Earning a black jersey in practice for West Hall’s defensive players is a huge accomplishment.
The status of wearing a black jersey is the carrot Spartans coach Mike Newton gives to players that have prepared hard enough during the week to start on Friday night.
It’s a system that has paid off beautifully for West Hall, which is 2-0 this season and has only surrendered 19 total points in wins against East Hall and Chestatee.
“The black jerseys are a big deal because we give them out in front of the team at practice,” Newton said. “We’re really pounding the importance of being great on defense.”
Despite the honor of earning the black jersey, it is totally conditional. It can be taken away at a moment’s notice for taking it for granted and loafing on the practice field. Nor is Newton going to hesitate giving the black jersey to a player that hasn’t started previously, as long as the proper effort is displayed.
“The kids are really buying into it,” Newton said.
Newton says the rock of the defense has been the three sophomores up front on the line: Damian Millsap, Dexter Jackson and Keith McCroan. He’s also starting a junior at middle linebacker, Turk Taylor, who moved to West Hall from Lowndes High in Valdosta.
“The kids on our team are just fun to be around, they practice hard, work well together and are a great group of kids,” Newton said.
BRANCH BOYS GREAT ON DEFENSE: Already this season, Flowery Branch’s defense has made a name for itself with shutout victories against Winder-Barrow and Madison County.
Despite the jump to Class AAAA this season, it’s the first time that Flowery Branch (2-0) has recorded back-to-back shutouts since four straight to open the 2005 campaign. On Friday, Flowery Branch only allowed 147 yards of total offense to Winder-Barrow, even keeping the Bulldoggs out of the endzone after they took possession on a blocked punt at the Falcons’ 27.
“They are playing downhill and playing fast,” Falcons coach Lee Shaw said of his defense. “The defensive line has done a great job of playing technique, linebackers are downhill and fast on pursuit, defensive backs are not giving up big plays.”
Last season, Flowery Branch allowed 21-or-more points in six games and no shutouts.
PANTHER CHURNING OUT THE YARDS: Jackson County coach Billy Kirk knew that senior running back Austin McDonald had talent. The fact that McDonald, a senior, has 298 yards (7.5 yards per carry) after two games may be a bit of a surprise. In a win against Walnut Grove on Friday, he carried the ball 25 times for 175 yards. In Week 1, McDonald scored the eventual game-winning touchdown just before halftime against Johnson.
“Austin has really good vision and does a good job of finding the hole,” Kirk said. “But the bottom line is that our offensive line is doing a great job. Without them, none of it would be possible.”
McDonald returned to the field for Jackson County (2-0) this season after not playing as a junior. In Week 7 of his sophomore season, Kirk says that McDonald broke his ankle. Now McDonald appears to be completely healthy and running full steam.
After starting 3-0 last season, Kirk says that it is important for the Panthers to sustain the momentum they are building and not become complacent. He says they are going to be a playoff contender in a tough subregion 8B-AA against East Jackson, Jefferson, Elbert County, Hart County and North Oconee.“We’re starting to build a legitimate program at Jackson County and we feel like we can compete,” Kirk said.
UNUSUAL LOSS FOR THE WOLVES: Top-ranked Buford’s loss to second-ranked Carver-Columbus (2-0) was eye-catching for a couple of reasons. First of all, it was only the Wolves’ second regular season loss over the span of the past six seasons. However, what was even more noticeable was the fact that Buford (1-1) was on the receiving end of a 14-0 shutout.
The last time that the Wolves were shutout before Friday was a second-round state playoff loss to Washington-Wilkes in 1999.
LEOPARDS ON THE RIGHT TRACK: For the first time since 1997, Banks County is off to a 2-0 start. The Leopards are running with success, including a 164-yard effort from Dylan Lackey Friday against Riverside in Gainesville. Not only has the running game been working for Banks County, but the defense has also been sharp. So far, the Leopards have only surrendered a total of 17 points this season in wins against Social Circle and Riverside Military.
This week, Banks County faces 0-2 East Jackson, which has played extremely competitive against Region 8-AAA’s White County and Oconee County.