Jeff Doke

Strategize

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

As society in general strives to return to some type of normalcy, the sports world does the same.

We’ve finished an NFL season many people never thought would happen (or never hoped would happen if you’re a Jags fan), the MLB season has started (now with non-cardboard fans!), and the return of what was the first major casualty of the 2020 COVID shutdown – the NCAA Tournament.

Yes, March Madness is back (offer may not be valid in parts of Virginia, Florida, and North Carolina, see your respective alumni association for details).

Full disclosure; I don’t really care for college basketball, but I love March Madness.

Like Mike Golic, back when ESPN Radio had a listenable morning show, I fill out one “sheet of integrity” every year. One sheet only, and I do zero research. None whatsoever.

In fact, every year it surprises me when the tournament even begins.

I wait to hear from that one friend. I think we all have that one friend that has always been the basketball guru of your social circle.

Maybe it’s you in yours, but in mine, it’s the father of two softball obsessed girls and current owner of three out of the last four championships in our fantasy football league.

A fraternity brother I shall refer to as “Hola Pablo.” Every year he sends out the invitations to the bracket pool, and every year I make my selections as blind as an ACC referee working an Alabama championship game.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have a strategy. I have several actually, and they all came into play in this year’s brackets.

1.Find a team that’s just fun to say. That’s why I always go a little farther than I should with Gonzaga. Accentuate the middle syllable. Gon-ZAAAAAG-uh. Fun! I picked them to win it all this year.

2.Be a homer, but not too much of a homer. As a Dawg, this one’s tough.

Kind of hard to root for the home team when they’ve only made the tourney 12 times total.

So instead, I went big on SEC teams, having Arkansas, Alabama, and LSU all winning their first round at least.

Not Tennessee, though. Never pick the Vols to win anything. Or Florida for that matter. I have standards.

3.If it reminds you of an ex or makes you nostalgic for the ‘80s, pick ‘em. Kansas? Check. UNC & Georgetown? Well, there’s no Duke this year, so go for it. Oral Roberts? Weird flex, but okay…

4.Remember the Dirty Dozens. I read somewhere years ago that there’s always at least one 12 seed that beats the 5 seed. It’s happened every year since UCLA was still buying championships, so I always go heavy on the 12s. Three out of four this year.

5.If God is on their side, you should be on their side. If there’s a “Saint” or “Holy” or “Christian” in their school name, or if they have an adorable nun that suspiciously knows a little too much about hoops without an assist from the almighty, you best hedge your bets.

Best not to prime yourself for awkward questions from St. Peter.

6.Avoid family squabbles. Yyyyeah, not this year. Remember Hola Pablo? He’s a Wolverine, his wife is a Seminole.

I had them going face to face in the Sweet 16, and I didn’t want to be the one to pick the Noles to make the Final Four…but I did, and hoped he didn’t notice. Which brings us to…

7.For the love of Pete, DON’T TALK SMACK. Unless of course you wind up winning the thing…which occasionally happens, broken clock being right twice a day & all that.

Not often though, so don’t go all big & bad in the comments unless you enjoy backpedaling like a South Georgia high school football coach caught on tape with a booster.

So how did I do this year? Not good. True, I did go 2-2 on the “12s over 5s” rule, I picked Oral Roberts to go just as far as they did & no further, and my national championship pick is still in the running, but I dropped a final four team in each of the first three rounds (Purdue, Illinois, FSU).

I’m in 6th place out of 7, and the best I can do is finish 4th.

Oh well, maybe next year. At least I have the MLB All Star game in Atlanta to look forward to…wait. Nevermind.

Loading The Gun

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The 2021 NFL free agency free-for-all began on March 17, and it’s still up in the air whether or not the Jacksonville jaguars found a pot of gold.

The Jags started the league year with over $80 million in salary cap space, and found a couple of gems right off the bat.

The most noteworthy acquisition so far is, arguably, former Seattle Seahawks CB Shaquill Griffin. The four-year veteran out of UCF had a solid 2020 campaign, posting 63 tackles, 12 coverage breakups, and three interceptions over 12 games.

His deal with Jacksonville is a 3-year, $44.5 million contract with $29 million guaranteed. It is expected that he will move immediately into a starting role opposite 2020 first-round pick C.J. Henderson.

This, combined with the re-signing of Sidney Jones, most likely means that last year’s injury-riddled season will be D.J. Harris’ last in teal & black.

Another defensive position getting some much-needed attention is Safety.

Former Charger Rayshawn Jenkins signed a 4-year, $35 million deal with $16 million guaranteed.

Another Safety, Auburn alum Rudy Ford, arrives from Philly, joining the team with a 2-year, $4.2 million contract. These two alone should provide some consistency for a wildly inconsistent defensive backfield.

Via trade, first year Head Coach Urban Meyer gets some help in the middle in the form of former Saints DT Malcom Brown.

A salary cap casualty for New Orleans, Brown joins DT Roy Robertson-Harris (CHI) and DE Jihad Ward (BAL) as the first pieces of a reworked defensive line that can easily improve on last years’ 30th ranked effort against the run.

Additionally, DT Tyson Alualu, the No. 10 overall selection by the Jaguars in 2010, returns after four years in Pittsburgh.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Jags signed two receivers off the Detroit Lions; ten-year veteran Marvin Jones Jr, and return specialist Jamal Agnew.

Jones should be a reliable target for assumed first overall pick Trevor Lawrence, and will help draw some double coverage away from DJ Chark.

Agnew is another player who will bring some consistency to their position (the Jaguars had six different kick returners last season), but whether or not his breakaway speed will be enough to earn him a WR3 slot on the offense over fellow free-agent acquisition Phillip Dorsett will be one of the more interesting stories to follow in training camp.

Regardless, the addition of this trio will help ease the sting of the pending shakeup in the Duval receivers corps.

While Keelan Cole has already signed with the Jets, the free-agent fates of former Bulldog Chris Conley and former Sooner Dede Westbrook have yet to be determined.

Another player re-joining the Jaguars is RB Carlos Hyde. Hyde played under former HC Doug Marrone in the massively under-performing 2018 season before being traded to the Browns. Hyde played college ball at Ohio State under Urban Meyer, so his familiarity with the system should make him a solid change-of-pace for second year back James Robinson.

At the Tight End position, the Jaguars have added former Panther Chris Manhertz, and have re-signed James O’Shaughnessy.

The team declined the option on former Bengal Tyler Eifert, and his status remains uncertain.

This position could be considered one of the few disappointments of the free-agent period so far, with the top two available TEs (Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith) both signing with the New England Patriots.

While these moves addressed some glaring needs on both sides of the ball, the Offensive Line still needs to be addressed, as does the elephant in the QB room – Gardner Minshew II.

With the departure of journeyman Mike Glennon to the Giants, the question remains who will be the backup to Trevor Lawrence when the draft makes his arrival in Duval official.

While Coach Meyer has said this week that they have no plans to trade Minshew “for now,” the lack of another veteran signal caller could be a final area to be addressed.

Alex Smith continues to be a name mentioned to fill that role, but if the Joe Flacco to San Francisco rumors prove false, Jacksonville could also be a good fit for the 2013 Super Bowl MVP.

Future Faces

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

The NFL Draft always has one guarantee; hope.

It’s the one time of the year where every fanbase can at least start the day with hope for the future and speculation runs rampant.

This year is no different…well, at least after the first pick, that is.

Trevor Lawrence headed to the Jaguars with the first overall pick is as close to a lock as you’re going to get.

Granted there is a small but noisy contingent of JagNation that is trying to sway public opinion towards picking Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith instead of T-Law 2.0, and an even smaller contingent trying to convince Shad Khan to go for Gator QB Kyle Trask in a Tebow-esque reach with the first pick. We have names for those people, and they are “misguided” and “delirious,” respectively.

No, Trevor Lawrence is coming to Duval, you can bank on that one.

Whether he starts immediately or not will be largely determined by whether or not the Jaguars use a slice of their $85mil+ of cap space to bring in a journeyman quarterback to ease the transition (Alex Smith seems to be the speculation du jour).

After the first pick, however, this year’s draft could turn into a lesson in controlled chaos.

First round trades have been on the decline over the last few years, but I think (hope?) that this year will be different.

The crop of quarterbacks alone looks to rival that of the fabled 1983 draft, and there are more than a handful of franchises with question marks behind center. With most mock drafts having the first four picks selecting QBs, if two more signal callers get the first-round nod, that would tie the record for most quarterbacks in the first round.

That outcome might not be outside of the realm of possibility. I think it’s safe to say that the top four in some order will read Trevor Lawrence, Zack Wilson, Justin Fields, and Trey Lance (at least that’s the way I see them going), but there are several more that are worthy of first round consideration if the franchise fit is right.

Mac Jones, Alabama – Mac had a solid post-Tua career in Tuscaloosa. Draft prognosticators have him as a pretty solid first round candidate, more than likely headed to San Francisco or New Orleans.

Kellen Mond, Texas A&M – I’ll be honest, I always felt nervous when the Dawgs had to go up against him. There were times he looked like a Patrick Mahomes clone, and he had developed into a solid pocket passer with a refined touch pass already.

I don’t see why he couldn’t go late first round, especially last. I haven’t seen any speculation to back this up, but imagine him getting a year or two learning under Tom Brady. Scary. And speaking of scary…

Feleipe Franks, Arkansas – He’s a 6’ 6”, 234lb monster of a player with an attitude to match. If not for his consistency concerns, he’d be a first rounder easily. Regardless, there is a lot of potential there, and it wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility that a GM somewhere develops a serious man crush and takes a big reach on the big slinger (lookin’ at you, Denver…)

Jamie Newman, Wake Forest – I don’t care what CKS says, I will never consider Newman a Dawg, and I will never forgive him for leaving UGA in a pickle at the last minute in 2020.

That being said, he’s a solid, albeit rusty, pro-style passer that could be seen as a safe option for a team that gets nervous after a run on quarterbacks in the draft.

Kyle Trask – Just kidding. He’s got “third round” written all over him. But hey, stranger things have happened, and he’s been mentioned as an Indianapolis target. In short, who knows?

Will 2021 be a first-round record-setter? I think that will be largely determined by who blinks in the Deshaun/Texans standoff, whether someone tries to milk one more season out of FitzMagic, and if Drew Brees finally makes his retirement official.

We’ll find out soon enough.

Hard Knocks

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Since its premiere in 2001, the HBO documentary series “Hard Knocks” has given its’ viewers an inside look at the preseason preparations of an NFL franchise.

The behind-the-scenes show has given NFL fans an in-depth look at some memorable moments over the years, from Chad Ochocinco’s final moment as a professional football player to the sideshow that was Antonio Brown’s brief tenure with the Raiders to the MMA-esque atmosphere of the fight-riddled Atlanta Falcons training camp.

Regardless of the fact that the show is an Emmy-winning production, many NFL coaches and GMs aren’t exactly chomping at the bit to be given the Hard Knocks spotlight.

The intrusive presence of camera crews at every practice, meeting, and team activity is understandably seen by many as a distraction.

In fact, the show has gotten a bit of a reputation as a potential jinx with three Head Coaches being fired either during or after the season they were profiled on the show.

In fact, the tendency to avoid being selected for the show got so ingrained that the league had to take measures to make sure there would be a team for the show.

In 2013, NFL executives announced that if no team volunteered to participate in Hard Knocks, the league could force a team to participate, as long as the team was not exempted by three circumstances: they’ve already been on the show in the previous 10 seasons, they have a first-year head coach, or they reached the playoffs in either of the two previous seasons.

For the 2021 season, there are five teams that do not meet any of those criteria; the Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, New York Giants, Carolina Panthers, and those media darlings the Dallas Cowboys.

The Cowboys would seem to be the odds-on favorite to be selected this year, since they’ve been absent from the show since 2008 and they still (for whatever reason) continue to get some of the biggest ratings in the league.

A compelling case could be made for the Jaguars, however.

Yes, they have a first-year head coach in Urban Meyer. Although that could allow them to be excluded, the Jaguars have volunteered several times to be on the show but have been turned down every time (that NFL Network spinoff in 2004 doesn’t count).

The team & its fans are starving for some prime-time exposure. This upcoming December will mark ten years since the Jags last Monday Night Football appearance, and the 2018 matchups against the Steelers were the first Sunday Night Football slots since 2008.

Jagnation just wants some prime time attention that doesn’t involve a dreaded Thursday Night Football appearance.

The 2021 season of Hard Knocks seems to be just what the doctor ordered.

How will Urban Meyer fare getting his feet wet by diving headfirst into the NFL pond?

What will camp look like for the worst kept secret of a #1 overall pick in Trevor Lawrence?

Which leads into the side-story of what happens to the Legend of Gardner Minshew II?

How will James Robinson follow up his history-making rookie season after notching the most yards from scrimmage by an undrafted rookie ever?

It all adds up to an intriguing preseason for a dismal 1-15 team.

Will the Jaguars wind up on HBO? NFL.com writer & host of the Around the NFL podcast Dan Hanzus seems to think so, even though he “doesn’t lean on any behind-the-scenes awareness of the decision-making process” but instead relies on his “broad institutional knowledge and an understanding of the shifting league landscape.”

In fact, he calls it a premonition that the 100+ cameras of the Hard Knocks team will be camping out on the St. Johns this year.

If past seasons hold true, we should know for sure one way or another at the earliest by the end of March.

Life Of A Dawguar

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Every fan has at least one moment in their sporting life that they remember precisely where they were and what they were doing when it happened. I have two.

The first is January 1, 1981. I was 9 years old, and I remember clearly watching my quiet, reserved, school teacher mom literally jumping up and down on our living room couch screaming “GO! GO! GO!” as Hershel Walker rumbled up the middle for 25 yards against some Irish dudes.

It’s the first Georgia game I can remember watching, and it’s when I first realized there was something special about this game called “football.”

Those were some good days. The three years of Hershel Walker between the hedges was enough to spoil a budding football fan. A national championship, a trip to a second championship game, and a Heisman Trophy?

One could get used to this! Oh, how I wish I could go back in time and pat early-80s me on the head and say “there, there.” Football life for the Dawg Fan was not sunshine & roses for large swaths of the coming decades.

Oh sure, there were some great moments – the 2018 Rose Bowl, the 2005 SEC Championship over LSU, the 2007 “storm the field” victory over Florida. But for every great moment like these, there’s a Prayer at Jordan Hare, a 2nd & 26, and pretty much any game against Florida in the Spurrier years.

The second defining sports memory in my life came on November 30, 1993. I was throwing darts with some fraternity brothers at a place called The Brick in downtown Milledgeville when I looked up to the TV over the bar to see the announcement that Jacksonville had been awarded the 32nd NFL franchise.

I let out a massive holler that literally left everyone else in the place silent. Under normal circumstances, I would have been mortified, but I was elated. My hometown was getting an NFL team! (Yes, I know. I’m from Brunswick, but as Jim Rome once said, Brunswick is just a suburb of Jacksonville that happens to be in another state. Again, tell me I’m wrong.)

Much like my early days as a citizen of Dawgnation, the early days of Jaguars fandom was the stuff of legends.

The AFC Championship game in our second year. Three consecutive trips to the postseason in the years following. That epic 14-2 season in 1999. And then, much like the post-1983 Dawgs, it all came crashing down. The Blaine Gabbert years. The Justin Blackmon debacle. Those damn tarps. The Tennessee &!%$*#@ Titans.

Yes, you could say I’m a glutton for punishment. Doubly so when you realize how few people fall into the Venn Diagram intersection of “Dawg fan” and “Jags fan” – “Dawguars,” if you will.

Most Dawg people are Falcon fans simply due to geography, regardless of how allegedly infrequently the Falcons draft UGA players  – three since 1995 by the way.

Three players, coincidentally, is how many UGA alums the Jaguars have drafted in that same span…and also how many North Avenue Trade School “players” have snuck their way onto the Jags roster as well.

All of those numbers are dwarfed by the massive 11 players from Gainesville that have gone on to wear teal & black.

Eleven hated amphibians that we booed on Saturdays that we now have to choke down the bile and root for on Sundays.

Players like Fred Taylor, one of the Pride of the Jaguars, that broke our heart for years at the WLOCP. First rounders like Taven Bryan & CJ Henderson. And now, after the Marrone era, we now welcome a former Gator to the Head Coaches’ office – Mr. Urban Meyer. Ugh.

Whether or not this winds up being another Pete Carroll success or another rare Nick Saban failure in the NFL is yet to be seen.

I hold high hopes that Urban will be able to take that “generational talent” headed our way from Clemson (really? I’ve gotta support a Clemson player now, too? Fine…) and return us to the halcyon days reminiscent of those first five years of our franchise history.

If he gets us our first Lombardi, this Dawg will be understandably ecstatic.

I’m just glad it’s not Spurrier. Even I have limits.

Drop The Puck

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Over the last year, COVID has caused some pretty significant sports cancellations – March Madness, the Olympics, UGA vs. the North Avenue Trade School Alumni Slush Fund Referees.

For me, the most significant cancellation was the Savannah Hockey Classic.

I was more than a little disappointed when the 2021 tournament was cancelled, but that just made me that much more happy when the news broke of the East Coast Hockey League coming to the Coastal Empire.

The ECHL, one of two official mid-level minor leagues of the NHL, has teams that include the Jacksonville Icemen, the South Carolina Stingrays, and the Atlanta Gladiators.

The new franchise in Savannah, scheduled to start play in 2022, is yet to be named.

You can follow the developments ramping up to the puck drop (including a name-the-franchise contest) at savannahprohockey.com.

In the meantime, here’s a few suggestions I’d like to put forth.

Savannah Banana Spiders – okay, full disclosure; I am NOT a fan of the Savannah Bananas.

Now, don’t get me wrong; I love minor league baseball. I had season tickets to the Sand Gnats. Call me a codger, but dagnabbit, baseball isn’t supposed to be goofy! And the Bananas have goofiness in spades.

Never mind the fact that bananas don’t grow in Savannah…but banana spiders do. Not sure how our arachnophobic fans will react, but at least it’s an ecologically accurate franchise name.

Savannah Banana Hammocks – Okay, picture this; Borat in his swimsuit as celebrity spokesman…on second thought, don’t. Nevermind. Moving on…

Savannah Hunters – This one tips the hat to both the Army presence in Savannah (Hunter Army Airfield), as well as the rapidly dwindling “good ol’ boy” demographic in the Low Country.

You saw which counties were blue vs. red back in November. Tell me I’m wrong. The only question is whether or not the “bro country, lifetime NRA membership, RealTree camo” demographic will go for hockey. Now, before you get your Salt Life t-shirt all wrinkled, chill out. I’m in every one of those categories, too.

Savannah Midnight – it’s been almost thirty years since “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” put Savannah back in the national consciousness for the first time since Sherman’s march, and it still draws some serious tourist dollars.

Just imagine the cross promotions with Club One! We’d run the risk of alienating the previously mentioned demographic, but from what I understand, every list of potential franchise names is required to have a non-plural noun (Magic, Wild, Kraken, et. al.). I think it’s a law. Maybe just an executive order. I’ve lost track.

Savannah Shamrocks – This one was my favorite until I remembered that there’s already a squad going by that moniker.

The Savannah contingent of USA Rugby as a matter of fact, and I’d rather not be the one to approach those guys about co-ownership of the name.

I know some of those guys. Some of them are teddy bears, some are wildebeests, and it’s impossible to tell the difference until it’s too late. My HMO recommends we pass on this one as well.

Savannah Spirits – Here’s another sneaky one. Do we mean Spirits as in the ghostly beings that fuel the numerous haunted tours downtown, or Spirits as in the liquid courage that fuels the numerous questionable life choices downtown?

I guess we’ll have to wait to see the mascot to decide. (Bonus points if you remember the short-lived CBA franchise of the same name!)

Chatham Artillery – This one is my absolute favorite. It references an old school Savannah recipe known as Chatham Artillery Punch.

When the recipe calls for three *bottles* of liquor and three *bottles* of champagne mixed in a bucket, you know this is a beverage that DOES NOT FOOL AROUND. And it’s one that screams “Savannah.”

Remember the quote from “the book” as it is known to the locals; “If you go to Atlanta, the first question people ask you is, ‘What’s your business?’ In Macon they ask, ‘Where do you go to church?’… But in Savannah the first question people ask you is ‘What would you like to drink?’”

Hopefully soon, the second question will be “wanna go watch some hockey?”

The Legend Of The Dirty Thirty

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

It would be the epitome of understatement to say that the 2020 season for the Frederica Academy Knights was a surprising one.

Any season that ends in a trip to the state title game is a superlative one, no doubt.

Although the season was still somewhat up in the air due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, the global pandemic was the least of Coach Brandon Derrick’s worries.

Defensive Coordinator Alex Mathis left the squad to join fellow FA coaching alum Geoff Cannon on the Brantley County Herons.

The already thin roster saw several contributors either opt out of the season or transfer to other schools, most notably the starting quarterback.

When the dust settled, the Knights would look to start the season with a meager 30 varsity players – “The Dirty Thirty” as they would come to be known.

And then, as the Knights approached their season opener versus longtime rival Valwood, COVID made its presence known. A positive test two weeks prior to the season opener required a 10-day shuttering of the program. After four days of game prep, the team headed to Hahira, GA to take on the Valiants.

After their first four quarters of the season, the Knights had given the first peek of what could be ahead in 2020 in the form of a 36-13 win.

Senior RB Kyle “Meatball” Perez put up 149 yards on the ground with 3 touchdowns, while freshman soon-to-be phenom RB “The River” Jordan Triplett notched 2 more touchdowns, while piling up 167 yards.

What turned out to be the tipping point of the season came in week three, when the team traveled to Chula, GA for the first time in six years to take on Tiftarea Academy.

The Panthers mounted a 4th quarter comeback and won the game 21-18, knocking the Knights to 1-2 on the young season, but more devastating was the loss of Kyle Perez. A broken leg would cost the running back most of his senior campaign.

The injury to Perez would mean an opportunity for Jordan Triplett to shine – and shine he did. The freshman back took on the weight of the starting role impressively, and the Knights wound up going 6-1 over the rest of the regular season, with the lone loss coming to Bulloch Academy, 20-16.

That loss would be avenged a month later in the first round of the playoffs, a game the Knights won 34-27.

In that game alone, Jordan Triplett carried the ball 24 times for a gaudy 278 yards and 4 touchdowns. Payback for another regular season loss came in the second round of the playoffs.

In a low-scoring affair, Frederica punched their ticket to the state championship with a 14-7 victory over Tiftarea.

Alas, the season ended where the Knights wanted it to end, it just didn’t end how they wanted it to end. The Goliath of John Milledge Academy got some payback of their own against the David of Frederica, flipping the script from 2018 and winning the trophy, 49-0.

When all was said & done, Jordan Triplett wrapped up the season with a noteworthy 1865 rushing yards on 237 carries, racking up 22 TDs on the ground and 2091 all-purpose yards.

Triplett’s opening salvo of his high school career saw him ranked as the #1 freshman running back in the nation, and the #2 back across all classes in the state of Georgia.

Post-season superlatives for #4 include selections to the GISA All State & All Region teams, Southern Sports Edition All-Area team, and an invitation to try out for the U.S. National Team.

While the freshman was making waves on the stat sheet, his 16 teammates from the Class of 2021were making their presence known as well. DEs Will Thompson and Will Counts (otherwise known as “the Wills”) combined for 94 tackles and were both named to the GISA All-State, All-Region, and All-Star teams.

Joining them on all three squads was LB Josh Meadows, who contributed significantly on both offense (his seam route was near unstoppable all season) and on special teams (blocking two punts in one game while playing without full use of one of his arms).

Senior MLB Joshua Elliott also got the nod for All-State and All-Region recognition, and three more Knights seniors were named to the All-Region squad as well; Eli Fritchman, Jaiden Rose-Scally, and Garrett Squire.

True, there are holes to be filled on the roster, but as any team coached by Brandon Derrick shows, talent follows talent, and more importantly, heart follows heart.

The 2020 Knights had plenty of both.

Knights Crusade Ends

Jeff headshot

By: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

As I sit down to write this, it has been about twelve hours since the 2016 season came to an end. Twelve hours since Deerfield-Windsor came to St Simons and left Frederica with a heartbreaking 28-14 defeat. Twelve hours since the drive for a state championship ended two weeks short of the goal. Twelve hours that I have spent wondering what I wanted to say to all of you, because I knew that this was how I wanted to handle this column. 

I could have written the standard game summary article, focusing on game highlights such as Jashawn Sheffield’s 85-yard touchdown run or Tyler Pierce’s fumble recovery, but I felt that I needed to do something a bit more personal because that’s what this season needed; something personal.

I can only imagine what you are feeling. Literally so, because I never played the game. My athletic “career” consisted of one tee-ball practice; coach yelled at me and he wouldn’t let me get Gatorade when I wanted it, so my mom didn’t make me go back. I was way more brainy than I was brawny, so I was okay with that. I didn’t have the dedication that any of you have when it came to playing the game we love, so I am resigned to watch from the booth. 

And watch I have. As the radio play-by-play voice of the Knights since the 2012 season, I’ve watched every moment of Frederica Knights Football over these past five years. The victories, the losses, the injuries, the highlights, the legendary comebacks, and the comebacks that fell just short. There has been glory, and there has been agony, and this season had a little bit of both.

The glory is what I want you to focus on. There is plenty of glory to focus on because this truly was an amazing season. Look at the things you accomplished; first ever school victories over Valwood and Pinewood. Back to back victories over defending state champions. A victory over the defending region champion. The 2016 Knights season was one to be proud of. 

To the Frederica seniors, I know this day is toughest for you. Some of you may go on to play college ball, and some of you may never put on pads again. The thought of “what could have been” will always sting, but that will abate with time.

What you will always hold most cherished will be the sense of team spirit that you built this year. That much was evident to everyone who watched this team. You all have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. 

To the juniors, I say to grasp this moment. Use it as motivation for your 2017 campaign. Remember the feeling of being this close and use it to take it even further next year. You’ve got one more chance, so make the best of it.

To the sophomores, it’s gut check time. You are now at the midway point of your high school careers. Things look very promising, that much is evident. The talent in this class alone makes me extraordinarily confident that there will be a trophy hoisted before you trade your pads & cleats for a cap & gown. I challenge you to prove me right.

To the freshmen, please take notice of your school history. You have just started your football career, and there is still time to make an impact. For every highly-touted player like Eli Yarborough, Max Bourne, and Shaun Tatum, there have been players that seemingly came out of nowhere and stepped up. Some for years like Luckett McKeown, others for a game like Pierce Gunderson. You can make a difference in this program, and I have every faith that you will do just that.

I feel confident that I speak for your families, your coaches, your teachers, your classmates, and your community when I say hold your heads high, Knights. This season may not have ended the way you wanted it to, but you left your mark on this school, and we are all absolutely proud of you. This season will not be forgotten. The Knights teams to come will make sure of that.

Now then…is it August yet?

Frederica Banishes Bethlehem Christian

Jeff headshotBy: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Last year, the Frederica Knights found themselves somewhere unexpected; at home for the first round of the GISA Playoffs.

After a tough rebuilding 2014 campaign, the surprising 3-1 region/7-3 overall record in 2015 was good enough to land the Knights with home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

The run for the State Championship ended early, losing to Gatewood 14-3 in the first round.

2016, however, is a VERY different year. This year’s Knights more than made up for the previous year’s loss, opening up the playoffs with a decimating 52-14 victory over Bethlehem Christian.

Head Coach Brandon Derrick has spoken numerous times throughout the year as to when he hoped this team would hit their stride. He was worried about hitting the peak too early, that he would prefer his squad to start firing on all cylinders by week 8, fully hitting their stride for the playoff run.

And fire on all cylinders they did this week. The Knights defense opened the game with a three & out. Once the offense took the field, it looked like they were going to pick right back up where they left off two weeks prior (a 34-7 victory over Edmund Burke Academy). The drive ended, unfortunately, with an Isaiah Jackson fumble just inside the red zone.

This would be Jackson’s only “lowlight” of the game. Following the fumble, the sophomore running back put together one of the finest two quarters of high school football I have ever witnessed, scoring three times on runs of 1, 54, and 55 yards.

Twenty four minutes of play, over a hundred yards rushing, and three touchdowns. Not a bad night’s work, to put it mildly.

It wasn’t all Jackson in the first half, however. Fellow sophomores Patrick Brunson and Jaylin Simpson also found the endzone; Brunson on an iconic crossfield 65-yard punt return and Simpson on a 9-yard pass from Sophomore QB Gaven Williams.

Senior CB Chris Myrick also got in on the action, adding a 54 yard interception return for a touchdown. at halftime, the score was already 45-0, and the Knights were fairly confident of the victory.

The night wasn’t done for the offense, though. After sitting out the first two quarters, Sophomore RB Jashawn Sheffield tacked on a 50-yard touchdown run on the second play of the 2nd half. For those of you scoring at home, that’s five touchdowns of 50+ yards on the night. Electric doesn’t begin to describe this team.

“These kids are very focused, very in to what we’re trying to do,” said Coach Derrick after the game. “We’ve got a bright future.”

The future continues next week under the oaks against Deerfield-Windsor out of Albany, GA.

“They’ve got a lot of skill kids,” speculates Coach Derrick. “They’re gonna match up well with us at times, it’s going to be a pretty even game.”

Final thought; while the playoffs continue, it’s hard not to look ahead for this squad. When you realize that you’ve got five amazing sophomores in Williams, Sheffield, Simpson, Jackson, and Brunson, it’s hard not to feel a giddy sense of anticipation about the next few years.

There is a core of players on this Knights team that would make any coach jealous, regardless of if we’re talking GISA, GHSA, or otherwise. It’s difficult to look at this team and discount them simply because of the league they are in. They’re focused, they’re executing, and they are driven.

And in three more weeks, hopefully we’ll be able to add “they’re champions” to that list.  The March to Mercer continues…

 

Frederica Closes Regular Season

Jeff headshotBy: Jeff Doke

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

It would be a vast understatement to say that it has been a rough couple of weeks in the Golden Isles.

Frederica Academy had two crucial weeks remaining as Matthew started bearing down on the Golden Isles, both against region opponents and both that had serious playoff implications.

Continue reading