Defending south 3A champs a big target for opponents
Hazlehurst Indian head football coach Randal Montgomery makes no bones about how he feels when he looks back at the end of the 2011 season. The Indians tore through the regular season and playoffs, making an appearance in the 3A title game at the Vet in December, where Charleston dominated and won the crown.
“I and my team have put it behind us. Honestly, that loss hasn’t come up very much in the off season,” Montgomery said.
Leading a team to the title game in your first season as head coach puts lofty expectations on your following years. Perhaps those expectations in 2012 are warranted. The Indians return 19 total starters and 15 seniors from that south 3A championship squad. Standouts from 2011 include senior running back Demetrius Cain, who rushed for 1,744 yards and 22 TD’s last season. He also scored one receiving TD. Also, senior QB Kenneth Coleman accounted for nearly 1,500 yards and 12 TD’s.
“The best part about having all these guys back is that they believe in themselves. They are leaders, either verbally or by their actions, and they will help keep our program going strong,” Montgomery said. He added that near perfect attendance at summer strength and conditioning workouts is a testament to the leadership of the seniors. “They’ve set an example that all the younger guys can look up to,” Montgomery said.
Along with Cain and Coleman, other returning starters include offensive linemen Terry Baker and Toriaun Samuels, wide receivers Dedric Reese and John Bridges and running back Aaron Larry.
Baker and Samuels are big, the former at 6’, 300 lbs. and the latter, 6’3”, 315.
Other offensive starters for Montgomery are WR D’Alex Rockingham and senior linemen Darius Washington, Pierre Cooley and Ivan Mazie.
The defense will be as stout and stingy as the ‘11 one that pitched two shutouts. Jonkil Skipper joins Baker at tackle. Ends are Jevarious Tanner and Washington. Linebackers will be Cain and Freddie Nelson. Xavian Thedford gets the nod at strong safety. Larry is at weak safety. Dedric Reese roams at free safety. Jarvis Warner and Dycelious Reese are on the outside at cornerback.
Dycelious and Rockingham are the kick returners. Thedford will serve as punter. Dycelious will also handle kickoffs and extra points.
The season can be split into two halves. The Indians out-of-conference schedule is as brutal as they come. They open with Lawrence County this Friday, the travel to Heidelberg–whom the Indians defeated twice last season–on August 24.
The Panthers of Brookhaven will invade McDaniel Field on August 31. Expect an overflow crowd there to see Hazlehurst avenge last year’s 7-6 loss at Brookhaven. “This game will be a good measuring stick of what kind of team we have,” Montgomery added.
Then the long road trip begins. Hazlehurst travels to Wingfield, South Pike (4A playoffs in ‘11), and East Marion (2A runners-up in ‘11) to wind up the non-conference slate. Then, the Indians start the Div. 7-3A campaign at Prentiss on September 28.
Franklin County comes to Hazlehurst for the Indians’ on October 5. Wilkinson County is at Hazlehurst on October 12. The Indians will travel to Jefferson County on October 19, then wrap up the regular season with the annual rival game at Crystal Springs.
“We have a good opportunity to make a bold statement with this schedule,” Montgomery said. His defending 7-3A champs are the favorites again this season, he believes, but the Indians are a big target. “Everyone will be giving us their best shot because we are the defending champs. Everyone has their date with us circled on their schedule,” Montgomery explained.
Joining Montgomery on the coaching staff are several veterans. Damian Gray is back as defensive coordinator/linebackers coach. Ted Thompson will again coach both offensive and defensive lines. Jerome Cleveland handles running backs and defensive backs. Jerrod Malloy has wide receivers and defensive backs. Chris Fair will assist with running backs and linebackers. The lone newcomer is Trey Lindsey, who coaches baseball, but will assist with both lines. “I’m very pleased with our staff. These guys work hard every day to help our team improve,” Montgomery added.
Montgomery, too, works pretty hard, driving from Madison where he lives with his wife Stephanie and 4-year-old Noah. Some of his days run 15 hours during football season. But, opportunities afford themselves at the loneliest times. “Driving home many nights, I have a lot of time to think about football–maybe some new plays that I draw in my head, or maybe switching players around into new positions and such. (Being a football coach) is taxing, but it’s what I enjoy,” Montgomery added.