DAHLONEGA — Even though the records have been consistent the past three seasons — hovering around the .500 mark — Lumpkin County coach Tommy Jones is very firm in his belief that his program has started to narrow the gap against Region 8-AAA’s elite.
He says now the key is to be able to win the close games as the Indians have moved into the new region. They can’t afford to lose three games that were settled by 12 points or less like last season, if they hope to jump the next hurdle and make the playoffs for the first time since 2003.
Jones remains optimistic that this season will be different and possibly translate into a playoff berth in the newly drawn Region 8-AAA. The Indians’ strengths include a savvy senior quarterback, a good running game, and some punishing defenders back after putting up big numbers in 2009.
“We just have to continue to improve every week,” Jones said. “Everyone is a contender in our subregion.”
The face of Lumpkin County’s offense is senior quarterback Taylor Guthrie (6-5, 190). Last season, Guthrie threw for 734 yards and rushed for a team-high 465 yards. This year, Guthrie comes back to the field even bigger than last year after growing an additional two inches.
Jones says that Guthrie has all the athletic and mental tools it takes to be a team leader for Lumpkin County. Guthrie is ranked academically in the top 10 of his senior class, which shows his coach he’s able to think quickly and make good decisions in the pressure of the pocket. According to Jones, Guthrie is being recruited as either a quarterback or wide receiver at the next level.
“Taylor has great athletic ability, he’s intuitive and a really smart kid,” Jones said.
At wide receiver, Guthrie can choose between Trey Parker, Chris Lopez, Dillon Self and Ian McIntosh to throw the ball to. In the running game, Lumpkin County is led by 230-pound fullback Michael Flanagan (9.5 yards per carry last season), Trevor Eudy and Lee Cagle.
Playing out of an I-formation, Jones says the first goal is to be able to establish the running game. Once that is accomplished, they’ll be able to open up the passing game.
“If we’re clicking, we’ll be able to do the play-action pass,” Jones said.
For Jones, the biggest question mark on offense is replacing three starters on the line. If they don’t block, it will be hard to move the ball consistently.
Up front, the Indians have center Gus Jones, John Harris, Travis Burton, Zeb McConnell and Thomas Arrowood.
The line will be the strong suit for Lumpkin County’s defense. Led by three strong linemen, Jones believes the Indians will be able to keep pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
The defensive line is led by junior B.J. Dorsey, who recorded 66 tackles and 7 1/2 sacks last season. According to Jones, the National Underclassmen Combine ranks Dorsey (6-3, 220) as the No. 6 defensive end prospect in the Class of 2012.
“B.J. is explosive, quick and relentless in his pursuit,” Jones said.
At the other defensive end spot is Michael Flanagan, who recorded 57 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks last season. In the middle of the line is senior nose tackle Jonathan Whitehead (57 tackles, 5 1/2 sacks in 2009).
Inside linebacker is up for grabs between Harris, Skyler Donovan, Dylan Brown and Devonte Young. Lumpkin County’s outside linebackers are Cagle (89 tackles last season) and Parker.
The defensive backfield includes McIntosh and Logan Moye at cornerback, and Kaylen Temples and Dillon Self at safety.
Taylor Burns will be kicking and punting for Lumpkin County. McIntosh and Temples will share kick and punt return duties.
If Lumpkin County can find some consistency at its weaker spots right now — offensive line and linebacker — it’ll find that they field a pretty solid squad. The Indians already have enough playmakers to score, and defensive returners to stop the other side’s running game.