WARNER ROBINS -- There will be a new quarterback.
The superb place-kicker/punter is gone, and there are some vacancies up front and throughout the defense.
With those gaps, the word “rebuilding” -- or something else with the “re-“ prefix -- wouldn’t be too far off for this season.
Warner Robins head coach Bryan Way faces that scenario but doesn’t think the R word fits.
“I’m optimistic about this bunch,” said Way, 79-39-1 entering his 11th season at his alma mater. “They want to be good; they want to work hard. If they keep that attitude, I think we can end up having a good football team.”
The Demons went 11-2 last season, including 6-1 in GHSA Region 2-AAAAA. They opened with six straight wins, then responded to a loss to Houston County with five in a row, including a 28-18 win over Northside.
Way doesn’t think it would take a miracle to match that record but admits the Demons have to progress and quickly. The margin of error is a little smaller.
“Yeah, I think a little bit to start with,” Way said. “But I think potentially we have a lot more big-playmaker potential.”
The list of key players gone from is notable, including quarterback Caden Johnston and running back Danny Hite Jr.
Still, the Demons have more talent at the skill spots than inside.
Jacquan Burns rushed for 1,200 yards last year, with Terry Harris and Reggie Gordon adding 450 and 600. Danny Hite III and Marquez Callaway were good for 11 receiving touchdowns and more than 1,000 receiving yards.
Center Colby Price is in the middle of an offensive line that is mostly juniors and seniors, except for 6-foot-6, 330-pound sophomore Tramontez Raybon at one tackle. Experienced junior Chandler Jones is at the other tackle.
Quarterback is a bit less settled. Junior Connor Shaw will battle transfers Ivan Corbin (Houston County) and Robbie Leever (Veterans). All three are similar in athleticism, with Shaw’s edge coming with experience in the Demons’ system.
“The main thing is going to be who leads the team the best and runs the offense the best,” Way said. “They’re all bringing something; they all have above-average ability.
“We’re not going to ask the quarterback to go out there and throw it 30 times a game and try to win it. We want him to manage the game.”
Management and leadership are huge issues at the position, considering how good Johnston was at both in his two years of starting.
“He was like a coach on the field,” Way said. “He knew what everybody was supposed to do.”
Warner Robins will diversify on defense, thanks mostly to losing most of its linebackers, and will show more 4-3 than in the past. The front seven isn’t a veteran group.
“They just hadn’t been the starters on defense,” Way said. “There’s going to be some growing pains and experience issues.”
That won’t be true with all-stater Stephone Raybon back at one end and Trey Ethridge at the other.
And Way won’t let the question marks make for complications.
“Every team is different; every team has its own personality,” he said. “We’ve got enough good football players that if we do a good enough job coaching them and they do a good job of receiving the coaching, we can have a good football team.”
WARNER ROBINS IN 2014
Head coach: Bryan Way (79-39-1 in 10 seasons overall and at Warner Robins).
2013 record: 11-2.
2014 region: GHSA 2-AAAAA.
Returning starters: 5 on offense; 5 on defense.
Players to watch: Stephone Raybon (6-2, 235, Sr., DE); Danny Hite III (WR/DB); Jacquan Burns (5-10, 190, Sr., RB); Reggie Gordon (5-7, 170, Sr., RB/DB); Kaman Cooper (6-2, 190, Sr., DB); Marquez Callaway (6-3, 175, Jr., WR/DB).
Aug. 29 Peach County
Sept. 5 Greenbrier
Sept. 12 at Cross Creek
Sept. 19 vs. Houston County
Sept. 26 at Richmond Academy
Oct. 3 Evans
Oct. 17 vs. Northside
Oct. 24 Lakeside-Evans
Oct. 31 at Grovetown
Nov. 7 at Jones County