The 5-2A figures to have a familiar look to it once the conference portion of the 2013 season kicks off.
Two-time defending league champion Magnet Cove was pegged by the coaches to win its third consecutive title, followed closely by Mount Ida and Bigelow. Those three teams are favorites to reach the postseason, but the remaining five teams are essentially on par with each other,Quitman coach Frank Heidenreich said.
“After the top three, it’ll probably be a scramble,” he said. “All of us lost a lot from a year ago, and we’ll all probably be down a little. Those top teams will all be good.
“For the rest of us, there’s a lot of uncertainty there, especially here because we lost so much. But we’ve had some very good practices, and I like what I’ve seen out of them so far.”
Heidenreich just hopes those workouts serve as a precursor to what he’ll see once the season begins.
Quitman started off quickly in 2012, winning three of its first five games. One of those two losses was a 21-14 overtime setback to Bigelow, which finished second in the conference last season. However, the Bulldogs faded during the second half of the season and lost four in a row before blowing past Mountain Pine 68-0 in the season finale.
Heading in this year, Heidenreich isn’t sure what to expect out of his team. Numbers are significantly down from last season, forcing him to be extra careful with how he handles his team.
“We’ve only got about 19 to 20 guys right now,” he said. “With those types of numbers, depth becomes a big concern for us, so we have to be smart about how we deal with the guys. We can’t afford many injuries.”
The Bulldogs return only six starters from last season’s team, but Heidenreich raves about the quality in that group, starting with quarterback Walker Johnson.
“We’re counting on him to lead us,” Heidenreich said. “He’s got the ability to make a lot of things happen, and that’s what we’re going to need from him. He’s got good footwork and can make a difference, whether he’s in or out of the pocket.”
Johnson (6-2, 200) passed for 1,117 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. The junior doubles as the team’s kicker, a spot in which he gained all-conference recognition as a sophomore.
A number of players will be asked to share the load at running back. Senior Jacoby Brown (5-8, 160), sophomore Chris Milam (5-10, 180) and junior D.J. McVay (5-9, 170) will all help in the backfield, as will senior Hadley Martin (6-2, 185). Several players will pad the wide-receiver slots, led by junior Michael McRae (5-8, 160).
The Bulldogs’ offensive line will be relatively small but welcomes back the services of prized left tackle Eugene Peguese (5-11, 230). The senior was an all-conference performer last season and, Heidenreich said, is “very underrated.”
“If he was 4 inches taller and about 20 pounds heavier, he would be recruited by everybody,” Heidenreich said. “He’s got great technique, does everything we ask him to do. He’s just a heckuva player.”
Peguese, who will also be asked to contribute heavily on the defensive line, will be joined on the offensive interior with senior tackle Jacob Carr (5-10, 240) and junior center Ty Davis (6-2, 190). Senior Daniel Strain (5-7, 240) and junior Josh Harrison (6-2, 265) will provide added help.
Heidenreich admitted that his defense will be very inexperienced, but he believes Milam and Brown will both make a difference at linebacker, while possibly playing alongside Martin, who had more than 100 tackles and was named to the all-conference team as a junior.
The secondary is filled with youth, and three sophomores and a junior are anticipated to lead.
“We’re just super young in certain areas,” Heidenreich said. “That’s not to say they’re not good, because they are. It’s just that they’re inexperienced, and it’s hard to tell how that’s going to pan out in games.”