Herons To Fly?

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

At first glance, the 2020 season for the Brantley County Herons looks like it was a painful one.

The lone victory in their 1-9 campaign was a region win, and was enough to give the Herons a spot in the playoffs – something that Head Coach Geoff Cannon is understandably proud of.

“Before I got to Brantley, they had only made the playoffs twice in 50 years,” Coach Cannon explains. “We’ve now made it twice in the last two years. We have to build on that.”

And build they will. The 2021 Herons squad will have a lot of the same names on the roster, but according to the Coach, they won’t look like the same team.

“We’re returning a lot of guys. We were really young up-front last year, and most of those kids are back. We’re bigger, stronger, we hit the nutrition campaign really hard and our offseason weight program went really well.”

Who will be leading the Brantley County team on offense is still somewhat up in the air. Two-way player Kellen Middleton will see most of the snaps on both sides of the ball for the Herons this year, but rising sophomore Kirkland Cannon looks to be in the mix at signal caller as well.

“Kellen is an extremely gifted athlete, but he can’t come off the field,” explains Coach Cannon. “He’s going to play every snap on defense, he’s going to return kicks, he’s going to cover kicks. Once we put the pads on and scrimmage Vidalia, that will tell us what kind of gains we’ve made at the quarterback position to whether Kellen can move to slot receiver or running back and let Kirkland do some things. It will be interesting to see how they’ve developed. They’ve both had an outstanding summer. Kellen’s going to be out there somehow. If he’s not taking snaps, we’ll be throwing it to him or handing it off to him.”

Also, in the mix at Running Back will be second year player Mason Thomas, as well as a highly anticipated freshman Kendall Wright.

“(Kendall) really has a chance to be something special,” says the Coach. “Kendall is one of a bunch of rising freshmen kids that are going to see a healthy amount of Friday night playing time this year.”

As far as Brantley’s receivers go, there’s “a handful of them that are really getting the job done.” Look for WR/DB Brian Hiott to be another player that won’t be coming off the field. Greysen Guy is another second-year receiver that has “looked really good this summer.”

In addition to the slot receivers, the tight end group should make an impact as well. Expect Garrison Chester to show some growth in both blocking and catching this year.

On defense, Ryan Ratliffe will line up as the starting ILB, along with 2-year All-Region selection RJ Bryan. Little Michael Conner will start at OLB, but according to Coach Cannon, he’ll be coming in on some short yardage plays at RB as well.

Other starters will most likely include senior Brian Brantley, Nathan Willis (who will play some linebacker, some defensive back), and Jojo Steedley, who is coming back at DE.

Another 9th grader with high expectations, Carson Jacobsen is set to get some time on the defensive line.

Special Teams look to be different for the Herons this year. Coach Cannon reports that Brian Hiott took over kicking duties during spring practices.

“I’m looking forward to taking some chances in the kicking game, making special teams a true third segment of the game.”

Overall, Coach Cannon expects 2021 to be a much different year for the Herons than 2020.

“This group of kids is a bunch of fun to be around. They like each other, they like football, and they are a lot of fun to coach.”

“We play a tough schedule, but we should be a lot more competitive than we were last year. As bad as we were, there were still some games we should have won. We hope that with the character of this team, we’ll come out on top in those kinds of games this year.”