Dawson County hasn’t had a winning season since 2005, when the Tigers finished 7-3. Since then, they haven’t won more than three games in a season and went 1-9 last year.
But coach Jeff Lee believes this year will be different.
“It’s going to be different,” Lee said. “We’re a lot closer, camaraderie-wise, and there’s a lot more enthusiasm in practice. The kids are finally buy in to what I’m selling — finally. We’ve got a lot of youth out there, but we have good a senior class that’s played a lot.
“We’ve got a good mix of young and experienced players, and between them I see them as more physical.
“Last year, we were awful — we played 14 freshman.”
Another circumstance different for the Tigers this year is a reformation of Region 8-AA.
They now play in a subregion A that includes Banks County, Fannin County, Rabun County and Union County as well as East Hall.
All but two of those programs had losing records last season, and of those schools, none had more than two wins.
“I like our chances,” Lee said. “If we perform well, I think we have a shot.”
Last year, the Tigers rotated four quarterbacks throughout the game. This year, Lee has narrowed it down to two — Tyler Dominy and Ethan Brown.
Dominy, who Lee described as possessing “a great arm,” will be the Tigers’ primary quarterback, while Brown will be mixed in to running situations. Brown will also see action at receiver, while Dominy could line up out of the backfield when not behind center.
Lee’s main objective is to establish the run, which was a struggle last season. Eian Perry and Zack Martin will receive the bulk of the carries in the backfield.
“We’ve struggled with the run in the past,” Lee said.
“We were awful last season — no consistency whatsoever. But we were young. We want to establish the run to throw, and we can spread it out.
“Tyler has a quick release and a strong arm and has gotten better at reading the defense, so I feel good about mixing it up. If we can run, play-action will be a big part of what we do.”
In those play-action and passing situations, the Tigers will rely on sophomore Bruce Clark, who has size (6-4, 185) and speed, to make big plays.
Lee considers the Tigers strong up front, with six to seven guys who are ready to contribute, including seniors Zach Johnson and Matthew Jerzewskie.
The Tigers will switch to a 3-4 after running a 3-5 last year, because Lee feels that puts Dawson County in the best situation to cover the pass.
“As long as (defensive linemen) Matt Satterfield, Zach Johnson and Kale Tallent can pressure the ball,” said Lee, “We have solid linebackers in the Smith brothers — Cody and Lee, they’re not actually brothers — that are good up the middle. With Ethan Brown at defensive back, that makes it easy to run a 3-4.
“Ethan is a team captain and is the quarterback of the secondary.”
Unlike in seasons past when they had kickers Chad Cunningham and David Scully — Cunningham currently kicks for the University of Tennesse and Scully is at Georgia Tech — the Tigers have struggled in the kicking game recently. Lee will again rely on Brown for field goal attempts and kickoffs, while Sam Edwards takes on punting duties.
A goal the Tigers have discussed for the 2010 season is a winning record and state playoff appearance. While that goal may seem lofty for a team that finished 1-9 last season, the possibility is not out of the question.
“I foresee us being successful,” Lee said. “And I’ll be disappointed if we’re not.”