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5 things to watch in 2021 Cherokee Bluff High School football season
Cherokee Bluff practice 5.jpg
The Cherokee Bluff Bears work out Thursday, July 22, 2021 during practice for the upcoming football season. - photo by Scott Rogers

Cherokee Bluff put together its first winning season and region championship in program history in 2020, rattling off nine straight wins to start the year and even earning the school’s first-ever playoff win against LaFayette in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs. 

Now, the Bears and coach Tommy Jones hope to find similar success this year. Jones said he has been trying to draw the focus away from last season’s success, encouraging the players to keep their eyes forward, and so far he’s been pleased with offseason results.

“I’m really proud of the work ethic, the attitude, of our young men,” Jones said. “And I’m just excited to see them on the field and perform.” 

2021 Schedule

Aug. 20 at Johnson

Aug. 27 CHESTATEE

Sept. 3 EAST FORSYTH

Sept. 17 vs. Lakeside-Atlanta

Sept. 24 at Gilmer*

Oct. 1 WEST HALL*

Oct. 15 LUMPKIN COUNTY*

Oct. 22 DAWSON COUNTY*

Oct. 29 at North Hall*

Nov. 5 at White County*

*Region games

New generation of Bears

As the newest school in Hall County, Cherokee Bluff had been manned primarily with younger players until a season ago, when the team had around 20 senior players. But with all those athletes graduated, this year’s group is going to be a bit less experienced. 

With several playmakers on 2020’s team now gone on both sides of the ball, Cherokee Bluff will officially start to cycle in its first new generation of players.

“So many of those seniors we had were a part of the very beginning here at Cherokee Bluff,” Jones said. “They helped lay the foundation for everything that we’ve done. So graduating that first generation of kids, that means we’ve got a lot to improve on. In saying that, similar to what we talked about on the offense, we realize that we have our work cut out for us. At the same time, we also are excited about a group of young players that are stepping in, and we have high expectations for those guys that they’re going to play well.”

Striking while the iron is hot

One familiar face on the Bears offense is quarterback Sebastian Irons, who will return after leading Cherokee Bluff to the playoffs in his first year as the team’s starting signal caller a season ago. 

Although Irons will be distributing the ball to a whole host of new players, his presence on the field will help to steady a team breaking in new athletes at several different positions. 

“(Irons) is understanding that as a returning quarterback, that’s so much more than just what happens between the lines on the field,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of leadership intangibles that go along with that, and he’s really growing into that very nicely. It always helps to have a quarterback that is returning. It just seems to make things go much smoother.”

Jayquan Smith’s continued impact

The Bears also return running back Jayquan Smith, who led the team a season ago with over 1,000 yards on the ground while averaging more than 7 yards per carry. Jones said Smith was a player who makes everyone around him want to play better, and an integral piece of the Cherokee Bluff offense. 

Now entering his senior season, Smith’s role is only going to expand as less experienced players get acclimated to their new roles.

“(Smith) is extremely talented, and he understands that he’s going to need to carry a bigger load for us, particularly early in the season, to give time for some of these younger players around him to develop,” Jones said.

Last vets standing

Defensively, Cherokee Bluff’s linebacker and defensive back starters will be almost all be new faces. 

In the secondary, three of the four starters from last year’s unit, Shad Dabney, Jaylon Justice and Jamir Tolbert, have graduated. The same is true of the linebackers, with Eric Gohman, Eli Little and Garrett Davis. 

Because of this, the Bears will need the last returning members of each unit, Brayden Nance at linebacker and Sam Stribling at defensive back, to take on leadership roles and help the newer players learn their assignments. Both players, who have started all three years of their high school careers to this point, will be like coaches on the field for Cherokee Bluff, according to Jones. 

Finding new receiving threats

More than half of Cherokee Bluff’s receiving yards a season ago were split between three players: Shad Dabney, Jaylon Justice and Eric Gohman. And all three graduated this spring. Due to the departures, Jones said several young players are going to have to step up and be playmakers for the Bears offense. 

Among the possible contributors are Jhace Justice, Jaylon Justice’s cousin, as well as Max Eubanks.

“We’ll be receiver by committee,” Jones said. “We feel like we’ve got a number of young, talented players. We know that they have the ability to be able to step in and fill in, and we have high expectations that they will perform well.”

2021 Roster 

1. Sam Stribling RB/DB Sr.

2. Marlion Jackson WR/DB Sr.

4. Jordan Justice WR/DB Fr.

5. Carlos Marlow WR/DB Jr.

6. Conner Hulsey WR/OLB So.

8. Brayden Nance RB/LB Sr.

9. Jaylon Carroll RB/DB So.

10. Ty Corbin WR/DB So.

11. Jhace Justice WR/DB Jr.

12. Asher Wilson QB/LB So.

13. Kaden Thompson QB/DB Fr.

14. Sebastian Irons QB Sr.

15. Max Eubanks WR/DB Jr.

16. Ryan Graves TE/LB So.

17. Brooks Brien QB/DB Fr.

18. Jacob Banks RB/DB Jr.

19. Reid Silver TE/LB Jr.

20. Logan Stanley WR/LB Jr.

21. Isaiah Shepherd WR/LB Jr.

22. Hayden Biggs WR/DB Jr.

23. Jack Hamilton TE/DL So.

24. Nick Jackovatz WR/DB Jr.

25. Will Walker RB/LB Jr.

26. Paul Smathers WR/DB Jr.

27. Eric Thomas RB/DB So.

28. Jayquan Smith RB/LB Sr.

29. Colin Muyres WR/DB Fr.

30. Logan Wynn WR/DB Fr.

31. Landon Kemp WR/DB Fr.

32. Kade Tankersley WR/DB Jr.

33. Jayman Justice WR/DB Fr.

34. Rylan Ackerman TE/LB Fr.

35. Tre Brown RB/DL Fr.

36. Jeremiah West WR/LB So.

37. Emanuel Allen WR/LB Jr.

39. Micah Hunter RB/DB Sr.

40. Evan Gonzales RB/LB Jr.

41. Josh Alvarado WR/DB Fr.

42. Canaan Donnelly TE/LB Fr.

43. Isaiah Martin WR/DB Sr.

44. Connor Griffin RB/LB Fr.

45. Santiago Mendez TE/DL Jr.

46. Jacob Kelly RB/LB Fr.

47. Caleb Cooper RB/LB Fr.

48. TJ Lothridge WR/DB So.

49. Pierce Wesley WR/DB Fr.

50. Keller Atkinson WR/DB Sr.

51. Parker Waldrop OL/DL So.

52. Carter Daum OL/LB Jr.

54. Cody Critchfield OL/DL Sr.

55. Mateo Guevara OL/DL Sr.

56. Noah Davis OL/DL So.

57. Will Hansen OL/LB So.

59. Dylan Roberts OL/DL Sr.

60. Jackson Kohler OL/DL Sr.

61. Chandler Linn OL/LB Fr.

62. Nathan Richardson OL/DL So.

64. Cason Moore OL/DL Sr.

65. Hunter Henson OL/DL Fr.

66. Ben Craig OL/DL Fr.

72. Austin Essex OL/LB So.

73. Aiden Willis OL/DL Fr.

74. Trenton Bennefield OL/DL Fr.

75. Jacob Benjamin OL/DL Jr.

76, Ricky Lush OL/DL Sr.

77. Dax Mayfield OL/DL Fr.

78. Pedro Artega OL/DL Sr.

80. Steele Smith WR/DB So.

81. Joshua Shires WR/DB So.

82. AJ Schultz WR/DB So.

84. Michael Arbour K So.

85. Dee Thornton WR/DB Jr.

87. Caleb Williford TE/DL So.

88. Xavier Diaz K/P Jr.

89. Nathan Miller WR/DB So.

90. Dylan McDowell RB/DL Fr.

99. Colby Harrison RB/DB Sr.

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