Valdosta Daily Times

May 24, 2013

HOOPER: An early look at the 2013 football season

Ed Hooper
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — I haven’t written a column in quite some time, largely because there has been so much going on and we haven’t always had the space, nor have I felt up to it after writing so many other stories.

But today, I am writing this column and taking up the inches in the daily sports section and giving a little love to the upcoming football season.  

While the local sports season isn’t over just yet — thanks to the VSU softball team, which we hope wins another national championship Monday — football season is quickly approaching.

The stadiums will be full, the crowds boastful, the bands loud and the pads clashing come August. The high school football season is less than 12 weeks away — that is when teams scrimmage — with the regular season beginning soon after that.

Valdosta State won’t begin until Sept. 7, but the season will be here before we know it. And there is a lot to look forward to this year in South Georgia, and really throughout the state.

South Georgia will surely have some powerful teams this upcoming season in high school football. The obvious No. 1 team down here this year will be Brooks County. The Trojans feature a four-year starter at quarterback/cornerback, Malkom Parrish, who is the 73rd ranked prospect in the nation, and wide receiver Deric Herring, who was named All-State last year.

The Trojans are the reigning Region 1 champions and their toughest competition in the region will be Fitzgerald and Cook. The Hornets could be pretty good, too. I talked with head coach Ken Cofer a few weeks back and he seemed excited with what the Hornets were going to bring to the table this season.

In Region 1-AAAAAA, Lowndes and Valdosta both return a plethora of guys on defense and have several question marks on offense. Obviously, the Vikings have no challenge prior to their Sept. 27 meeting with Colquitt County at Martin Stadium — the first four games are against cupcakes — while Valdosta will be challenged early and often, including week 2 when Brooks County comes calling on Bazemore-Hyder Stadium looking for a second straight victory over the ’Cats.

I think it is rather ridiculous to hear Randy McPherson or Rance Gillespie are on the hot seat this season, but that is the talk on message boards (which I don’t read) and throughout town. I even overheard the conversations at a Lowndes/Valdosta soccer game.

But, back-to-back first round losses for Valdosta and a home first-round loss for Lowndes last year has fans eager for more than playoff appearances this year. I just hope the fan bases remember what kind of coaches they have, and that there are a lot of championships between the two guys.

In Class A, Clinch County head coach Jim Dickerson said last year at media day that his team was still a year away. I am no math major, but that means this is the year for the Panthers, at least that is what Dickerson believes.

The Panthers were young last year and challenged themselves. Now, many of their top players return this season. And, just like last year, Clinch County will be challenged early in week 1, when Brooks County visits Homerville. I would imagine the Trojans will have a top five ranking in Class AA. A victory for Clinch County could get things moving in the right direction.

In private school action, Valwood should not be messed with, just like last year. Despite losing a lot of seniors from the 2012 state championship team, especially for a school Valwood’s size, head coach Ashley Henderson has a lot of talented players back and ready to wear the Valwood “V” on the side of their helmet.

Henderson said during spring that he has faith in his team and that he likes their chances to repeat, or at least have a chance to repeat, in 2013.

Of course, I would be in trouble if I talked about private school football (GISA) and I didn’t mention Georgia Christian, which has re-established a football program following a 46-year hiatus.

The Generals will play a B-team schedule this season, with all games being played on Thursday nights. But, if the season goes well, the Generals will be playing in Class A of GISA football with a full-time varsity schedule in 2014.

Of course we also have a few new head coaches this year in our local area. Ed Pilcher, the man behind Thomas County Central’s historic five state championship run in the 1990’s, has taken over at Berrien High School, which is more known for football infertility than winning championships.

But, if Pilcher can bring excitement back to the football field of Berrien, he can start turning things around in massive ways for the Rebels, who have been to the playoffs just six times in nearly 60 years and have one all-time region championship (1991).

 I am not saying Berrien will make the playoffs or even come close this season, but if the Rebels can win 4 to 5 games this year, they may be on the right track to something, rather than nothing.

The only thing that hurts the Rebels is they have the toughest Class AA region in the entire state of Georgia and it is hard to win games in region play.

In Class A, Lanier County has its fourth different coach in four seasons. And this time, I think the Bulldogs have the right guy.

Phillip Johnson takes over the program and he told me during spring practice that he had almost 40 kids out for practice. Last year, Lanier County had about 30 by the end of the season.

Like Pilcher at Berrien, Johnson has a tough task and the expectations should be low the first season or two or three or four. But, if Johnson can stick around, he could turn things around at Lanier County.

The only question is: Will he stick around or dart out of town after one season like the last few coaches?

And lastly — and I hate to leave the reigning national champions for last — as I look ahead to Valdosta State’s season this September, I ask myself one question: Is it possible for a repeat?

That question will be answered in the coming months, but I think you have to like your chances if you are a Blazer or a fan of the Blazers.

While some players probably won’t be on the field this fall because they will be academically ineligible, the Blazers have a ton of talented players back from last year’s team, including quarterback Cayden Cochran, running backs Austin Scott and Cedric O’Neal, wide receivers Seantavious Jones, Gerald Ford and Regginald Lewis, linebacker Chris Pope and defensive stud Lawrence Virgil.

Obviously, the main question with the Blazers this season surrounds the offensive line. The Blazers lost five seniors from last year’s team, inlcuding two who are in the NFL now, and didn’t bring many new offensive linemen in through recruiting.

But if the Blazers can find some guys to open holes for Scott and O’Neal and keep Cochran upright long enough to throw the ball to his stable of receivers, the Blazer offense could be in for another big year with gaudy offensive statistics.

I encourage everyone to follow me on Twitter, at @Ed_Hooper.