Entering the third year of Coach Sid Maxwell’s tenure, Dawson County High School football will begin the season with an inexperienced group at the varsity level when they open play on the road against Forsyth Central on Aug. 25.
“Even though they don’t have a lot of experience varsity-wise, they understand where they need to go,” Maxwell said about this year’s team. “They just need more reps playing against competition to get a true measurement of where we are.”
The Tigers finished last season at 7-3 overall and 5-1 in Region 7-AAA as region runners up. The team lost in the first round of state playoffs to the Lovett Lions.
Senior quarterback--and by all accounts--natural leader of the Tiger football program, Coey Watson is excited about the chemistry despite the inexperience.
“This is pretty much a brand new team, with a lot of new faces,” Watson said. “Ask anyone, there’s no cliques. We’re all the same and everyone knows their role. Our chemistry’s great because we play for each other not just a portion of each other.”
Maxwell is counting on leadership to be a big part of this year’s efforts on the field and Watson will be one of the player-leaders the team is looking to.
“You have got young men who are born, natural leaders,” Maxwell said. “He just does it by being natural. He’s so team-centered...His focus is moving the chains, keeping the ball going, doing what it takes, whatever it takes.”
Watson, who was region player of the year as sophomore, said he is ready for his senior season. Watson averages nearly 169 yards passing a game and has racked up over 1,100 yards rushing in two seasons under center.
“This year, I really feel like the sole leader of the team because of my experience and maturity level. It’s great to finally have seniority,” he said.
Offensive Coordinator Andy LeBlanc agrees that Watson is the driving force of the offense.
“Coey is an amazing young man,” LeBlanc said. “His passion for the game shows on a daily basis. Coey has been the heartbeat of this offense and will continue to be this season.”
Maxwell has always believed in having character education and leadership as central tenets of his program, but the emphasis and purpose will be greater this season.
“We have five seniors, five juniors and two sophomores,” Maxwell said. “We are putting those guys in charge, in ownership of the team.”
The 12 leaders, Watson, Dawson Dominy, Nate Umberger, Zach Conowal, Taylor Swofford, Sevaughn Clark, Ryan Glass, Logan Barnes, Zac Baloga, Caleb Bell, TJ Wilson and Brody Howell--will work with Coach Tony Kijanco who moved to DCHS from Greater Atlanta Christian.
Offensive lineman Dominy believes that despite the youth, Maxwell’s system has prepared this team.
“Overall we are younger and not as experienced as last year’s team, but Coach Maxwell’s system will have us prepared and ready to compete,” he said.
Clark said that this team has come together as a family over the spring and his expectations, like Dominy’s, are high for this season.
“I’m extremely excited for the season to start because we have been working all summer, not only on the field, but in the weight room,” Clark said. “We will definitely shock a lot of people and I’m looking forward to playing with my brothers and I’m looking forward to a great season.”
Clark, who played quarterback at White County, is what LeBlanc calls a weapon.
“Vaughn is a weapon for us. We try and move our weapons around to take advantage of their abilities,” LeBlanc said.
Replacing last year’s senior targets like Austin Young, Nick Murphy and Kolton Brumbelow may seem a tall task, but LeBlanc said Watson will spread the ball around from Glass to Ethan Cameron, Hunter Barron and Chance Armstrong.
On the ground, the Tigers will look to Clark, Shawn Thomas and Robbie Rarick.
Regardless, fans can always expect a fast moving game. That will not change according to Maxwell and LeBlanc.
“Our tempo and style of attack is a very important part of what we do and who we are,” LeBlanc said. “We will always push to play fast and attack the defense, that’s one of our calling cards.”
On the other side of the ball, Defensive Coordinator Brent Cox said there is energy and excitement for the season.
While everyone agrees that replacing the leadership of Luke Martin is almost impossible, there are players looking to do their part.
Cox cited three-year starter Swofford who averaged 4.5 tackles a game as a junior.
The defense will also look to Barnes and Baloga, both returning from the secondary.
“Our chemistry this year is great, especially between our defensive backs,” Barnes said. “We push each other every day at practice and really gel good together. We lost a lot of seniors last season but we had some players really step up and fill those spots. I’m very excited for this season and I cannot wait to see what’s in store for us.”
“It is a young defensive team with a desire to learn,” Cox said. “[I’m] excited about the spirit of this defense.”
Maxwell knows what it takes to make it work, even with young players, and welcomes the challenge.
“Like anything else, whether you have started for three years or this is your first year, you are going to make mistakes,” he said. “You just need to learn from them and the more we can expedite our learning curve, the success will follow.
“When you have more experience, the repetition, the readiness and the familiarity of being there before--that is what we’ve lost. That’s the part of coaching that makes it more challenging.”
The Tigers will scrimmage North Oconee at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at home. Regular season play will open at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 25 at Forsyth Central.