High School Football Season Preview: North Augusta has lots to replace but plenty of options
As strange as it may sound, the North Augusta football team is in familiar territory despite losing several of its most prolific contributors in recent memory.
Signing day gave the Yellow Jackets plenty to be proud of, but it also left some glaring holes on the roster in spots that used to be strengths.
But just like in previous years, when North Augusta has relied on a “next man up” mantra to replace a graduated star, this year’s Yellow Jackets have plenty to replace but also plenty of options.
“Well, we lost a big senior class last year, everybody knows,” North Augusta head coach Brian Thomas. “We lost 27 seniors, but we’ve got a lot of good returning kids; a lot of kids with a lot of playing time, a lot of experience. We’re excited about having these guys back. They got a lot of minutes last year and were a big part of our success last year. We look to play hard and compete, and we’ll see how everything unfolds.”
The Yellow Jackets, who went 10-0 in the regular season and won the Region 4-AAAA title before being upset in the first round of the playoffs, will be relying on plenty of youngsters on offense following the departure of long-time leaders like quarterback Landon Washington, wide receiver (and everything else) DeJuan Bell and running back Derius Gibson.
Thomas said passing the ball probably won’t be as much of a part of the game plan without Washington, Bell and company, but the Jackets are still intending to be effective in the passing game. The focus will be on running the football and being more physical on the offensive line.
Production in the run game could come from a variety of new faces, all looking to fill the void left by Gibson. One intriguing option is Lamarcus Moore, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound running back and cornerback who transferred from Newberry to North Augusta for his senior season.
The story last year coming into the season was that Thomas knew his offense was going to score, so the defense was going to have to step up and contain the opposition. They did more than that, allowing 13.7 points per game and only giving up more than 21 points in two games.
Needless to say, Thomas isn’t planning on changing much defensively. He said the Jackets will be strong at the linebacker position, led by returning starters Caree Collier and Chris Torres. The defense might look a little different up front, but they should fill in the gaps the same way they always have.
Special teams is another area where North Augusta is waiting for a starter to emerge. Bell was an ace in the return game, and Thomas said there are a few young players who will take a shot at trying to replace his production. The Jackets are also looking for a winner in their kicking competition.
“They’re a fun group to coach,” Thomas said of his team. “They’re excited about being at practice. They’re excited about the work. They’re excited about being successful. They’re very competitive in nature.”
The schedule includes new Region 5-AAAA foe Brookland-Cayce and a handful of tough non-region games. Thomas said he wanted to schedule quality competition rather than easy wins in hopes of that paying off at the end of the season. Up first is Georgia Class AAAA power Thomson.
“We’ve got a big game with Thomson to open up the season. I think a lot of folks are excited about that,” Thomas said. ”... We were finally able to make it happen this year. We’re excited about that. They’ve got a great program down there; a lot of tradition, a lot of history. We’re excited about having them in North Augusta the first game.”