region 1-A, enters 2012 looking to build rebound from a 4-7 season in 2011, which features a blowout first round playoff loss to Charlton County.