Local football fans will have a chance to catch both area teams in action this week to kick off the season if they choose.
Bryan County gets its season underway Thursday with a 7 p.m. game against Beach High School at Pooler Stadium, while Richmond Hill plays at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Southeast Bulloch.
The Redskins are coming off of a 3-6 season (2-5 in Region 2-AA) and an off-season filled with uncertainty.
Coach Allen Cartwright resigned in March after two years, then two other coaches — former Bryan County Coach Mark Wilson and Liberty County Defensive Coordinator Tony Glazer — each accepted the job briefly before stepping aside. Long-time assistant Mario Mincey, the girls’ basketball coach in Pembroke for more than a decade, was then named interim coach in May.
Mincey said the changes have not been as disruptive as they might appear to outsiders, and should not have any impact on the season.
“I’ve known these guys since they were little and started coming to our basketball camp,” he said. “I’ve also coached their older brothers or sisters in football and basketball, so they know what to expect.”
Mincey said a core group of about three dozen players attended daily, voluntary workouts over the summer.
“If someone isn’t there, guys are on the phone calling, I don’t have to get after anybody,” he said in June. “And that’s just what we want. We want them to be accountable to themselves and to each other.”
Bryan County returns all-region performers in Yadevern Eason at wide receiver and Terron Dixon at defensive back, along with three-year starters Gage Hagan at quarterback and Christian Thomas at kicker.
The Redskins scored twice during their controlled scrimmage against Savannah Country Day two weeks ago, once on a 20-yard run by Eason and once on a 25-yard pass from Hagan to Traivaun Sanders. Afterward Mincey said he was also pleased with the play of Antonio Johnson at safety.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, are expecting big things from themselves, given their talent level and experience.
Richmond Hill made the state playoffs in 2016 for the first time under Coach Matt LeZotte’s tenure, finishing the season at 6-4 (1-3 in Region 2-AAAAAA) after starting the season 6-0.
The Wildcats are led by a trio of NCAA Division I commits, including wide receivers Sam James (West Virginia) and Justin Jeffery (Cincinnati), and kicker Joseph Petrino (Maryland). Also returning is quarter back Kasey Green and running back Maurice Smith, who along with James and Petrino were first-team all-region picks a year ago.
Linebacker Nico DeCosta, another first-team pick in 2016, anchors a defense that had five honorable mention picks (Andrew Purcell, DeAndre Joyce, Will Huffstutler, Ronald Fuselier, D.J. Lewis), all of whom are now juniors and seniors.
Honorable mention picks on offense who return include Jeffery, Troy Watley, Lochlan Holt, Aaron Bedgood and Matt Daniel.
“This is a young team," LeZotte said after last season. "We have about 90 percent of our players coming back next year. They've had a taste of winning and will want more.”
The Wildcats scored 17 second-half points en route to a 23-0 win against Islands High School in a scrimmage earlier this month. That included a 10-yard pass from Green to Bedgood and a 40-yard field goal by Petrino. Richmond Hill also got a 60-yard TD pass from Sheldon Lewis to Daniel and a 63-yard scoring run from Jalen Rouse.
“We’ve got a lot of great teaching film,” LeZotte said afterward. “We’ve got three weeks to study that film, break it down and learn from it.”
Both teams’ complete schedules are below.
8/25 at Southeast Bulloch
9/1 Brantley County
9/8 Pierce County
9/15 at Grovetown
9/22 Lakeside Evans
9/29 at South Effingham
10/13 at Bradwell Institute*
10/20 at Glynn Academy* (at Glynn County Stadium)
11/03 Effingham County*
Region 2-AAAAAA games indicated by *
8/24 at Beach (at Savannah Memorial Stadium)
9/1 at Windsor Forest
9/8 at McIntosh County Academy
9/15 Toombs County*
9/29 at Benedictine* (at Savannah State University)
10/20 at Jeff Davis*
10/27 Bacon County*
11/03 at Vidalia*
Region 2-AA games indicated by *