HOMERVILLE -- In a lot of ways, everything feels the same for Jim Dickerson.

For the 15th straight July, he's watching Clinch County's football team prepare for the upcoming season. But one thing is different: now he's the man in charge.

Dickerson, a long-time Clinch assistant, was hired as Clinch's new head coach in April, taking over for Cecil Barber -- who he'd played and coached under for over a decade.

"It really hasn't set in yet," Dickerson said. "It probably will on Friday night (at Clinch's first intrasquad scrimmage), but right now, I'm just out there coaching, working with ends and linebackers, like I always have."

Part of the reason it feels the same is because he hasn't changed a whole lot. The base 5-2 defense the Panthers have run with great success for years has not changed, and Dickerson retained coordinator Trent Hatton to run the offense.

"This is the only football I know," Dickerson said. "And I wouldn't change it if I could."

And on defense, most of the faces are the same. During photo day, Dickerson asked for a photo of himself with the returning defensive starters, including standouts Darrion Thomas, Boris Lee, Russell Robinson, Jarvis Henderson and Lamar McKnight, because as he put it, "They're the main reason I'm now the head coach."

Now Dickerson hopes to continue Clinch's recent success. Clinch has made the state semifinals the past three years, and was the state champion in 2002.

There will be some adjustments, though. Only three starters are back on offense. The tailback depth took a hit last week when Robinson broke his foot. Sophomores Justin Gainey and Justin Beard are now Clinch's top two tailbacks.

Two of Clinch's best athletes, seniors McKnight and Jared Bighams, are working at quarterback. Whichever one doesn't play there will probably be a receiver.

"They both have their strong suits, and things they need to work on," Dickerson said. "I don't feel like we can go wrong with either one. They're both playmakers and difference makers. Bighams is probably the better pure passer, while Lamar is more experienced and makes better reads in our option package."

When Dickerson was hired, it kept the job in the hands of a local. Like Barber and the late Donald Tison, the two men who'd coached the Panthers the past 30 years, Dickerson is a Clinch County native and former Panther player. His father, James, played tackle for Clinch's first football team in the 1950's. Clinch County football is a big deal to him.

"To me, it's an honor to be here," Dickerson said. "There's not a job that would mean more to me. I feel like I'm the President of the United States. It's the ultimate honor and privilege for me personally. This is where my heart is.

"I hope that I can carry some of the traits from both (Tison and Barber). They both did a lot of great things for this football program. I hope that I can have the humility and down-to-earthness that Coach Tison had. I hope I can have the work ethic of a Coach Barber. He never shorted the program with his work. I hope I've got a little bit of both."

Dickerson kept assistants Hatton, Tim Carroll and Winston Peterson, and added former Clinch player Jared Hart, former Apopka (Fla.) assistant Rich Eason, and some community coaches to his staff.

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