Despite the heat, the Bryan County High School football team has been hitting the field five days a week in preparation for the upcoming gridiron season.
Head coach Ron Lewis said the team has yet to gripe or moan about obstacles such as recent high temperatures, "which goes to show you how tough these players are," he said. "We’ve got a good group of kids and I feel good about them. Their attitudes are great and their expectations for themselves are high which makes it fun to coach."
"We look to make a return trip to the playoffs after making the school’s first-ever state playoff appearance last year," Offensive Coordinator Blake Nesmith said. "Our biggest loss was All-Region running back and two-time Region Special Teams Player of the Year Alkeem Collins, but a talented young trio of Ivey Mutcherson, Willie Deloach, and Deandrea Walker has been working hard to pick up the slack. The strength of the team is definitely in the trenches. Seniors Taylor Lucas, Mike Mitchell, and Matt Dutcher anchor the offensive and defensive lines."
The team has been practicing throughout most of the summer. In addition to practicing on Redskin Field, the team has been in the weight room, and participated in a passing game at Georgia Southern.
Lewis said several things have impressed him about the current players. "There’s a lot of quickness on outside," he said. "With all the practicing and passing league stuff we’ve been going through, I can tell you that we’re looking pretty dog gone good.
"We’ve got a really tough schedule ahead of us," Lewis continued. "They will really be put to the test. I just hope to make it through all the games injury-free and to gain some improvement along the way."
Lewis said there are a lot of first year starters on defense, and there are several key players with "more than 1 leader" on the team. He commented on some of the returning players as well.
Lewis is banking on the leadership and improvement of this year’s quarterback D.J. McElroy. "D.J. is without a doubt our team leader," he said. "What he lacks in certain skills, he makes up for in his leadership. He’s the kind of kid we want representing our school and I’d swear he is improving every day I see him out there."
Lewis said fellow seniors Matt Dutcher, Jarrell Paulk and Tyler Bergstiner have exhibited similar traits and looks for good things from them as well.
He said the experience of two-year starter Justin Bostick and three-year starter Willie Harris "will absolutely be an asset to us."
"Taylor Lucas (senior) has gone through a metamorphosis since his freshman year," said Lewis. "He went from being probably one of the worst linemen on the team to one of the best we have ever had. He’s worked very hard and has schools looking at him. He’s got a good combo of size and athleticism."
He said of senior Mike Mitchell: "A four-year starter and a big guy that plays with a lot of intensity."
"Sophomore Willie Deloach seems to be on a fast track to improvement," said Lewis. "Sometime in his career, I predict he will be the focal point of the team. He’s hitting the gym and has gained 25 pounds compared to last season. He’s twice as strong and he’s faster as well."
Lewis acknowledges the loss of "a lot of quality players" from last year’s heralded season. "Alkeem Collins was an extraordinary athlete," he said. "Barry Spencer was a great tight end and defensive player. Thurmond Bacon was a strong sideline backer. Tony Roberts was really good on the offensive line. Mikey Williams transferred to Hinesville; he was one of the best defensive players in the region.
"Just like anything, there are a lot of questions to be answered as we fill the voids left from the great season we had last year," Lewis said. "I don’t know if can fill those shoes, but need to start tying some laces and see what we’re capable of."
The Redskins have a home game scrimmage against Montgomery County on Aug. 24. The first regular game will be Aug. 31 against cross-county rivals Richmond Hill. In addition to Lewis and Nesmith, Keith Bazemore, Marcus Smith, and newcomers Morgan Jersey and Mario Mincey also will help coach.