GRAY -- Life is different in Jones County.
The Greyhounds have gone from middle of the road to contenders, afterthoughts to targets, a group to worry about.
Now, can they handle being what they’ve never been?
“We can’t sneak up on nobody,” said quarterback Bradley Hunnicutt, who did just that a year ago en route to second-team All-Middle Georgia honors. “Everybody’s going to prepare for us and bring their best. They’re going to watch some things on film and throw something else at us. We’ve got to be ready.”
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Jones County in 2014 finally lived up to the support it had gotten for years, and now the fan base is a little crazy, and that is to be expected after a win over then-No. 1 Northside, a win over Warner Robins to make the playoffs and coming close to a trip to the GHSA Class AAAAA semifinals.
“I’ve said this numerous times to numerous people,” second-year head coach Justin Rogers said. “This community is a blue-collar, work hard, get-what-you-earn community. And that’s what this team did. They got what they earned, because they worked hard. They bought in to what we were selling and worked hard.”
That propelled Jones County to the quarterfinals, where a 44-41 loss at Mays left a bruise.
“That was the worst feeling ever,” Hunnicutt said.
But it gave Jones County a motto for 2015: four seconds. That’s how much time was left when Mays turned in the game-winning play.
“That gives us something to work for,” Hunnicutt said. “Four seconds. If we’re having a bad day, that’s all we say.”
Jones County has enough returnees from the 10-3 team to make sure the younger players and newcomers stay in line. The major rebuilding unit is the one most important to Hunnicutt: the offensive line.
“We’ve got seven to make five,” Rogers said. “We’re just kind of jockeying where they’re at. We went to a bunch of shoulder pad camps this summer to simulate the experience, basically for that group.”
The linemen lack the playing experience of last year’s group but make up for it elsewhere.
“This group is further along scheme-wise, because they’ve been with me the whole year,” Rogers said. “But talent-wise, they’re not. They know what to do, it’s just a matter of getting better at doing it. ... They’re pretty sharp.”
Chandler Ramage, a third-team All-Middle Georgia pick, gained 1,201 yards last year and is back at running back, ready to share part of the early season load with sophomore Drake Bolus. The split responsibilities keep backs fresh, which will be more important as the Greyhounds push on the offense’s gas pedal a little more.
“We want to run a play every 10 seconds,” said Hunnicutt, hoping to cut about seven seconds off of last year’s time. “We’ve got a lot of tempo calls this year.”
The Greyhounds were respectable on defense a year ago, holding seven teams to 21 points or fewer. But there were some stumbles, giving up 45 points to Houston County and 35 to Lakeside-Evans, and then there was the Mays game.
“On defense, we are stacked,” said wideout Nick Singleton, a first-team All-Middle Georgia selection last year. “We have most of our skill players coming back. We’re stacked on defense.”
Defensive tackle Torrez Finney, all 5-foot-8 of him, was a terror in the region. Defensive end again will be filled by committee.
Tyric and Terell Solomon lead an improved secondary and Logan Gordon the linebackers.
Sophomore Josh Skinner gives the Greyhounds a solid weapon again in the kicking game.
Folks in Gray can’t wait to visit Northside and are ready for revenge against Houston County. The program under Rogers is still growing, trying to keep pace with new-found confidence.
“We had a little fun last year,” Hunnicutt said. “We had a real good offseason. We went to a lot of camps. We’re putting in the work. Everybody knows what they’re doing.”
ABOUT THE JONES COUNTY GREYHOUNDS
Head coach: Justin Rogers (10-3 in one season overall and at Jones County).
Assistant coaches: Jimmy Dudley (offensive coordinator); Chad Nighburt (defensive coordinator; Jay Jones (running backs/co-special teams coordinator); Travis Reese (defensive line/co-special teams coordinator); Chris Martin (defensive line); T’Sharvan Bell (defensive backs); Charles David (defensive backs); Tony Graziano (linebackers); Kirbie Bodiford (offensive line); Chance Scott (wide receivers); Dennis Woolfolk (wide receivers/head coach-freshmen).
Offensive scheme: Spread.
Defensive scheme: 4-3.
2014 record: 10-3.
Region: GHSA 2-AAAAA.
Returning starters: Five on offense; six on defense.
Players to watch: Bradley Hunnicutt (Jr., QB); Chandler Ramage (Sr., RB); Nick Singleton (Jr., WR); Davian Daniel (Sr., WR); Dre Butts Jr., WR); Torrez Finney (Sr., DL); Tyric Solomon (Sr., DB); Terell Solomon (Sr., DB); Logan Gordon (Sr., LB).
Aug. 28 Morgan County
Sept. 4 at Cross Creek
Sept. 11 Greenbrier
Sept. 17 at Northside
Sept. 25 at Grovetown
Oct. 2 Lakeside-Evans
Oct. 16 Houston County
Oct. 23 Evans
Oct. 30 at Richmond Academy
Nov. 5 at Warner Robins