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FOOTBALL IN HALL 2019: Cherokee Bluff looking to build with more experienced roster
Bears went 0-10 in first season last year
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Cherokee Bluff's Jacob Carlson runs the ball during a game against Lumpkin County at Cherokee Bluff High School on Friday, Oct. 5, 2018. - photo by Austin Steele

Not much went according to plan for Cherokee Bluff as it went winless as a first-year school in 2018, but the Bears are entering this season with plenty of optimism. 

In Year 2, the Bears brings back all but three players from last year’s squad, and Cherokee Bluff head coach Tommy Jones thinks that continuity will be a major key in finding future success.

“Our coaches know each other,” Jones said. “Our players know each other a little bit better. As a school, we all know each other a little bit better. There’s a feeling of family, and we really believe that we get along and we like each other, that we want to play hard, because we care deeply about each other. And I think that’s an important concept that we have.”

The team will be breaking in a new quarterback this year following the graduation of Connor Boyd, but the Bears are vastly more experienced at virtually every other position on the field. Cherokee Bluff hopes to turn that starting experience into a winning season in the second year of the program.

5 things to watch

More comfortable in year 2

Keeping the players comfortable with Jones’ system has been a heavy focus for the second-year Cherokee Bluff coach in the offseason, and the players have started to take notice.

“He’s a great coach,” Bears junior Garrett Davis said of Jones. “I love playing under him. We’ve grown a lot more together, coaching staff and players all since last year. We know what our strengths and weaknesses are now.” 

Jones said that as the players and coaches have gotten to know each other better, everything – from practices, to scrimmages, to the team’s picture day – has started to run smoother. The added comfortability brings with it higher expectations according to Jones, a concept he and his team are not shying away from. 

“I think you recognize that as you progress from Year 1 to Year 2, your players and your coaches, everybody involved in the entire program, they understand the expectations that are set before them,” Jones said. “And our expectations are high.”

Dynamic receiving duo

One of Cherokee Bluff’s biggest strengths on the offensive side of the ball this season could be at wide receiver, where the Bears return a pair of productive veterans from last season. Junior Jaylon Justice and senior Jacob Carlson combined to produce the bulk of the Bears’ receiving output in 2018, helping then quarterback Boyd throw for over 1,200 yards. 

Jones expects even better numbers from the pair of receivers on their second year with the team. 

“From a receiving corps standpoint, those guys caught a lot of balls and for a lot of yards,” Jones said. “That’s an encouragement to have those guys back, for sure.”

Development of QB Mason Thomas

Despite bringing starters back at nearly every other position on the field, Cherokee Bluff will have a brand new player as signal caller. 

Junior Mason Thomas will be taking over at quarterback following the departure of Boyd, and his development will be crucial to the Bears’ hopes of success. Thomas has virtually no starting experience at the position, but based on the team’s offseason practices, Jones is confident in the young signal caller.

“Mason’s job is to do his job on every single snap, whatever we ask him to do, just like anybody else on our football team is, and to control the things that he can control,” Jones said. “If he’s able to do that and play within himself and execute, then we have no doubt that he’ll have a great year.”

Improving in the trenches

As a young and small team relative to competition last season, the Bears’ offensive and defensive lines were often pushed around in games, leading to difficulty on both sides of the ball. Jones hopes to prevent that from becoming the norm at Cherokee Bluff.

Last season, the team was forced to start almost entirely freshmen and sophomores in the trenches on both offense and defense. With each of last year’s players now a year older and stronger, Jones said the team is putting an emphasis on bulking up and playing with the explosiveness required for the team to hold its own at the line of scrimmage.

“Strength and explosiveness are important in those areas (along the offensive and defensive lines), and those are areas we’ve got to grow and improve in,” Jones said. “We have addressed that significantly through our offseason and hope that we continue to 

get better.”

Staying competitive

Last season, Cherokee Bluff struggled to stay in many of its games, but the team is expecting entirely different results in Year 2 of the program. The Bears are still looking for their first-ever win, but no matter when that day comes, the team is putting an emphasis this season on preventing games from getting out of hand early. 

Jones said he’s leaning on the high competitive drive of himself and his team to hold everyone accountable as they continue laying the foundations of the Cherokee Bluff 

football team. 

“Even if we’re playing tiddlywinks, we want to beat your eyeballs out in that too, because we want to be competitive and we want to be the best we can absolutely be,” Jones said.

Schedule

Friday at Whitefield Academy

Aug. 30 DENMARK

Sept. 6 JOHNSON

Sept. 13 at Athens Academy

Sept. 27 at North Hall*

Oct. 4 FANNIN COUNTY*

Oct. 11 at Lumpkin County*

Oct. 18 EAST HALL*

Oct. 25 at Greater Atlanta*

Nov. 1 DAWSON COUNTY*

*region games

ROSTER

2. Wyatt Campbell WR/DB Jr.

3. John Bazemore WR/DB Jr.

4. Charles Tolbert RB/DB Jr.

5. Jamir Tolbert WR/DB Jr.

6. Deakon Phillips WR/DB Jr.

7. Jaylon Justice WR/DB Jr.

8. Brayden Nance RB/LB So.

9. Garrett Davis TE/LB Jr.

10. Mason Thomas QB Jr.

11. Caleb Dolan RB/DL Sr.

13. Eli Cannon WR/DB Sr.

14. Jhace Justice QB/DB Fr.

15. Dylan Cross TE/LB Jr.

16. Eli Little RB/LB Jr.

17. Charles Agot QB Sr.

18. Jacob Carlson WR/DB Sr.

20. Logan Stanley WR/DB Fr.

21. Bosco Norman WR/DB Sr.

22. Tino Mukono WR/DB Sr.

23. Myka Sims TE/DL Jr.

24. Sam Stribling RB/DB So.

25. Dakota Collins TE/DL Jr.

26. Ladarreon Kerry RB/DB Fr.

27. Micah Hunter RB/DB So.

28. Jaquan Smith RB/DB So.

30. Eric Gohman WR/LB Jr.

31. Carson Reese WR/DB Jr.

32. Thomas DeGoey TE/DL So.

33. Nick Richardson TE/LB Jr.

34. Harrison Carter RB/LB Jr.

35. Isaiah Sheperd WR/LB Fr.

36. Hayden Biggs WR/DB Fr.

37. Malachi Morrison RB/DB Fr.

40. Evan Gonzales RB/LB Fr.

42. Jacob Banks TE/LB Fr.

44. Will Walker RB/LB Fr.

51. Nick Butts OL/DL Sr.

53. Hunter Waldrop OL/SN Jr.

54. Cody Critchfield OL/DL So.

55. Mateo Guevara OL/DL So.

57. Chance Bennefield OL/DL Sr.

58. Cade Hulsey OL/LB Sr.

59. Dylan Roberts OL/DL So.

61. Carter Daum OL/DL Fr.

63. Nick Merrell OL/DL Fr.

64. Cason Moore OL/DL So.

65. Blaine Skinner OL/DL So.

66. Keller Atkinson OL/DL So.

67. Evan Frullaney OL/LB Fr.

68. Gabe Hester OL/DL Jr.

73. Daniel Bescher OL/DL Sr.

75. Jacob Benjamin OL/DL Fr.

76. Andrew Wade OL/DL Jr.

77. Ethan Sullivan OL/DL Jr.

78. Brayden Harper OL/DL Fr.

79. Hunter Wright OL/DL Jr.

80. Parker Watt TE/DB Fr.

82. Braeden Bahn TE/LB Jr.

83. Mason Gill K/P So.

84. Tyler Price WR/DB Fr.

85. Nick Jackovatz WR/DB Fr.

86. Abraham Evans WR/DB Fr.

87. Reid Silver WR/DB Fr.

90. Levi Sullens TE/DL Sr.

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