Tez Raybon could only laugh, something he does easily and often, especially when offensive line teammate Christian Armstrong is nearby.
Raybon missed most of last season with a fairly serious wrist injury, and Warner Robins certainly could have used another quality offensive lineman of size. So it was something of a lost season for Raybon, which was followed by the resignation of longtime head coach Bryan Way and the departure of several assistants.
Also gone was a conservative offense and a mindset.
Raybon is still adjusting to the new regime of rookie head coach Mike Chastain and the addition of assistants who apparently approach things a little differently than what Raybon is used to.
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“They told us when they came here they were going to push us off some cliffs we’ve never been pushed off,” Raybon said. “And during the summer, they pushed us off some cliffs in the weight room and out here.”
Chastain came from the offensive coordinator position at Houston County and had wins over Warner Robins of 34-14, 62-30 and 27-23 the past three years. The Bears seemingly passed the Demons in talent and used an aggressive, pass-oriented offense along the way.
Chastain doesn’t have an All-America quarterback like he had with Jake Fromm at Houston County, but Armstrong and Raybon bolster an impressive offensive line to work with, and there are some quality skill players.
One Chastain priority has been the elimination of anything having to do with blue, as in Northside, as in his alma mater. A Northside graduate coaching Warner Robins is no doubt something scores of longtime Demons fans never thought they would live to see.
And Chastain is almost obsessed to make sure those Demons fans are happy to have lived to see it. He claims to no longer own a stitch of blue clothing.
“Absolutely not,” he said. “None. I don’t have a blue shirt in my closet. That’s the honest truth. Absolutely. We’re rocking and rolling here.”
But that’s not the only change. Raybon and Armstrong talk of a higher energy and a different approach.
“It’s a more higher speed, more upbeat, more passionate,” Armstrong said. “Last year, we were just, ‘Gotta get this win, gotta do what we gotta do.’ ... Now, we’re actually (coming) together as a team this year. That’s one thing I like about this new coaching staff and what they’ve done with us.”
Raybon said the tempo is faster but not at the cost of teaching.
“They’ll pull you to the side more,” he said. “They’ll explain it to you.”
All that is important, as is how the players adjust to a new offense as well as the general transition.
Dalton Hedden was a little-used offensive lineman at Northside, and the transfer is the leading candidate at the open quarterback spot, meaning the Demons are starting from scratch in a big way. On the other hand, Hedden has no bad quarterback habits from another system.
The Demons have some talent back, in running back Javian Bradford-Jackson, who was superb in taking over early last season for injured senior Terry Harris. Michael Bradley is among the area’s top defensive backs, and he’ll get snaps on offense.
Armstrong and Raybon are bookends of an offensive line that has tremendous size and major potential while learning some new pass-block techniques. There are hiccups but perhaps fewer than expected.
“We’re about where I thought, when you’re starting over at quarterback and that kind of deal,” Chastain said.
There are experience gaps throughout the defense, as well as special teams, although Chastain thinks some adjustments will help fill in some gaps a bit.
The schedule is markedly different with Warner Robins staying in Class 5A while Houston County and Northside move up a notch. The Demons have only four Region 1-5A games and open the season with Northside.
The slate includes three teams from the old Class 5A, two from Class 4A and one from Class 3A that combined for a nifty 56-15 record a year ago.
“You want this pressure,” Chastain said. “We got a tough schedule. We’ve got to own it. We’ve got to go to work.
“But the pressure? Yeah, definitely. At a program like this, historically rich Warner Robins High School, that’s what you expect. And you gotta own it.”
Head coach: Mike Chastain (first season as a head coach).
2015 record: 7-4.
2016 region: GHSA 1-5A.
Players to watch: Elijah Thompson (6-3, 295, Sr., DL); Jerquan Parrish (5-8, 190, Sr., LB); Christian Anderson (5-10, 185, Soph., LB); Michael Bradley (5-8, 180, Sr., WR/DB); Ponce Hollowell (5-11, 160, Sr., WR); D’Angelo Whitehead (5-8, 155, Jr., WR); Christian Armstrong (6-6, 291, Jr., OL); MyChal Jackson (6-1, 305, Sr., OL); Tramontez Raybon (6-7, 360, Sr., OL); Javian Bradford-Jackson (5-10, 180, Sr., RB).
Aug. 19 vs. Northside
Aug. 26 at Locust Grove
Sept. 2 Peach County
Sept. 15 Houston County
Sept. 23 West Laurens
Sept. 30 at Coffee
Oct. 7 Thomas County Central
Oct. 14 at Harris County
Oct. 27 Veterans
Nov. 4 at Bainbridge