JEFFERSON — The Dragons ended 2009 with a heartbreaking 30-22 loss at home to eventual Class AA state champion Buford. That capped off back-to-back undefeated regular seasons and region titles for Jefferson, but in order to accomplish a three-peat, the Dragons can’t afford any backsliding in what appears to be a very competitive Region 8-AA.
With the recent region realignments, Jefferson finds itself in the new 8B-AA. Joining the Dragons in the new subregion will be Elbert County, Hart County and Jackson County — all of which competed in Region 8-AAA last year.
What was a competitive region in 2009, 8-AA now looks to be one of the toughest in Class AA, housing five playoff teams from last year (Jefferson, Elbert, Hart, North Oconee and East Jackson).
Dragons coach T. McFerrin, who enters his second year with Jefferson, knows his team has a tough road ahead.
“The subregion we are in is extremely tough, so this may just be the hardest schedule that Jefferson has ever had,” McFerrin said.
The Dragons return six players on offense, but will be without the help of standouts Darius Minor, Lucas Redd and J.J. Damons. Sophomore Bryant Sherriffs and freshman Taylor Poff look to be the top two replacements for Minor at the quarterback position while Zach Allen will be a key for the Dragons backfield as a fullback. Last year Allen shared the backfield with Redd, who was one of the team’s leading rushers.
McFerrin will look to several players to step up and fill bigger roles on a high-powered offense that outscored opponents 441-179 in 2009. Among those players is Chris Jackson, who played mostly at linebacker last season. Jackson will play both ways this year and share tailback duties with Drequn Sewell.
“(Jackson) could be an impact player for us this year,” McFerrin said.
McFerrin knows that it will be hard to replace athletes like Minor and J.J. Damons.
“I don’t think that we’re going to be as big of a big-play offense as we were last year because we lost our speed guys,” McFerrin said. “We might just have to rely on four yards at a time rather than 40.”
According to McFerrin, the Dragons’ line might be their best asset offensively as long as they can stay healthy. However, that’s already been a problem, as the Dragons’ top two offensive tackles have been injured; that includes senior Kyle Mosley who is out with a knee injury. It is not yet known how long Mosley will be out, but McFerrin hopes that the team will have him back by the second half of the season.
“The doctors don’t know when he’ll be ready, but he’s making good progress,” McFerrin said. “I sure hope to get him back by the first part of the season, but I don’t want to speculate of whether that will happen or not.”
With Mosley’s status unclear, McFerrin will look to sophomore Collin Anthony and seniors Cody Berryman and Bryan Norris to anchor the line.
Junior offensive tackle Kevin Selleck may also miss the first few weeks of the season due to an ankle injury.
Jefferson held opponents to 13.6 points per game during the 2009 regular season, but will have to find replacements for five starters from last year and an injured Mosley, who has led the team in tackles for the past two seasons.
“The thing is right now we have a lack of depth. You can’t replace a guy like Kyle Mosely, you just have to figure out how to fill in the gaps,” McFerrin said.
McFerrin pointed out that Zach Allen will have to play some linebacker as well as defensive end — his regular defensive position.
Senior defensive ends Allen and Hoytes Damons will anchor the line along with senior defensive tackle Cody Berryman.
The Dragons return two kickers from last year in junior Asher Orr and sophomore Chandler Schlutow.
Cole Givens and Robert Griffeth are competing for the punting job. Jefferson will have to find a reliable kick and punt returner this year as Minor, J.J. Damons and Caleb Meek handled duties a season ago. McFerrin said that Jackson, Sewell and Jason Demos will most likely take on that responsibility.
With a young team and stacked subregion, the Dragons have their work cut out for them this season. They will have to rely on younger players to step up and help the senior leaders of Mosley (when healthy), Allen, Hoytes Damons and Jackson. With a tough road schedule, the season might come down to how the Dragons fare in their four home games.
If they are able to win consistently at Memorial Stadium, they will not be under as much pressure to win road games against top-tier teams and still be in good contention for one of the four playoff spots.