Jeff Doke

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The River

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

It has been said that you won’t get recruited to play college ball if you play at a small private school with less than 400 students.

Jordan Triplett’s texts at 12:01am on September 1st would say otherwise.

“We had been sending out stats and video clips for years, knowing that no one could reply,” says the Junior phenom running back from Frederica Academy. “At the end of last year, I was really wondering if anyone was watching. (Frederica Head Coach) Brandon Derrick just said to be patient. When midnight on Sept 1st hit, it exploded. It was such a relief.”

“Coach Derrick just said ‘told ya so.’”

Nicknamed “The River,” the Class of 2024 offensive star of the Knights has been putting up staggering numbers since his freshman year. Thrust into the starting role in the fourth game of the year, he never looked back.

In his first start against Brantley County, Triplett put up a staggering 163 yards on 26 carries. By the time the year was over, Jordan was the #1 RB in the nation for his graduating class.

“All this time, I knew I was putting up the numbers but I wondered what I was missing?”

It seems all he was missing was time. September 1st was the first day that college coaches could reach out to high school juniors in regards to recruiting. As soon as the clock hit midnight, Triplett had a good idea his work was going to pay off.

“The first message that came at midnight was from Mercer,” says his father, Mark Triplett. “Then came Princeton, then Dartmouth. Florida Atlantic invited him to Junior Day & their invite only camp. The next morning there were a dozen schools in just the first day.”

As of three weeks later, a total of 15 schools have reached out, including Georgia Southern, Vanderbilt in the SEC, Iowa State in the Big 12, UConn from the AAC, and a laundry list of Ivy League & service academy squads; Princeton, Harvard, Dartmouth, Penn, Air Force, and Army.

Of the schools that have reached out so far, Jordan, his dad, and his mom all have their favorites (although they won’t be revealed here).

“Yes, I have a preference, but honestly I don’t think past the scholarships,” according to his mom Becky, a teacher at Frederica Academy. “Jordan wants to play, and mom doesn’t want to have to pay for it if she doesn’t have to,” she said with a smile.

The Ivy League schools aren’t a stretch for Jordan. He currently has a 4.2 GPA with a full load of AP classes.

“I’ve got to give that credit to mom and dad. We knew I wasn’t going to be the fastest or the biggest, but they knew that if I was a little good at football but had the academics, I’d have a chance to go play at the next level at some of the finest schools in the country.”

His father has been not only his biggest supporter and chauffeur, but his social media hype man as well.

“I’ve been doing this for a while,” says Mark. “Frederica has a small staff, no designated recruiter like some schools. I was really excited that over the last year that we sent out all these questionnaires and film, not knowing what they think about it since they couldn’t reach out. Then on the first day to finally hear from 12-15 teams that did like it, it was confirmation.”

Jordan obviously appreciates the effort.

“It’s funny, when I heard from Iowa State, I was like ‘how did THEY hear about me?’ and Dad said ‘I filled out a recruiting questionnaire.’ I said ‘when?’ He said ‘Ninth grade.’”

Jordan does have an as-of-yet unnamed dream school. They’ve made no official contact with him, but they have spoken to Coach Derrick about coming to a game.

The final goal is, of course, setting himself up for a chance at the NFL.

“I remember sitting in my bed in Montana with my six Cam Newton FatHeads, telling mom I was going to play in the NFL while jumping into a Carolina Panthers bean bag. I’ve always had that dream. Mom and Dad have driven me to all these camps, spent all that registration money. I’m going to have to eventually mow the lawn a lot.”

If the next six years go as planned, he’ll be able to buy them a new house to go with that lawn.

Rotten Bananas

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Last month, the Savannah Bananas took off the mask.

The collegiate semi-pro team from Chatham County announced that they are abandoning their league affiliation and will be taking “Banana Ball” nationwide.

This move proves what I’ve been saying all along; the Bananas are a sideshow with a baseball game playing in the background.

Don’t get me wrong, I know I’m in the minority here. Everyone in America seems to be enamored with the Bananas. From ESPN specials and viral video clips, it seems that the yellow-clad sub-minor leaguers are everyone’s darlings. The saviors of baseball, some are even heralding.

Friends of mine from across the country are asking me what a game is like, and even non-sports fan friends are singing their praises. They seem genuinely surprised when I tell them I’ve never been to a Bananas game, nor do I have any desire to go to one.

My disdain for this whole situation actually goes back to my time in middle Georgia back in the late ‘90s. For most of the Atlanta Braves’ magical run from 1991-2005, their Class-A affiliate was a South Atlantic League team known as the Macon Braves.

Shady dealings and monetary disagreements with the local politicos led to the South Atlantic League team moving to Rome, Georgia in 2002. City leaders went on record saying that they were certain it wouldn’t be long until Minor League Baseball returned to the Heart of Georgia.

Fast forward to a decade later, where I was a season ticket holder for the Savannah Sand Gnats. Shady dealings and monetary disagreements with the local politicos led to the South Atlantic League team moving to Columbia, South Carolina in 2016. City leaders went on record saying that they were certain it wouldn’t be long until Minor League Baseball returned to the Coastal Empire.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Money-grubbing, power-hungry local officials under-estimating how difficult it truly is to not only get a MiLB franchise, but to get one after letting one go.

Since 2002, Macon has seen four unaffiliated semi-pro teams call Luther WIlliams Field home, three of them lasting a season or less.

The Bananas, on the other hand, started play the year after the Gnats became the Fireflies. Historic Grayson Field welcomed a new franchise that apparently didn’t mind the facilities that were substandard by any modern benchmark.

Grayson was a big part of why the Sand Gnats wanted a new stadium before they decided to leave in the first place; no in-house laundry, no in-house weight room, an outfield that often looked better prepared for the mud ‘rasslin’ portion of the Redneck Games to make a visit from Dublin than it did for a baseball game.

Kinda surprised the Bananas didn’t bring that to fruition.

That’s what the Bananas are. Sports entertainment, not a baseball team. They, especially now that they’ve gone full Globetrotter, are but half a step up from professional wrestling. There’s entertainment and there’s sideshows, often at the expense of the actual sport that’s allegedly being played. And that’s why I could never get on board.

The history of baseball in Savannah is long and rich, with championships dating back to 1906. With the Bananas’ disaffiliation from the Coastal Plains League, Savannah will be bereft of true competition on the diamond with no chance of raising another championship banner for the foreseeable future.

And that’s what really gets me. Call me a dinosaur, call me an old fogey, call me what you will (as long as it’s not “boomer.” I’m GenX, fer pete’s sake…), but I prefer my baseball to be just baseball.

There’s nothing wrong with nine frames, nine starters and the dugout, the seventh inning stretch, and a Sunday afternoon doubleheader with the occasional race against a goofily-costumed mascot between innings.

And now, thanks to the Banana Era in Savannah, Southeast Georgia is even further away from getting a real, affiliated minor league team to root for.  At least here in the Golden Isles we can travel south and see the Jumbo Shrimp.

Oh, and stay the heck offa my lawn. Lousy punks.

 

Back to Back?

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

“Oh, woe are the Dawgs” seems to be the theme of the sports media glitterati. The poor, impoverished defending national champions lost so much from last year. Woe, I tell you. Gloom, despair and misery on ye, Dawg Nation.

Oh, just stop it. Everything is fine in Athens. More than fine, really.

Yes, the Dawgs saw 15 players go in the NFL draft. Yes, Jermaine Burton jumped ship & sold his soul to the Crimson Tide. Yes, UGA still have Stetson Bennett as QB1.

And that’s where I’m going stop you. Stetson has not only earned the right to be the starter, he’s going to have a potentially Heisman-worthy year.

Look at last year’s stats in the 11 regular and 3 post season games. 2,862 yards, 29 TDs vs. 7 INTs, 64.5% completion, plus 259 yds rushing. It’s been said before, I’ll say it again – if any other QB posted those stats with a year of eligibility left, we’d be begging him to come back.

Consider me #TeamSBIV, and proudly so.

And while there was a lot of talent lost to the NFL, keep in mind exactly how much production Kirby got from underclassmen. All told, 13 starters return to the Dawgs this year, mostly on an offense that looks to be somewhat improved; SBIV, Brock Bowers, Ladd McConkey, Adonai Mitchell, Sedrick Van Pran, Warren Ericson, and BHS alum Warren McClendon.

Add the RB stable of Kendall Milton, Kenny McIntosh, Daijun Edwards, and the beastly Branson Robinson, and it’s not a stretch to think that the 2022 offense is going to surprise some folks.

While the defense will not reach the historic standards of last year, Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith and Kelee Ringo will lead a squad that should still statistically lead the SEC.

And of course, Glynn Academy’s own Jack Podlesny will carry on the proud legacy of UGA kickers for one more year.

While there are a few pundits out there that seem to think UGA can’t go undefeated in the regular season again (including one SSE writer that has the Dawgs going 9-3), here’s how this humble correspondent sees the 2022 campaign playing out;

WEEK 1 – vs Oregon – My favorite Dawg podcaster says the Silver Britches are going to blank the Ducks. I’ll ride those coattails and call it a 31-0 win to start the season.

WEEK 2 – vs. Samford – The Athenian Bulldogs wallop the Alabamian mutts 49-6.

WEEK 3 – @ Carolina – Although I’m admittedly an appreciator of Beamer Ball, this ain’t the year quite yet. Dawgs on top 35-14.

WEEK 4 – vs. Kent State – My best friend’s dad graduated from Kent State and was present for the darkest day in their history. I’ll forgo the jokes out of respect and just predict a lopsided 55-12 final.

WEEK 5 – @ Mizzou – The first of back-to-back Tiger matchups. Dawgs dispatch the midwestern SEC pretenders handily, 42-10.

WEEK 6 – vs. Auburn – There are trendy upset picks, and then there’s delusions of grandeur. Absolutely no way War Eagle Nation walks out of Sanford Stadium with a “W.

Georgia stretches their record in the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry to 63–56–8 to the tune of 35-17.

WEEK 7 – vs. Vanderbilt – Some things never change, and some things rarely change. The outcome of UGA versus Vandy falls somewhere in between the two. More of the same this year, red and black dispatches The Commodores 41-9.

WEEK 8 – vs. Florida – Dan Mullen may be gone, but the stench still remains…oh, who are we kidding. That stench has always been there. Dawgs thump the lousy stinkin’ Gators 49-7.

WEEK 9 – vs. Tennessee – This is another fashionable pick for a trap game. Much like your typical Volunteer fan, I’ve never been accused of being “fashionable.” Sanford security confiscates the mustard & Dawgs keep rolling 42-20.

WEEK 10 – MISSISSIPPI STATE – If there’s any potential stumbling block for 2022, this is it. Those cowbells are loud and annoying, but I have faith. Kirby & company ekes it out 27-24 in OT.

WEEK 11 – KENTUCKY – Another tough road game, another close score, another W for the Dawgs. Put ‘em down for a 31-28 final.

WEEK 12 – North Avenue Trade School – The only anticipation in this game will be seeing what my spirit animal Andrew Smart put on the dry erase board this year. Dawgs still run this state 52-0.

FINAL RECORD – 12-0, 1st place in the SEC East, CFB playoffs.

War Eagles Soar

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Of all the second-year coaches in the SEC, Auburn skipper Bryan Harsin is probably the most intriguing.

His first season at the helm of the Tigers saw the team go 6-7, almost upsetting Alabama in the Iron Bowl with a team that was more M*A*S*H unit than football team, then wrapping up the year with a final-minutes loss to Houston in the Birmingham Bowl.

After that, the real drama happened – assistant coaches resigning, multiple players diving into the transfer portal, and power-player Auburn boosters basically attempting a coup to remove Harsin for cause. The head coach survived, so now comes the real hard part.

Surviving the 2022 season.

Some elements are in place for this to be a much better season.

Tank Bigsby leads a stable of running backs that is easily top-3 in the conference. The receiver corps is solid if not exciting. T.J. Finley’s arrest means that it’ll be a smaller group of combatants for the starting QB nod.

On defense, the front four should be stout and once the offseason dings & dents get worked out, the secondary should be fine.

The secondary, by the way, includes Jaylin Simpson.

Simpson was the QB for the 2018 State Champion Frederica Knights team. This might be his final year on the plains and should be a showcase for him. Way-too-early speculation says he should be a second-day selection with an outside chance of being a first-day pick in next year’s NFL draft, should he declare.

Keeping in mind that, this is the SEC we’re talking about. Here’s our best estimation of what Auburn is going to do on the field this year.

WEEK 1 – vs. Mercer – I kinda wish this was at Mercer so Jaylin Simpson could re-live some 2018 memories. Maybe the score will be nostalgic enough. Auburn opens with a 48-0 win.

WEEK 2 – vs, San Jose State – Another cupcake, another easy win. The Plainsmen are going to need as many of these as possible as the season goes on. The Spartans are conquered 45-10.

WEEK 3 – vs. Penn State – The Nittany Lions took a close one at Happy Valley last year. Home field advantage makes the difference this year, too. Tigers take it 35-28.

WEEK 4 – vs. Missouri – The SEC schedule starts with a Tigers vs. Tigers match up. The actual southeastern team beats the out-of-their-league Midwesterners, 31-10.

WEEK 5 – vs. LSU – The last of the 5-game home stand to start the season sees another Tigers vs. Tigers matchup. This one will be the toughest so far, but we’ll say the home cookin’ makes the difference. Auburn victorious in a 21-17 scrap.

WEEK 6 – @ UGA – The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry gets renewed for the 127th time. This is a tough game even on off years, but the reigning champs will easily hand the orange & blue their first L of the year, 35-17.

WEEK 7 – @ Ole Miss – While it’s always fun to see Lane Kiffin on the ropes, I don’t see him getting out coached at home this time around. Consecutive losses for AU, this one to the tune of 34-14.

WEEK 8 – vs. Arkansas – As the season grows nearer, mentions of Arkansas being the SEC dark horse get more frequent. While I like Sam Pittman, I don’t see him walking out of Jordan-Hare victorious. Auburn gets back on track 24-13.

WEEK 9 – @ Mississippi State – Another close matchup in the thick of the conference schedule. Low scoring affair that the Tigers let slip 13-6.

WEEK 10 – vs. Texas A&M – More than likely, this will be two teams battling for 2nd place in the west with an outside chance of them battling for first. Here’s hoping for a brawl for the ages with Auburn taking the shootout in OT, 43-42.

WEEK 11 – vs. Western Kentucky – a “get healthy” game in the leadup to the Iron Bowl. Easy 45-6 win for War Eagle nation.

WEEK 12 – @ Alabama – were it not for Tank Bigsby going out of bounds last year, this one might be the Tigers looking for 2 in a row. Stranger things have happened in the Iron Bowl, but I just can’t give them the upset (though I REALLY wish I could). BAMA rolls, 51-21.

FINAL RECORD – 8-4, 2nd Place in the SEC West.

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