The Jaybo Shaw era has ended at Flowery Branch, but from the sound of things, his void will be ably filled.
The Falcons might not have a single player account for 3,235 yards and 46 touchdowns this season as Shaw did in 2007. What they will have, however, is Daniel Drummond and Darius Kimbrough in the backfield, along with a new quarterback in Connor Shaw whose play so far has garnered attention from major Division I schools.
Flowery Branch is nine deep at the receiver position and, offense aside, leaves few gaps defensively.
"Even though we lost a big playmaker," Falcons coach Lee Shaw said, "we feel like we’ve gained three or four big playmakers."
Flowery Branch is hoping the season ends with its fourth straight trip to the Class AAA state playoffs, but before that, the program’s first region title.
"We have a lot of kids that our success hinges on," Shaw said, "and trust me when I say that’s a good problem to have."
With the emergence of a running game that could go five deep at running back, and an experienced offensive line, the Falcons aren’t going to rely on the quarterback position to carry the load.
"We will be balanced this year," the coach said. "We have good, sound receivers who have to learn to make big plays and a good offensive line that got a lot of experience last year."
At receiver for the Falcons will be Robby Boudreau, Rashad Tate, Chris West, Destin Tipton and Jamel Mitchum.
Filling in spots if needed will be the team’s regular defensive backs, Rodriquez Frazier, Greg Palmer, Rodney Young and Chris Lipscomb.
"Hopefully we don’t have to play them a lot, but if we did, we’ve got great athletes that can go both ways," Shaw said.
Missing from the receiving corps is its 2007 leader, Connor Shaw. He’s the Falcons quarterback now.
"He’s got it," Shaw said. "He has the leadership abilities, and he’s developing into a great quarterback. Right now he’s the trigger guy that makes this thing work."
At the center of the offensive line, literally, will be junior Austin Todd who Shaw is counting on to be a solid leader.
Todd will be flanked by seniors Ben Clark, Jared Crandall and Bucky Free.
"We’re counting on all of them to get the run going for us," Shaw said.
And in the Falcons backfield, who’s the one to stop? Flowery Branch has Drummond who rushed for 648 yards and six touchdowns last year at West Hall, and Kimbrough, who rushed for 606 yards and three touchdowns. There’s also Preston Bostic and freshman Imani Cross.
"Imani has tons of talent," Shaw said, "but he still has to prove it on Friday nights."
It will be a toss up as to which facet of the Falcons offense the opponents focus on each Friday night.
Even moreso might be which side the opponents go to versus a stout Flowery Branch defense.
Drummond and Cross will be at the ends, Ben Clark and Jared Harris will stuff up the middle, and the Falcons secondary is the aspect that Shaw calls the team’s strength.
"We feel good about Daniel and Izaan," Shaw said.
"They give us a huge edge on the edge. Daniel is a great athlete and is explosive, and will be as much an impact defensively as he is offensively."
Shaw considers his secondary to be very athletic and experienced, and pinpoints Palmer and Young as the standouts.
"Greg (Palmer) is a three-year starter and a hard hitter with great instincts," Shaw said. "Rodney (Young) is a tremendous cover guy."
While the defense sounds stacked, Shaw admitted that his linebackers were the weakness simply based on inexperience.
Jeremiah Words, Chris Sanderson, Michael Young, Matt Bell and David DeLeon make up the linebacking corps.
"We’re hinging upon them to get better for us, and they will," Shaw said. "They practice so hard.
"After the first game, they’ll have that experience they need and we’ll be ready to roll."
Junior Billy Thompson and sophomore Will Monday will share kicking duties for a Falcons squad that lost Kyle Ellis to graduation.
It may not be appropriate to crown the Falcons just yet, but Flowery Branch’s talent makes a good argument for it being one of the top teams in Region 7-AAA this year.
However, with only eight starters returning from last year’s 9-2 squad it’s hard to gauge how well all the individual talent on this year’s team will mesh.
The Falcons are without a proven quarterback or big-play receiver and have an inexperienced group of linebackers.
Still, this could be their year.