Tommy Jones still wakes up at night thinking about all the things he has to get done as football season approaches this weekend. He may say it’s just how things get when the season is close, but everyone knows it’s amplified for a coach who is fielding a team at a brand-new school.
But that’s the challenge Jones, who is coach at Cherokee Bluff in Flowery Branch, took on and it’s a challenge he said he’s ready for.
“There’s a lot of excitement around our football program, as you would expect,” said Jones, who went 37-22 in four seasons at Class 6A Dacula with a pair of region titles, before taking the job at Cherokee Bluff. “Obviously, we have a very young football team. Our roster is made up of primarily ninth and 10th-graders … but we have a lot of guys who are excited for the opportunity to play on Friday nights.”
As the season starts for the Bears, there are a lot of questions. No one really knows what this team with only 11 upperclassmen will look like. However, Jones has rallied his players, made up of students primarily from Flowery Branch’s former district, and some from Johnson.
Cherokee Bluff’s season will open with a home game against Whitefield Academy on Saturday before it travels to another school with a first-year team, Denmark, in Forsyth County on Aug. 24. Cherokee Bluff will play its first Region 7-3A game against North Hall on Sept. 21 and close the season versus Dawson County on Oct. 26.
Cherokee Bluff Times Sports Media Day Highlights
Jones knows for a team to be successful, it has to rely on its run game. So that’s what he’s going to do. He also knows a successful team has to be able to throw the ball. So that’s what he’s going to do. And the one making it all happen will be senior quarterback Connor Boyd, who represented his team at this year’s Times Sports Media Day. He’s a transfer from Flowery Branch with three years of experience who Jones said is a “heady, tough, resilient kid.”
He throws the ball well, but has to be quick on his feet to make it all come together.
“We’re fortunate to have him come over for his senior year,” Jones said. “Connor’s been an exceptional leader for us. He’s a hard worker, he’s a great locker-room guy, good teammate. He’s picked up our offense quickly and we expect him to have a great year.”
In order for him to be successful, though, the Bears will have to build a strong front. The offensive line will be led by junior tackle Daniel Bescher and senior center Kyle Jones, both of whom Jones said have “good size” and “a little experience.”
Junior running back Zach Merced and sophomore running back Charles Tolbert, both of whom were previously at Flowery Branch but don’t have any varsity experience, will split time in the backfield.
Another Flowery Branch transfer, wide receiver Justin Murphy will be someone Boyd depends on to get open downfield in order to create the balanced offense Jones is looking for. Junior wide receiver Jacob Carlson will try to do the same.
“They’re long, they have the ability to catch the ball well and are very conscientious and hard-working kids,” Jones said. “They’ve done exactly what we’ve asked them to do.”
The plan, as is the plan with most teams is to attack the football. Cherokee Bluff will have a challenge, though, as it tries to bring everything together in its first season.
“(The challenge) for us is to try to figure out where to put guys, how to use them best, how to accentuate their strengths and talents and to develop a scheme that allows us, on both sides of the ball, to do that.” Jones said. “We’re figuring out a little more every day about our guys and how this thing is going to unfold.”
Sophomore defensive end Tre’von Marshall was the first person that came to Jones’ mind as a leader on the defensive line. Although he’s in just the 10th grade, Jones said Marshall is a “long, high-motor, aggressive and athletic kid.”
Another sophomore Jones is hoping will have a standout season is inside linebacker Garrett Davis, who sat alongside Boyd at this year’s Times Sports Media Day. Jones said at the position Davis is in, he has to be able to set things up on defense and make sure it all runs smoothly. Jones said Davis is “very smart” and is a “sure tackler.”
Murphy, who will also play safety along with sophomore safety Devin Johnson will help keep things contained for the Bears. Sophomore cornerbacks Charles and Jamir Tolbert will do the same, too.
“All four of those guys have picked up on our scheme quickly and we’re excited to see them play,” Jones said. “More of our experience lies in our perimeter game, our perimeter players. So we’re hoping we’ll be able to take advantage of some of those guys that have played football a little bit more and have some experience.”
Jones will leave the kicking duties to freshman Mason Gill. He has a soccer background and won the job after showing off his accuracy in practice. Junior Jacob Carlson will be punting for the team this season.
No one really knows what this season will hold for the Bears. One thing is for sure: They believe in themselves. With a senior quarterback, the young team at least has a key position with leadership and experience locked down. But with only two other seniors, Cherokee Bluff will have to step up in a tough region to be successful in its first season. Jones doesn’t like to set expectations, but he said he knows the team has been working hard to prepare for the season.
“These guys have embraced the idea of being a part of a program and most of these guys see this as an opportunity to be a part of something bigger than themselves,” Jones said. “It’s been a ton of fun working day after day, watching them develop. But more than just develop, watching them buy into what’s going on within the program as a whole.”