Until the end of September 2020, Dawson County Head Football Coach Sid Maxwell didn’t believe that his Tigers were going to be able to play a full season.
“With COVID-19, it was definitely a difficult year,” Maxwell said. “Nobody has ever experienced and nobody wants to again. Guys in school, out of school, quarantined, get covid….each week, they could be gone anytime. I’m such a routine guy. I don’t change a lot. Last year was a year where it was hard to hold expectations.”
The Tigers went 6-6, finishing third in Region 7-3A and losing in the second round of the GHSA 3A state tournament after getting no time to practice last year. But now the Tigers have had the entire spring and will have the entire summer to prepare for the 2021 season.
“We had a lot of missing parts throughout the season because we weren’t as sound as we usually were,” Maxwell said. “We had so many variables with people in and out of practice. Half our team was online. Hard to build team chemistry last year. It was like a job rather than bonding. I don't think we accomplished that on a lot of things we did.”
Maxwell said that the spring went great for the Tigers and that everybody has been working hard. The Tigers will feature an almost completely different group of players than last year after losing seven starting seniors on offense and at least five seniors in the starting rotation for defense.
“We’ve got a young group but they’re enthusiastic, hard-working and a pleasure to coach,” Maxwell said. “They go hard and it’s hard to not go in the right direction when you’re giving that much effort.”
Zach Holtzclaw is heading into the 2021 season ready for his third season as the Tigers starting quarterback. Maxwell said that he was impressed with Holtzclaw’s passing game in the spring scrimmage against Pickens and that he has worked hard on becoming a better runner from the pocket this offseason.
Holtzclaw loses all three starting receivers (Tyler Lane, Dakohta Sonnichsen and Jaden Gibson), his starting tight end (Max Moon) and his starting running back (Isaiah Grindle) from an offense that averaged 34.75 points per game last year.
Grindle’s little brother, Jackson, alongside Nic Baloga will get touches at running back and both will also play defense for the Tigers. Conley Dyer, who shined in the Tigers’ first-round victory against Adairsville last season, will have an opportunity to earn more touches this season.
“We’re always trying to develop the run. If you’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs, you have to run the ball,” Maxwell said. “If you run the football, you’re taking time off the clock. Gives a more physical approach to the game.”
Maxwell is testing quite a few guys out at receiver this offseason. Bailey Dameron is a guy the coaching staff is looking for big things out of. Doug Pagel, Dom LeBlanc and Elijah Smith all had good springs according to Maxwell at the receiver position.
At tight end, defensive standout Kade Moledor will split playing time with AJ Moore and Will Whalen, barring any injury.
“We don’t have the big standouts but we have guys who are passionate and can buy-in,” Maxwell said.
Overall on defense, the Tigers allowed 28.8 points per game, but had flashes of dominance, like the shutout against Gilmer County. Maxwell said the team has done a good job so far this spring, adding that he thinks his defensive secondary intercepted three passes against Pickens, which is already higher than the defense intercepted all last season.
“We need to play behind the ball,” Maxwell said. “We didn’t get that last year. We had to spend a whole lot trying to coach people to give us effort. That’s more to contribute to the chemistry of being together. We may need to make a few adaptations to the team you play, but we tweak some things in hopefully to put our guys in some big spots.”
Maxwell lost almost all of his vocal leaders and captains last year with guys like Caleb Bonesteel, Kinkade Weaver and Dakohta Sonnichsen.
“We always tell guys I’m looking to crown somebody,” Maxwell said. The guy I’m looking for is one that if things are going well, he won’t raise his head and let the crown fall or droop their heads to make the crown fall forward if things are going poorly. Give yourself self-worth by how you present yourself.”
Overall, Maxwell and his coaching staff are ready for the summer program to build their team up and compete once again for a region championship and a spot in the state tournament.
“It’s too early to tell, but I do think we have some guys that once they get more comfortable, they’ll be able to play faster and hopefully play without fear,” Maxwell said.