Colin Lacy

Wheeling And Dealing

By: Colin Lacy news services

For most Major League Baseball players, the month of November is a time to rest, spend much overdue time with their family, and decompress from the grind of a 162-game regular season.

This year, the month of November has been all but restful for Atlanta Braves General Manager Alex Anthopoulos. Over the last month there have been 37 player transactions for the Braves (albeit most of those being players electing free agency), and a couple that have raised the eyebrows and curiosity of Braves Country, but the headlines aren’t all that need to be said.

The one that sent ripples (not quite tidal waves) through the organization was a trade with the Chicago White Sox sending RHP Michael Soroka, LHP Jared Shuster, SS Nicky Lopez, SS Braden Shewmake and RHP Riley Gowens to the south side of Chicago in exchange for Aaron Bummer.

This move had Braves fans scratching their heads, especially considering Soroka was a fan favorite since his debut.

That being said, and as good as Soroka was before tearing his Achilles tendon, his time as a Brave was more than likely numbered anyway. Most, if not all, of the pieces traded to Chi-Town were leading candidates to be non-tendered by Atlanta when the deadline came just hours later than the trade (deadline was Friday 11/17).

Instead of these players turning into free agents, Anthopoulos was able to turn them into another lefty that could play an impactful role into the Bravo’s bullpen.

Just one day later, the transaction hotline was connected with a familiar pipeline between Kansas City and Atlanta.

Two different trades occurred the 17th between the Royals and Braves to send Kyle Wright, and Nick Anderson to KC, and have Jackson Kowar and cash return to the ATL.

Kyle Wright had an injury riddled 2023 season in Atlanta but had been a key part of the Braves rotation in 2022, but injuries kept him from staying in the rotation.

The Braves also delt Wright knowing that he would miss the 2024 season due to shoulder surgery and would still be paying Wright approximately $1.4 million as he rehabs.

The other deal with the Royals had the Braves send Nick Anderson, who like Soroka was a likely candidate of being non-tendered, in return for cash considerations.

There are also a couple of transactions that fly under the radar with the front office in Atlanta officially not tendering contracts to 7 players who were previously on the 40-man roster including Kolby Allard, Chadwick Tromp, and Yonny Chirinos.

Why is this important? Because when you add all of the moves together, yes, the Braves clear up some payroll space, but at the end of the day, the Braves ended up with 30 players on the 40-man roster.

This allows the Braves to re-tool the bottom of the roster and bolster the organizational depth with key bench pieces and Triple-A players that, frankly, has been a weakness for the Braves in the past few years.

So far, the Braves have also added to the bullpen as well by signing the hard throwing righty Reynaldo Lopez, who struck out almost 30% of the batters he faced last season between the White Sox, Guardians, and Angels.

This could be a bigger addition to the Braves than it appears on the surface with Lopez potentially being able to serve as a back-end starter, if need be, but also be a high-leverage reliever.

I say all of this as what seems like one of the few Braves fans that are encouraged by these moves that “Headline Only Readers” are upset with.

I completely understand. Soroka, Wright, a couple former first round picks, and on the surface not getting much back, but when you dig deeper, it’s some crafty moves to get anything back for it, and oh by the way, I think we’re just getting started with the off season shuffle we’ll see out of the right field offices at Truist Park.

Buzzing About The Future

By: Colin Lacy news services

While 2023 didn’t yield the win totals that those in Jackets Country would have wanted, but there is a lot that shines a light from 2023 in the direction of the future.

Finishing up the season with a 4-6 mark overall and dropping the final 4 games of the year doesn’t sound positive, but the fact remains that Southeast Bulloch still held control of their postseason possibilities until the final horn of the season.

It’s no question that Region 3 in the 4A classification is one of (if not the single most) difficult region in the state. Benedictine, Wayne County, Burke County were all mainstays in the top 10 rankings for most of the season while New Hampstead, who earned the two seed in the region, many say (including myself) should have been in the top 10. SEB dropped all those contests but showed positives in all the games for Coach Jared Zito’s squad.

Nothing shows this more than the New Hampstead game.

The Phoenix jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, but SEB answered with conviction.

After a 26-yard Cole Snyder field goal got the Jackets on the board, he then executed a perfectly placed onside kick for the blue and gold to recover.

One play later Will Nelson found Kyon Taylor on a throw back screen for the 36-yard touchdown. After the ensuing kickoff died at the 1-yard line, SEB forced New Hampstead to a three and out.

With the Phoenix punter standing in his own endzone, Kyle O’Brien burst through the line to block the punt that fluttered out of bounds at the 13-yard line. Yet again, one play later, Kyon Taylor took it in for a score. Just that fast (2:07 to be exact) SEB had gone from 14-0 down to up 17-14.

One week later, on the Yellow Jackets’ senior night against the #1 team in the state, Benedictine jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter.

Southeast Bulloch’s Special Teams Coordinator Randy Lee had another trick up his sleeve. A fake punt saw Colby Smith scamper 48 yards and set up the first Jackets touchdown five plays later.

Individually, there was a lot of growth for the Jackets this year. Entering the season, the linebacking core was the focus on the defense, and they didn’t disappoint.

Kyle O’Brien led the way for SEB in the stats sheet and on the field anchoring the middle of the defense.

Colby Smith continued to be a terror to offenses in his sophomore season. That combination also helped bring along younger players, most notably freshman Brant Horst, who played a big role in the back half of the season and earned a start in the season finale against Burke County.

The biggest future phenom that showed in 2023 was one that the Jackets would have rather not had to find this year. With senior quarterback Will Nelson sidelined with injury the last 2 weeks of the year, Brooklet was introduced to Rhett Morgan (at least at the varsity level).

His first drive as a varsity signal caller resulted in a 9 play 70-yard scoring drive, and while the results were 0-2, the process looked promising.

With the GHSA reclassification having Southeast Bulloch return to the 3A classification, it only adds to the positivity moving forward in Brooklet.

While 4-6 isn’t the standard expected for SEB, what you saw in this season proves it won’t be the norm moving forward.

Not Just The Windmill At Third Base

By: Colin Lacy news services

This month news broke that beloved Atlanta Braves third base coach Ron Washington was getting the nod to take over as the new manager for the Los Angeles Angels.

This will be the second stint for Wash as a big-league manager after piloting the Texas Rangers from 2007-2014.

Ron Washington will be dearly missed in Atlanta after becoming an infectious personality around the clubhouse, while also being a gold mine of knowledge for infielders especially.

Washington has become a fan favorite around Braves Country because of the energy that David O’Brien of The Athletic described as “more energy at 71 than many 21-year-olds.”

Alex Anthopoulos, Braves GM, encapsulated the impact of Ron Washington on the Atlanta Organization by saying, “Presence, intellect, respect, work ethic, integrity.  Off-the-charts ability to lead. I mean, that guy walks in a room, it’s over.  He’s special. I’ve been in baseball since 2000. I’ve never been around someone like (Ron Washington).”

Ron Washington is a “baseball guy” through and through. A native of New Orleans, Washington was signed by Kansas City in 1970, and has been in professional baseball ever since.

He spent the next ten years primarily in the minor leagues for the Royals, Mets, and Dodgers organization. ‘Wash’ made his Major League debut in September of 1977 with the Dodgers as a September call-up but returned to the minors until 1981.

In 1981, Washington was on the active roster for the Minnesota Twins and would stay in the Bigs until 1986 scattered between the Twins, Orioles, Indians, and Astros. The end of his playing career came with his playing retirement in 1990 with the Oklahoma City Triple-A club.

After hanging up the glove (at least as a player), Washington set sails on his coaching career starting with the Mets organization for five years.

Washington made his Big-League debut as a coach in 1996 as the first base coach with the Oakland A’s where he would be until 2006 and return for the 2015 & 2016 season.

November 6th, 2006 will be a day that Ron Washington will always remember. It was the day the Texas Rangers announced they were bringing in Washington to manage the Rangers.  Washington spent 8 years in Arlington and led the Rangers to two World Series appearances in 2010 & 2011.

While in October of 2016, Ron Washington was a finalist for the Braves vacant managerial position (that would inevitably be filled by Brian Snitker), Snitker elected to bring Ron Washington on staff as 3rd base coach.  Since 2017, Washington was always around Truist park with the undeniable Wash Smile.

Washington’s pre-game routine with all the infielders, and even non-infielders, of throwing and hitting short hops to them blew up and became a must for all nationally televised game to show at some point.

Braves Country knows, and sometimes takes for granted, how underrated and top notch the coaching staff Brian Snitker has assembled over the years.

Ron Washington was a huge piece of that and will have some additional fall out I suspect. It has already been reported that Braves first base coach Eric Young Sr will be going with Wash to LA to join the Angels staff as their third base coach, and I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two others from the Braves staff joined as well.

Every offseason, each team has losses that fans will say “man that stinks” (sometimes a more colorful rendition of that), but not often is it a club’s third base coach.

Heck, many times when a coach leaves (outside of a manager or pitching coach), fans don’t realize it until opening day, and say “Hey who’s that new guy!”

Ron Washington is different. He was an incredible asset for the Braves and the Angles are getting a great baseball mind and great motivator. Grant McCauley, Braves beat reporter for 92.9 the Game, said on X what a lot of Braves fans are feeling. “It’s possible to be simultaneously thrilled for someone’s opportunity while being exceptionally sad to see them go.”

Shot Callers

By: Colin Lacy news services

The Georgia/Florida game (or Florida/Georgia depending on which side you’re on), has been riddled with outstanding individual performances.

Many of these come from the quarterback from either side, so with that in mind, since both sides have a starting QB in their first year starting at their school, let’s dive into the signal callers for both sides.

Carson Beck: Georgia

Although Beck is not an unfamiliar name to Dawg fans, he is in his debut year as QB1 for the red and black.

Beck served as the backup for the last 2 years on the National Championship Georgia squads behind Stetson Bennett.

The Jacksonville, FL native will return home to start his first Geogia/Florida game after making twelve appearances from 2020 to 2022.

Through some competition in the pre-season with Brock Vandagriff and Gunner Stockton, Beck came out of the 2023 pre-season camp with the starting nod from Head Coach Kirby Smart and hasn’t looked back.

Beck has accounted for at least 261 yards through the air in every game this year (season low of 261 coming his last outing against Vanderbilt) and topping the year with 389 passing yards in the dominant 51-13 victory against Kentucky.

Beck, the former Mandarin High School Mustang, will be playing just 20 miles north of his high school football stadium where he garnered a 4-star ranking from ESPN, and was named the Florida Offensive Player of the Year as a senior.

Big games and big moments have never been a problem for Beck, who most recently completed two of three passes in the National Championship game against TCU to cap off the back-to-back titles for UGA.

In his high school career, Carson led Mandarin to the first state championship in school history and just the second title by a Duval County public school when he threw for 329 yds and 5 touchdowns (one shy of a FHSAA record in a title game).

At the end of the day, through some scrutiny, Beck has led the Dawgs to remain #1 in the country and to a perfect 7-0 record (4-0 SEC) entering the “World’s Largest Cocktail Party”.

Graham Mertz: Florida

There are a lot of similarities between Carson Beck and Graham Mertz.

Mertz is also following a quarterback that is now on an NFL roster (Anthony Richardson served as the Indianapolis Colts starting quarterback before a shoulder injury has recently forced him out for the remainder of the year).

Both have worked through a ton of scrutiny at times from the outside noise.

There also is one glaring difference between the two…EXPERIENCE.

Gram Mertz transferred into Billy Napier’s Gators after four years at Wisconsin.

Mertz started every game for the Badgers for three years straight (32 consecutive starts from 2020-2022). He racked up over 5,400 yards through the air and 46 touchdowns for Wisconsin before former Head Coach Paul Chryst was let go.

Before heading to Madison in 2019, Mertz set the Kansas state high school record with 51 passing touchdowns as a senior in 2018.

This year, Mertz has tried to silence some of the nay-sayers with almost 2,000 passing yards, and an impressive 423 yards with 3 touchdowns through the air on the road in a much-needed victory over South Carolina last time out.

The Mertz family is no stranger to college athletics. It began with his father Ron playing for the Minnesota Golden Gophers from 1989-92. Then the legacy was passed to his two sisters who both played college hoops as Lauren took her talents to Kansas State and Mya laced up on the hardwood for Drake.

So, what does all this mean? First and foremost, you’ve got two big time competitors meeting in arguably the best rivalry in college football.

As it is in every college football game, the quarterback is going to be key in this Georgia/Florida (yes, again maybe Florida/Georgia depending on your side).

Especially with Brock Bowers out for this game for the Dawgs, and Florida riding the high of the victory over the Gamecocks, quarterbacks are going to be huge in this matchup.

History Lesson

By: Colin Lacy news services

“The World’s Largest Cocktail Party”, is it the Georgia/Florida game or the Florida/Georgia game, one thing that everyone can agree on.

This game is one of, if not the single, greatest rivalry in college sports. The game between these two goes WAY back into the history books (how deep is a point of contention…. we’ll get to that), so let’s dive into what this game has been!

Where do we start? Well… it depends on who you ask. For the Georgia contingency, the first Georgia/Florida match-up took place in Macon, Georgia way back in 1904. Georgia ended up with the victory with a final score of 52-0.

The point of contention comes that the fact that the University of Florida Athletic Association doesn’t recognize that game because technically the team that Georgia defeated was officially named Florida Agricultural College.

The following year, the state legislature officially made the name change to what we know as University of Florida, but it took another year until 1906 that Florida officially says the football program began.

Either way, the first mutually agreed upon meeting took place in Jacksonville one mid-October afternoon in 1915, where Georgia handled Florida 37-0.

It took thirteen years for Florida to notch their first victory in the budding rivalry, defeating Georgia 26-6 in 1928.

Although the first mutually agreed game was in Jacksonville, it wasn’t until 1933 when the city became the official home for the game and has been the home for all but two (1994 and 1995) since that 1933 meeting.

We’ll fast forward in time to 1942 when everybody on the field in Red and Black was a “Damn Good Dawg” as Georgia obliterated Florida 75-0 in a game where Florida completed more passes to Georgia defenders (7) than their own receivers (6).

Jump ahead nearly 40 years when everybody tuning into the Georgia Bulldogs Radio Network heard the Legendary Larry Munson urged Lindsay Nelson to “Run Lindsay Run” 92 yards down the sideline to score to take the late lead over Florida. The Dawgs held on to the win thanks to a Mike Fisher interception after Munson broke his metal chair.

The mid-1990s saw the first on campus matchups (1994 in Gainesville, 1995 at Sanford Stadium in Athens) since the early 1930s. We saw Florida score ‘half a hundred’ on UGA at Sanford Stadium, which had never been done.

The two-year hiatus was a necessity because the then named Jacksonville Municipal Stadium was being built to accommodate the expansion franchise of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

One that will live in celebration or infamy (depending on the side of the fence you’re on) comes in 2007. What some call “the celebration game,” Georgia defeats the Gators 42-30.

This broke a streak where Florida won 15 of 17 meetings from 1990-2006.

It gets the name because on the first touchdown scored by the Dawgs’ Knowshon Moreno, the entire Georgia Bench floods on the field to celebrate as a team.

Head Coach Mark Richt admitted after the game that he had told the team before the game that “it was going to be a team celebration not an individual celebration.” He would go on to clarify, “I was expecting the 11 players on the field to be doing the celebrating, not for the bench to clear as it did.”

Like many “rivalries” have evolved, now there is a trophy to play for in the Georgia/Florida border war.

In 2009, the rivalry winner began taking home the Okefenokee Oar. The Gators would win the inaugural Oar with a 41-17 victory, taking home the 10-foot-long Oar, which had been carved from a 1,000-year-old cypress tree taken out of the Okefenokee Swamp which runs along the Georgia/Florida border.

In recent years there have been some classics. Whether it’s Aaron Murray leading the comeback in 2011, or the Dawgs shocking the #2 Gators in 2012, or maybe Florida causing five Dawg turnovers in 2015 for the 27-3 win.

Either way, the series has only gained momentum since it began in 1904 (or 1915…) the 2023 meeting sets up to be a classic with half the stadium in red, half in blue per usual.

Chop On!

By: Colin Lacy news services

Everything that the Braves have heard for 6 months is that “if the Braves have to rely on pitching, they’re in trouble.” What did the Bravos do? Only churn out the best record in baseball and prepare for a NL Division Series match-up against NL East rival Philadelphia Phillies that will serve as a re-match of the 2022 NLDS.

The Braves rang out a record of 104-58 and joined only the Orioles and Dodgers as the only three teams in MLB with 100 wins. A big part has been the best offense in baseball scoring the most, and the biggest run differential in MLB this year.

A big question for Atlanta has been the ace of the staff Max Fried, who has been dealing with a blister on his pitching hand.

In the downtime between the end of the regular season and the Saturday beginning of the Phillies series, the Braves had 3 days of simulated games between current players and minor-leaguers split into two teams.

In the Tuesday intersquad game, Fried threw with a band-aid on the pitching hand in question just for a little precaution. All indications after the outing from Manager Brian Snitker and Braves personnel point to Fried being a go for the NLDS roster, and potentially starting game 2 on Monday. Signs would lead Braves fans to expect the series opening nod to go to right-hander Spencer Strider.

As much as Braves fans enjoyed the down years for the Phillies (just one year over .500 from 2012-2022), it’s good to have the Braves-Phillies rivalry back to it’s best. This year in the 13 games head-to-head, the Braves hold the 8-5 lead as the two look to the best of 5 game NLDS.

With the best record in Baseball, the Braves have locked up home field advantage all the way through to the World Series.

Atlanta will host game one on Saturday at Truist Park with a 6:07 first pitch.

Game two from Atlanta will come Monday at the same time before the series shifts to Philadelphia for games 3 and (if necessary) 4 at Citizen’s Bank Park.

If the series goes the distance, the deciding game 5 will return to Cobb County in metro-Atlanta.

The Phillies come into the series with a 90-72 record in the regular season and finished 14 games back of the Braves in the NL East.

After sweeping the Marlins in a best-of-three series in the Wild Card round, the Phillies come into Atlanta behind an offense led by Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos, who each drove in over 100 runs, and Bryce Harper, who missed just shy of 40 games earlier in the year with injury.

On the mound, the Phanatics are led by the duo of Aaron Nola and Zack Weeler who both threw over 190 innings and fanned 200 hitters.

Outside of Jeff Hoffman (the only Phillies reliever with a sub-3.00 ERA), the bullpen for the Phils is familiar to Atlanta fans. Craig Kimbrel capped off 23 saves to the tune of a 3.26 ERA while fighting off some nagging injuries.

So, what’s different this postseason for the Braves, who look to get the bad taste of the 2022 NLDS that the Phillies won 3-1?

A big key is the pure health of the squad. Going into the postseason last year, off the top, they were without infielder Ozzie Albies who only played 64 games last year because of a broken right pinky and broken left foot.

Spencer Strider was trying to fend off an oblique injury that pushed him to a game 3 start. He threw 2 strong innings before the 3rd seeing him only recording 1 out.

This postseason, the Braves franchise have adopted the mantra “As One” to symbolize that the Braves “team” isn’t just the players on the field, but also coaches, staff, front office, and even the fans.

So “As One” it’s time to Chop On Braves Country!

Busy Bee

By: Colin Lacy news services

In the off-season, it was well thought that rising senior Will Nelson would be the heir apparent to take over as QB1 for the Southeast Bulloch Yellow Jackets.

After excelling as a two-year starter at safety for the Jackets, Nelson was tasked with learning and leading a completely revamped offense for SEB that made the move back to the split-back veer.

While that would be more than enough for many 16–17-year-olds, it’s far from all Nelson was focused on.

He had just completed his junior season for Southeast Bulloch Baseball, while also being an active member of numerous clubs and activities including Beta Club, National Honors Society and Future Business Leaders of America among others.

Was that enough for Nelson? Nope!

Last spring and into the summer, Nelson applied, interviewed, and was named one of two representatives for 4A on the 2023-24 GHSA Student-Athlete Advisory Council.

The GHSA Student-Athlete Advisory Council (SAAC) is a 20-person panel made up of student-athletes from all over the state of Georgia that are selected by a group of judges after a rigorous interview process.

Two representatives from each classification along with four at-large members make up the council each year. The SAAC is tasked with creating the connection between student-athletes, the GHSA Office, officials, and everyone that has a hand in high school sports to help promote sportsmanship and leadership.

“We’re just trying to influence a positive attitude and atmosphere around high school sports,” said Nelson. “We also want to push respect referee, and associates that help us, and spend their time to help us play our game and keep us safe during the game.”

The selection process begins with a full application process and must meet the minimum requirements that the applicant must be involved in at-least one club or school organization in addition to playing at-least one sport at the school.  After the application, comes the interview process where judges from all across the state that will be making the final decision.

This year, 116 applications were sent in from all corners of the peach state to select the 20-person council with Nelson and Sanaaya Thompson from Rutland High School getting the nod for the 4A classification.

“It defiantly means a lot to me to be able to represent not only SEB, but all of 4A,” said Nelson. “It can be a lot of pressure, but it’s an honor for sure.”

The GHSA SAAC will be voting on a couple yearly awards including the Student Section of the Year, as well as participating in a leadership conference in the winter.

All the off the field accomplishments and responsibilities haven’t taken away from his performance on the field leading Southeast Bulloch to a good start midway through the year.

He is the second leading rusher for the Jackets, behind senior running back Kyon Taylor and scored the first 3 rushing touchdowns of the season.

Multiple coaches around the SEB program have called Nelson a “Gamer Winner”. The confidence he brings on and off the field is incredibly impressive and is just the type of leader you would want for your program.

There are many words that can describe or label Will Nelson. Quarterback. Leader.  Student-Athlete. SAAC member. Son. Friend.

And somehow, he finds time to juggle all of them, and do it well.  Free time? Who needs it!


No ‘I’ In Team

By: Colin Lacy news services

What’s the Difference between a “Program” and a “Team”?

No matter what level sports, or what sport for that matter, the term “good program” gets thrown around as much as NIL.

The problem with this is just because a team is winning or performing well, doesn’t mean that it’s a good program.

Everybody knows what a good team looks like. Impressive stats, good players, and a lot of wins. But what does a good program look like? Is there a standard? Does it have something to do with Nick Saban’s “process”?

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you stop hearing the term “program” past the college level. Nobody would say that the Atlanta Falcons are a good “program”. Good Team? So far. Good Organization? Yes. Good Franchise? Yes….most would say yes. It’s mainly college and high school sports entities that people talk about being a “program”.

To me, in order to be labeled as a “good program” it’s about development. Developing young men and women into great athletes, yes, but also developing the whole person.

Since sports fans are looking at how many NFL players that college programs produce, or how many recruiting “stars” come out of a high school program, it gets lost that MAYBE 5% of the teams will be making that jump to the next level. What happens to the other 95%?

That’s where a “good program” comes into play. There are so many programs and resources that are at the hands of the student-athletes now to prepare them for when that inevitable final pitch, last basket, or career ending snap is taken.

Most (not all) college athletic departments have put in incentives in place to prepare student-athletes after sports. One example of these is right here in our own back yard.

Georgia Southern Director of Athletics Jared Benko has put a great emphasis on the APEX program.  This is an outreach program that follows a curriculum through the career of the student-athlete that covers everything from financial literacy, teaching about taxes, job interview skills, and much more.

The student-athletes are also involved in community outreach, and sessions of needed skills that nobody thinks about like an emergency car care session to show athletes basic car maintenance, and emergency roadside tips.

This trickles down to the high school level too. Everybody wants to look at schools with a brand-new turf field, or a massive videoboard as good programs, and while that’s great, no discounting it at all, if you’re not invested in the people of your program, you’re just a good team…. if that.

Many times, at the high school level, some of these assets to the student athlete are open to all the students at the school and are spearheaded by coaches.

Take Southeast Bulloch for example. The last few years, Coaches Brent Osborne and Randy Lee have been building up the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) program at SEB that was dormant for over 20 years. Now up to about 65 members (many of them student-athletes for the Jackets), the FBLA hosts events for resume building, job interview skills, and other real-world experiences and skills that prepare the members and student-athletes in ways that many at other programs won’t have.

Don’t get me wrong, the “fancy” facilities don’t mean that a program is focusing more on the looks than the substance.

In addition to Randy Lee being RBs coach and Special teams coordinator for SEB Football, and Brent Osborne stepping away from on-field football coaching and moving to the broadcast booth this year, both Lee and Osborne are the Girls and Boys golf coaches for the Jackets and raised money to buy a state-of-the-art golf simulator for SEB golfers. Both can be done and are done well many places throughout the state.

So, what the heck does all this mean? It is just me going off on a soap box again? (maybe…) Just think next time you or you hear someone say, “man that’s a really good program”. Just think. Is it really a good program? Or is it just a good team?

Geaux Tigers

By: Colin Lacy news service

The phrase “Geaux Tigers” has been said, written, texted and tweeted many times by LSU fans since the 10-4 SEC Western Division Championship season for Brian Kelly in year one in Baton Rouge, and that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.

With so many questions around the Tigers going into the 2022 season after the hire of Brian Kelly from Notre Dame, the Tigers answered in a big-time way with 10 wins, an appearance in the SEC Championship, and a victory against rival #6 Alabama thanks to a 2-point conversion in overtime.

That play call and poise from Brian Kelly answered many of those questions surrounding the Tigers and won Tiger fans over for Kelly.

Last season started in a historic way for LSU with it being just the 2nd time since the 1950s that the Tigers had both a new head coach and a new starting quarterback.

Arizona State transfer Jayden Daniels took the reins of the offense and absolutely gutted thru the 2022 season for LSU. Battling thru a few different injuries thru the year (missing the second half of the SEC Championship game with a leg injury), Daniels had a quietly historic season for the Tigers.

The first-year signal-caller racked up the 2nd most total yards from an LSU quarterback (only behind Joe Burrow in the National Championship season), as well as setting the record for most rushing yards ever by an LSU QB.

2023 sees 8 starters return for the LSU offense including Daniels, for a team that averaged 34.5 points per game and over 450 yards per game. A big piece that gets overlooked for the Tigers is the O-Line.

Last season had a few growing pains with a lot of young faces on the line (including Will Campbell and Emery Jones to be the first time a freshman had started at both LT and RT in the same game in LSU History). This season, the O-Line returns 4 starters and looks to be a strength for OC Mike Denbrock.

The defense was nasty at times for the Tigers a year ago and looks to be more of the same in 2023, just maybe in a different way.

The D-Line for 2nd year Matt House will look a little different in 2023 after the departures of BJ Ojulari and Ali Gaye. However, House has restocked with five Power 5 transfers to go along with returners Mekhi Wingo and Maason Smith who missed the majority of 2022 with an injury in the season opener against Florida State.

The back seven for the LSU Defense returns many bright spots from 2022, with one of the main ones being rising sophomore Harold Perkins. Perkins burst onto the SEC scene last year garnering all-American honors at linebacker.

A big game for the Tigers kicks off the season with a rematch against the Seminoles of Florida State in Jacksonville.

Last year in the Super Dome, Florida State came away with a 24-23 win over Brian Kelly in his LSU debut.

The schedule is relatively favorable for the Bayou Bengals getting Texas A&M, Florida, Auburn and Arkansas all at Tiger Stadium.

The biggest test of the season, as is in most years, will be the November 4th matchup at Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Most believe that the meeting in Tuscaloosa will be a huge decider in the Western Division race again this year.

I was incredibly impressed with LSU and how they rallied around Brian Kelly in year one.

The Tigers look to be ahead of schedule from where most thought LSU would be at this point in the Kelly era, and will not only threaten for back-to-back West Division crowns, but will rival Georgia for the SEC Title in Atlanta.

Brooklet Buzz

By: Colin Lacy news services

The 2023 season welcomes in high hopes for Southeast Bulloch football as they enter year two as a 4A program.

Before reclassification from 3A to 4A prior to the 2022 season, the Jackets spent the previous 6 years (2016-2021) in region 3-3A where they were one of two teams that owned the region with Liberty County.

After the magical 10-2 2021 season where the program recorded their first state playoff victory since the state championship season of 1973, the 2022 campaign was a whole different ballgame in the toughest region of the 4A ranks that saw SEB post a 2-8 record.

That record can be a little misleading, with SEB having an opportunity to sneak into the state playoffs in the final matchup of the season, but a record is what it is. A 2-8 record, however, does light a fire under the Jackets and third year Head Coach Jared Zito.

Year three for Zito, will see his third different starting quarterback taking snaps for the Yellow Jackets. All Region selection, Kristian Clark graduated after the 2021 season and continued his football career at Savannah State.

Gage DiGiovanni then took the reigns in 2022 as a senior and is now headed to South Georgia College on the baseball diamond.

This year, all indications point to one of the key leaders for the Jackets, Will Nelson. Nelson served as the QB-2 last season, as well as anchoring the defense as a safety during his junior year. This year it appears Nelson, a three-sport standout at SEB, will be given the keys to the offense.

Last season, due to injuries and just sheer numbers, the Jackets were forced to play A TON of underclassmen especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Although the Jackets will feel the loss of names like Terry Mikell, Damion Donaldson, and Collin Jackson up front on the D-Line, there is still experience with Michael Dixon, and Jayden Brown.

The back 7, for third year defensive coordinator Jason Anthony, is primed to take a huge step forward because of that underclassman experience.

Colby Smith took the linebacker spot by storm as a freshman racking up 10+ tackles three times even though missing three games with an injury in 2022.

Kyle O’Brien turned into a sophomore beast in the secondary with 5 games of double digit stops including 15 against Wayne County.

These two in addition to rising sophomores like Chase Douglas, Jeremiah Williams are set to have the Jacket defense a huge strength of the squad.

Offensively, there are a lot of questions to be answered of who will step up and fill roles vacated by graduation.

The Jackets will have 6 seniors to replace in the “skill” positions and 3 of the 5 starting offensive linemen, losing Cleve Hart at center, and the McMillian brothers (Quenton and Quintez) on the right side of the line.

Kyon Taylor does return at running back after an injury riddled 2022, while still posting 3 games of 100 yards or more.

Taylor will be likely paired with wide-outs Easton Phillips, and Gage Newsome to reshape the offense.

Finally, not many season previews hit on special teams, but it has been a huge part of the Jackets identity.

Coach Zito has put an emphasis on all parts special teams and shows with the development of kicker Cole Snyder with the help of special teams coordinator Randy Lee.

Snyder, an all-region kicker and punter in 2022, has a big leg that has been a weapon for Southeast Bulloch both flipping the field on punts, and also booming field goals.

So, what’s the outlook for SEB in 2023?

There’s a lot to be excited about in Brooklet. Do we know how many wins that translates to?

No, but being around this program there’s hunger to prove 2-8 is not the norm.