Richmond Hill and Bryan County open their football seasons on Friday with a big question mark lingering over both programs.
The Wildcats kick it off at 7:30 p.m. at home against Effingham County and the question for them regards whether or not they can be competitive in Class 7A.
Bryan County goes on the road to play at Lincoln County, ranked No. 8 in Class A Division I, and the question surrounding the Redskins is if this, the third season in Coach Cherard Freeman’s rebuilding program, is the year they will be competitive.
Both coaches answer those questions in the affirmative.
“Everything we have done over the past four or five years have been geared towards this jump,” LeZotte said of Richmond Hill’s moving up to 7A in the GHSA’s latest reclassification. “Scheduling of opponents, travel to opponents, outside the box preparation and training, and most importantly gearing up our TD Club for the expenses associated with all of these things.”
Richmond Hill is now in Region 1-7A with Lowndes County, Colquitt County, Camden County and Valdosta which also moved up from Class 6A.
Bryan County is also in a new classification as Class A schools were broken into divisions based on enrollment. The Redskins will be competing in Region 3-A Division II with Metter, Savannah High, Claxton and Screven County. Metter, a semi-finalist in Class A the last two years, is ranked No. 5.
“I think it will help us,” Freeman said. “It puts us with schools our size. It’s a smaller region with smaller schools.
“We have a lot of kids that go both ways and also play special teams. Those teams go through the same thing we do. All we want is a level playing field and I think we’ve got it now.”
Richmond Hill will be one of the youngest teams in Class 7A as approximately 80 percent of its roster is made up of underclassmen and half of that group is sophomores.
The schedule will present a problem for LeZotte’s eighth Wildcats team. Effingham is the only holdover from last year’s schedule and the Rebels, along with the nine other teams, made the playoffs last year. Colquitt County starts out at No. 3 and Lowndes No. 8 in pre-season ratings.
Quarterback Ty Goldrick, wide receiver Ravon Grant and running back Zion Gillard are a trio of seniors who, along with a big offensive line headed by sophomore Thomas Zimbalatti, must have big seasons the Wildcats to be successful.
Goldrick passed for 1,537 yards—793 to Grant who caught 46 balls—and Gillard ran for 574 as the Wildcats made the playoffs for a sixth straight season.
Defensive end Dontae Goodner will be the only senior starter on that side of the ball and he will be joined by six sophomores and four juniors. The best of those sophomores is quarterback Caleb Easterling who started every game last year in earning all-region honors.
Freeman has invested heavily in youth and this is the year he is counting on it paying off. Bryan County was 0-7 his first year and was 3-7 last year and missed making the playoffs by one game.
Juniors Tanner Ennis, Sean Kelly Hill and Austin Clemens join seniors Konnor Leggett, Tarrell Singleton and Carter Tapley as the Redskins’ leaders but the key player will be sophomore quarterback Trevor Lanier who moved into the starting role late last season.
“Our defense should be good,” Freeman said. “Tarrell, Tanner, Austin, Konnor are all good players. John Good is a good lineman and Hill does a good job at linebacker.
“We’ve got guys who can play and they’re hungry. These guys have been playing together the last two years.”