Jason Strickland

Gator Roll

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The Ware County Gators finished the 2020 season with a 10-2 record. Those two losses came to Warner Robins and Cartersville each by 3 points. Those teams played for the 5A State Championship last fall.

Head Coach Jason Strickland begins his third season at Ware this fall with an overall record of 18-6 in his first two seasons.

When asked about what he likes about his 2021 football team the Head Gator offered “With the close calls last year against those two teams that beat us that ended up playing for the title showed our kids how close we are to being at that championship level. This team just feels different. I think we are one of the best 4-5 teams out there. Our kids have developed a culture of accountability and that has been a tone setter leading up this this season. Our kids feel like we are good enough to win it.”

On offense it all revolves around QB Thomas Castellanos who his coach calls a “Special, special kid”. “He can do anything on the football field. His best intangible is that he plays QB for us. He calls about 50% of the plays on Friday night, makes all of our protection calls, and he is just a natural leader.” Castellanos will play his college football at Central Florida next year.

Running back Cartevious Norton is set to have a banner senior season. “He is a kid I’m pulling hard for. By the end of the season, I think everyone will know who he is”.

Cameron Gonzalves is the lone returner on the offensive line, but Strickland thinks they will be bigger, stronger and more athletic than last year.

At WR James Daniels is an excellent route runner with great hands. Jarvis Hayes is the guy who can blow the top off a defense.

Malik Mitchell and Demetrius Baldwin will lead a defensive line that will rotate 7 players. “They will have to carry us until our linebacker group gets some game experience”.

Trey Hargrove returns at LB and will move to Mike. LJ Hall and Teshawn Norton will start in the secondary. Strickland says “We have good talent back there but we may need to simplify things to gain experience. I want these kids to play fast”.

Henry Bates a 4.0 student returns at kicker. “He is a great character kid who looks to kick at the next level”.

Strickland says the region is “brutal”. “Warner Robins won state. Coffee was a final four team last year, and Veterans really punched us in the mouth when we played them. Wayne has good talent and an excellent staff and was a team that was really decimated by injuries last year that should be much better this year.”

The schedule is difficult. “They might want to run that guy off around here who set that up” Strickland joked. “It will create some exciting Friday nights for us this fall”

Ware Schedule/My Predictions:

8/20 @ Cook: Gators win big on the road.

8/27 vs Bartram Trail (FL): Higher classification program from Florida comes to the Swamp. Bartram Trail is a good program but they go down to Ware.

9/3 vs Baldwin: Baldwin not physical enough in the trenches, Gators big.

9/10 vs Thomson: Proud program coming in for a beat down. Ware big once again.

9/17 @ Bainbridge: If the Gators drop a non-region game this could be it. I think this one is a classic and Ware wins a huge road game late say 34-30.

9/24 @ Benedictine: Only way Ware drops this is, if the Savannah Zebras are a factor in the game. Ware stays undefeated.

10/8 @ Coffee: Ware lost by two TD’s on their last journey to Jardine Stadium. Ware has Castellanos and Coffee does not. Ware in a war.

10/15 vs Warner Robins: Gators back home after traveling a combined 600 miles over South Georgia highways over the previous 3 weeks. These teams could meet again in the playoffs. Gators get revenge at home.

The Gators finish the regular season undefeated after beating Veterans and Wayne.

Look out for this football team. They are well coached, talented, athletic and most of all hungry. These Gators are dangerous folks.

Jason Bishop Show w Kipp Branch January 23

Jason Bishop Show w Kipp Branch January 23


Gator Chomp

By: Mike Anthony

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Last year saw the Jason Strickland era begin with a bang at Ware County.

Arriving in Waycross after successful stints at Lamar County, Fitzgerald and Pierce County, Strickland wasted no time in making his mark.

The Gators took a few lumps early on in the non-region schedule, only to storm through Region 2-AAAAA undefeated and make it to the second round of the state playoffs before bowing out to eventual state champion Buford.

Heading into Year Two under Strickland, Ware has faced the same trials and tribulations as every other team in GHSA, as they have been limited in their preparations for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think we’re getting through everything just fine,” Strickland said. “I’m lucky to have a staff that is experienced and has been together for a while. As for the kids, I think they’re fine. Honestly, I think kids respond to this kind of shake-up and adversity better than most adults.

“They have taken the attitude of focusing on what needs to be done each day and just working forward from there. That’s big for them and big for our community. A lot of people in this area need something to make them smile. And for a lot of these towns, football can do that. So long as we can be safe and play, that’s something we’re looking to do for ourselves and for the community.”

It’s good that the Gators have been hard at work because there will be no shortage of challenges on this season’s schedule.

Ware County joins longtime rival Wayne County in a shift to Region 1-AAAAA with the GHSA’s latest region alignments.

The teams spent the last few seasons playing region rivals in and around coastal Georgia, but the competition now shifts west and north as they join a stacked region that includes Coffee, Veterans and Warner Robins.

“I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this will be the toughest region in 5-A,” Strickland said. “It might be one of the toughest in the state at any level. But we’ll embrace that challenge. There will be a lot of tense Friday nights, but a lot of fun Friday nights.”

Heading into a tough schedule, the Gators will lean heavily on proven leaders on both sides of the ball.

Rising senior linebacker Michael Mincey has Strickland’s trust to make calls and anchor the defense.

On the attacking front, quarterback Thomas Castellanos will be a junior this fall, but has been at the helm of the Gator attack since he was a freshman.

“Michael has some big-time offers and he’s a leader on and off the field for us,” Strickland said. “Thomas can get things done with both his arm and his legs. He’s got another year in the system and he’s really starting to settle in and run the offense.”

In addition to their tough region slate, the Gators will travel to Florida to take on Bartram Trail and will also face Cook and Thomson in non-region action.

Ware Chomping For 2019

By: Mike Anthony

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

From 2012-2016, Ware County underwent its best stretch in school history.

During that span, the Gators won four region championships in five seasons and reached a state title game to go along with a semifinal appearance and two trips to the state quarterfinals.

Ware County has remained solid, but the past two years have seen a bit of a tail off. The Gators are hoping that some new coaching blood brings a shot in the arm to the program as Jason Strickland has now set up shop in Waycross.

Strickland’s resume is an impressive one and one that many in South Georgia are already quite familiar with.

Prior to taking the Gators’ head job Strickland notched winning records at Lamar County, Fitzgerald and Pierce County.

He coached four region champions – including at least one at each of his stops – and his next win will be the 100th of his career against just 39 losses to date.

He will inherit a Gator squad that went 8-4 with a second-place finish in Region 2-AAAAA last season.

Ware County took care of everyone it was supposed to, but dropped games to state powers Coffee and Lowndes before falling to Wayne County in the regular season finale to finish second to the Yellow Jackets in region play for a second straight season.

Last year’s Gator squad overachieved with a young roster, meaning that big expectations await this fall.

As far as returning talent goes, Ware County couldn’t ask for more than seeing Thomas Castellanos back in action. Castellanos was a tour de force in his freshman year, winning the starting quarterback job and tossing 11 touchdowns to just five interceptions.

He also led the team with over 800 yards of rushing and even got in on the other end of the passing game, going for 52 yards and a touchdown on his lone reception of the season.

Castellanos will be breaking in a new receiving corps as his top three pass-catchers have departed, but that could be alleviated by an increased emphasis on the ground game. In addition to Castellanos’ ability to run, the Gators return three others who rushed for at least 280 yards in 2018.

Five of the Gators’ top seven tacklers from last year will return to their starting positions and at least one large chunk of the Ware secondary will remain a no-fly zone as Kevin Weatherspoon returns to his safety spot after hauling in five interceptions to go along with six pass deflections and 46 total tackles from a year ago.

Ware County will kick off its season by hosting Rockledge High School out of central Florida. Rematches with larger classification schools Coffee and Lowndes are back on tap and Region 2-AAAAA could easily come down to the final night of the season once again as the Gators play host to Wayne County on Nov. 8.

Coaching Carousel

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

There have been many high school football head coach openings in South Georgia this offseason. The biggest opening was at national high school power Colquitt County.

On March 14, 2019, Rush Propst was relieved of his duties as the high school’s head football coach in a unanimous vote by the Colquitt County Board of Education.

His dismissal followed an investigation that determined he had violated the Code of Ethics for Educators for legal compliance, conduct with students, honesty, and public funds and property; including giving pills to students “on more than one occasion” and owing nearly $450,000 in delinquent federal and state taxes.

The Colquitt job became a hot topic around the state, and rumors swirled in Glynn County for a few weeks as Colquitt showed some interest in Glynn Academy head coach Rocky Hidalgo. Hidalgo ended the speculation by announcing he had no intentions of leaving Glynn Academy.

After an extensive search, The Colquitt County Board of Education voted unanimously to hire Jones County head coach Justin Rogers.

Rogers, in five seasons at Jones County, has become the most successful coach in school history with a record of 45-15. He’s not had a single losing season at the school; his teams have gone 10-3, 9-2, 7-5, 11-2 and 8-3.

In the post-season, the Greyhounds have gone 5-5 under his leadership. Rogers will inherit a talent rich program and will move into a community that is as rabid for high school football as you will ever find. Expect Rogers to keep that program near or at the top of its classification. Great hire by the Packers.

Over at Ware County, Jason Strickland has been named the head coach for the Ware County Gators, after leading Pierce County for two years and leading the Bears to the third round of the state playoffs in 2018.

Strickland was the offensive coordinator for some great Charlton County teams, then he took the Lamar County job in 2008 and took that program from 1 win in 2008 to a 12-1 season in 2011. He took over at Fitzgerald in 2012 and led that program to back to back State title game appearances in 2015 and 2016.

Strickland took over at Pierce County in 2017 and in 2018 led the Bears to a 13-1 record, which is the best in school history.

He has been a head coach for 11 seasons and compiled a 99-39-1 career record. Strickland coached teams have won 10 or more games in 6 of 11 seasons he has been a head coach.

Strickland inherits a talented roster and he should be able to come in and contend for a state title immediately. Jason Strickland is the 15th Head Football Coach in Ware County history.

Pierce County, with the departure of Strickland, hired Ryan Herring as the new head football coach. Herring was head coach at Oxford, Alabama where his teams made multiple playoff appearances.

Herring coached five-star UGA signee Clay Webb, who was rated as one of the top offensive linemen in the nation during the 2109 recruiting cycle.

Look for Herring to continue the winning ways at Pierce County and build his winning brand of football in Blackshear.

And finally, this week Tony Glazer resigned as head coach at McIntosh County Academy.

The McIntosh County School Board chose Bradley Warren to replace him.

Let Spring Football begin!

Jason Bishop Show w Kipp Branch April 13

Jason Bishop Show w Kipp Branch April 13


Gator Call

By: Kipp Branch

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Franklin Stephens left Ware County and headed to the Cobb County school system last week. By doing so he left Ware looking for a football coach pretty late in the game.

While everyone else in the state is getting ready for spring football practice, Ware County has to hire a new football coach.

When a job like Ware opens up the rumor mill starts churning. Rumors fly left and right about who has applied and who might apply.

Another rumor is Ware has had 60 people apply for the opening in the past week. The internet is buzzing with big name coach sightings in Waycross.

What is special about the Ware County job? I had a retired school administrator tell me that the Ware job is the best job in southeast Georgia. Let’s take a look at the reasons why:

1.Talent: Ware County is loaded with talented athletes. Football is king in the County and Ware for the last 20 years has been a consistent winner making it to the state title game twice, many deep playoff runs, and is always a region title contender.

A new coach comes into a stacked roster with a generational player at QB, who is a rising sophomore. The Gators have speed and size everywhere. Not many jobs have the talent pool of Ware.

2.Pay: The Ware job is one of the top paying jobs in this area. The assistants are paid above scale, and football is a priority. Football pays the bills and it is invested in heavily.

3.Support: The Gators have a dedicated fan base, a renovation taking place in a historic 10,000 seat stadium and an active booster club that raises a lot of funds that support the football program.

4.Location: Ware County is within one hour of the beach, major airport and metropolitan center in Jacksonville. The Gators are in a region alignment that sets them up to win big every season.

Now let’s have some fun with speculating who would be a good candidate for this job from our area. Keep in mind I am SPECULATING here folks.

Brandon Derrick/Frederica Academy: Fresh off of a state title, Derrick can’t do much more on St. Simons Island.

The challenge at Frederica is bringing in football players to keep the numbers up.

Derrick would have JaShawn Sheffield and Jaylin Simpson type talent, or better coming through the Ware program every year. He is a good coach, who needs to land a big job like Ware. Thomas County Central hired their head man from Valwood. The precedent is there. He needs his shot.

Sean Pender/Brunswick High: The Air Raid offense in Waycross is scary to think about. The Gators put up record numbers, that still stand today, from his stint as offensive coordinator in the late 1990’s.

Ware is a one-school county and you don’t have to worry about the talent in the county being divided between three schools.

Pender knows how Ware County operates better than anyone. Mrs. Pender loves the Golden Isles however.

Rocky Hidalgo/Glynn Academy: If you can’t beat them hire them, right? The Rock is 4-2 against Ware and physically beat up the Gators in those 4 wins.

The man can coach and hires assistants better than anyone. Ware could match the money or give him a pay raise.

He would have elite talent at his disposal annually. Could he be lured away from the coast? If so, in 15 years he could have a statue of him outside of Memorial Stadium.

Jason Strickland/Pierce County: It is only a 10-mile drive to Waycross from Blackshear. The job would be a step up in classification and money for Strickland. He would be a great hire.

Pierce plays in the worst AAA region in the state, so the third-round trip in the playoffs last season could be the high-water mark there.

Tucker Pruitt/Fitzgerald: Pruitt is a good coach who could step in and win big right away at Ware. There is better talent and more money in Waycross than Fitzgerald. This could be a dream job for someone like Pruitt.

The Ware County job outside of Camden County may be the best job in South Georgia. Ware has the applicants to prove it.