Middle Georgia’s teams to watch

Dublin Irish

2009 record: 7-4

Why they’re worth watching: The Irish were a young team in 2009. Many of those key players (quarterback Rob East, running backs Riley Holmes and Cedric O’Neal and linebacker Maurice Martin) have more experience and are ready to handle the rigors of a full season. East showed promise last season, and the quarterback was a few dropped passes away from leading Dublin to an upset over Jefferson County. He will likely progress and could resemble former Irish great Ben Cochran. The running backs all return and should be poised for a standout season.

What could trip them up: Injuries could perhaps derail the Irish. While the Irish are talented at the skill positions, they have inexperience behind the starters. Dublin is also thin on the offensive line. The Irish usually have a good first unit, but they just don’t have the numbers up front.

Stat to remember: Dublin has won fewer than 10 games twice in head coach Roger Holmes’ nine-year tenure: in 2009 and a 3-7 2003 season.

Northside Eagles

2009 record: 13-2

Why they’re worth watching: The Eagles return a talented quarterback in Briar Van Brunt, who nearly accumulated 1,000 yards both passing and rushing last season. Running back Shaquille O’Neill rushed for 1,189 yards and 15 touchdowns. Big-play threats at receiver and tight end — Cartell Brooks and Stephon Cross — are back. But as good as the offense is, the defense might be even better. Defensive linemen Troy Williams and Josh Chester anchor a dominant front four. Deilouse Jackson is a three-year starter and linebacker, and junior Brock Livatt is moving into his second season as a starter alongside Jackson.

What could trip them up: Northside should be an outstanding team in head coach Kevin Kinsler’s first season. The Eagles have few weaknesses, so it’s hard to find much to trip them up. The secondary is the least experienced unit on the defense. Houston County transfer Steven Nelson will help, while junior Taz Thomas had a great offseason and should help. The offensive line is also short of experience.

Stat to remember: The Eagles have played in state championship games in four of the past five seasons.

Peach County Trojans

2009 record: 15-0

Why they’re worth watching: The Trojans are the defending Class AAA champions for starters. Highlight-making running back Travis Richmond is back. The senior broke off a 70-yard touchdown on a reverse on the first play from scrimmage against Northside in a preseason game. The defense is the true highlight. All-state safety Jontavious Davis returns after intercepting 10 passes last season, and Chris Holt and Darion Howard both started last season in the secondary. The linebacking corps includes Octavius Hall and Ryan Bowman. Renard and Randolph Williams highlight a talented defensive front.

What could trip them up: The Trojans have to replace a talented kicker in Rustin Evatt, who consistently provided a weapon as a placekicker and as a punter. The Trojans lost two key players on defense — Luke Crowell and Kelcey Lewis — but the should be able to absolve the loss with the talent returning. The Trojans must break in a new quarterback following the graduation of Patrick Taylor. Brett Montgomery is taking over, giving the Trojans a different look with a dropback passer.

Stat to remember: Although Peach County has won three state championships, the Trojans had their first undefeated season in 2009.

Tattnall Square Trojans

2009 record: 10-3

Why they’re worth watching: Head coach Barney Hester prepares his team as well as any coach in Middle Georgia. He makes in-game adjustments that help him negate the opposition’s strengths. The Trojans return their top two rushers with Andrew Layson and John Rader. Hunter Wilkinson, Kris Brooks, Heath Jarriell and Tyler Ward lead a strong defense that allowed less than 20 points a game in nine games heading into a GISA Class AAA semifinals loss to George Walton. The offensive line might be the overall strength of the team. With a run-based offense, experience on the offensive line is paramount. Patrick Loughran, Jeremy Nable, Ben Avery and Hunter Snead all started last season up front. The fifth starter this season is Dylan Leach, a sophomore transfer from Peach County.

What could trip them up: Rader is moving to quarterback, although there might not be much of a learning curve in the Trojans’ offense. The Trojans’ offense isn’t complex, but it’s extremely effective. Taking Rader away from running back could create a hole there. Layson worked at fullback last season, and he should be joined by Andrew Parker in the backfield. The Trojans are likely solid enough, particularly on defense, to overcome any inexperience.

Stat to remember: Hester is approaching his 300th career win, and the Trojans are seeking their 11th state championship.

Washington County Golden Hawks

2009 record: 10-2

Why they’re worth watching: The Golden Hawks had to travel to eventual champion Peach County in the second round of the playoffs last season, otherwise they may have advancing much deeper in the playoffs. The offensive line is the best and biggest in Middle Georgia, with all five starters weighing more than 255 pounds. Chartavious Danzy and Damian Johnson highlight the unit. WACO has a sixth offensive lineman in Jramtries Kirksay, who lines up at tight end but almost always blocks. Montravious Gladden returns after rushing for 1,700 yards behind that huge offensive line last season. Wesley Evans had a huge season last year and leads a defense that returns five starters.

What could trip them up: The Golden Hawks will need to jell on defense quickly with six starters gone from last year. Evans and Kirksay will lead up front, and Justavis Duhart leads an undersized group of linebacker. Sophomore William Walker will start at quarterback following the graduation of three-year starter Markiest Warthen. Warthen was a sound decision maker who was mostly a game manager under center. Walker could follow the same path, or he could become a playmaker. The Golden Hawks have struggled in the kicking game last year, and they need some consistency there.

Stat to remember: After an 11-win season in his first year as head coach, Joel Ingram finished with four wins and out of the playoffs in 2007. He has increased his win total each year since and appeared to be building towards this season with a veteran team.

Westside Seminoles

2009 record: 11-2

Why they’re worth watching: Head coach Sheddrick Risper and his mostly young group of assistant coaches transfer their excitement level onto their players in practice. You can tell that the team develops a swagger from their coaches. Quarterback Daniel Duhart showed off plenty of tools last season, and he looks like he has developed even more as a passer. He is surrounded by good receivers and a big and strong offensive line. The defense is fast and talented. The Seminoles were good enough up front that they moved their best lineman Owen Williams to middle linebacker to fill the hole left by the graduation of Carlos Cave.

What could trip them up: The secondary is young, and it will be without leader DeAnthony Green and playmakers Richard Nash and Marvin James. Leo Williams and Cave will also be tough to replace at linebacker. The biggest hole was left by the graduation of running back Robert Brown, who is likely to start for Georgia Southern this season. Brown nearly rushed for 2,000 yards as a senior, and he might have been the most physically gifted running back to ever play at Westside. Terrell Johnson, who is a completely different kind of back, will lead the group trying to replace Brown. The passing game should be very good, so it will be up to the running backs to balance the Westside offense.

Stat to remember: The Seminoles have won 23 games over the past two seasons, the best stretch of winning football in the history of the program.

Wilcox County Patriots

2009 record: 13-2

Why they’re worth watching: The Patriots have the most electric player in Middle Georgia in quarterback Nick Marshall. The Georgia commitment showed his entire arsenal in last year’s state championship game win over Savannah Christian. He could pass for 3,000 yards this season. Marshall’s receiving corps is largely intact. Tay Porter is back after leading the team statistically last season, and Marshall has several 6-foot-2 or taller targets returning.

What could trip them up: The rushing attack wasn’t great last season, but it didn’t really need to be. That could be the same this season. The biggest hurdle for the Patriots shouldn’t be on their team. It will be who they have to beat. Class A is loaded this season. Charlton County moved down to Class A and, along with perennial contender Clinch County, helped form a region with Wilcox County. Lincoln County, Eagle’s Landing Christian and Lincoln County should all be very good this season.

Stat to remember: Marshall has passed for over 5,000 yards and 60 touchdowns in two years as a starting quarterback.

Wilkinson County Warriors

2009 record: 8-3

Why they’re worth watching: The Warriors have enough talent on both sides of the ball to equal their 2008 team that advanced to the state semifinals. They have as much speed as any team in the area. Immanual Shinholster enters his third season at running back, and the 5-foot-5 speedster is a lethal weapon. Tight end/defensive lineman Alvin Dupree, who already has multiple college offers, makes plays on both sides of the ball for the Warriors. Team leader and linebacker Patrick Reynolds has been a key player for three years.

What could trip them up: A tough early season schedule that includes Johnson County, Southwest, Whitefield Academy and former Baldwin head coach Jesse Hicks’ Dougherty team could either add to or hurt the Warriors’ confidence. The Warriors will have to work in their third quarterback in three years.

Stat to remember: The Warriors’ 18 wins the past two seasons is the most in any two-year span at the school since the 1999-2000 seasons.