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May 4, 2006Statesboro (Ga) - Statesboro High school, the defending Class AAAA State Champs, are now in the 10-team (Region 3-AAAA) and will have four new opponents next season: Glynn Academy, Richmond Academy, Brunswick, and Ware County. In his first two seasons as head coach, Steve Pennington led the Blue Devils to a 29-1 record and a State Championship. Next season, the Blue Devils will have several holes to fill on both sides of the ball after losing fourteen starters.
The Blue Devils just finished two weeks of spring practice this week.
"It's been productive," said coach Pennington. "We had so many holes to fill and we're going to leave here with a great understanding of where we are as far as our younger players stepping in. We also leave here with a great understanding of our weaknesses going into the summer. We feel good about the pieces of the puzzle that are stepping in and that's the positive thing about this spring. We knew going in that we had to have a number of sophomores and inexperienced juniors step up and so far, we've been pleasantly surprised."
Key Losses for the Blue Devils:
QB David Cone
Statesboro's defensive end Justin Houston and safety John Knox are two of the best defensive prospects in the South. Both athletes shined at the Athens NIKE Camp this past weekend and picked up offers from the University of Georgia on Monday. A number of colleges had already offered the defensive duo including Georgia Tech and Oklahoma State.
"Justin has started at defensive end for us the last two years," said Pennington. "He's got tremendous hands, great hand strength, and very long arms. He's the strongest guy on our team. He benches 360 pounds and power cleans 320 pounds. He has excellent feet, speed, and agility for a defensive end. In fact, we're working him this spring at inside linebacker. We hope to get him to the ball a little bit more often than he was able to up on the line."
"John is also a two year starter," said Pennington. "Actually, John and Justin have played three years in two, because we've played thirty games. John has started at safety for us the last two years and also filled in nicely at the wide receiver spot in a number of games. He's a gifted athlete with great hands, great vision, excellent speed, and he also returns punts as well as kickoffs for us. He's a versatile athlete."
Defensively, with so many holes to feel, coach Pennington has considered moving standout defensive end Justin Houston to inside linebacker.
"We've got to replace three linebackers," Pennington said. "There's a case where some of our younger players are going to have to step in. A lot of it may depend on where we play Houston. If we can find someone to fill the void at linebacker, that would really strengthen our defensive front with Tyson and Houston up there. If we can do that, with Knox taking up the middle at the safety position, we should be sound in the middle of our defense. We're fortunate that a lot of our players did get to see some playing time, but now the burden is on their shoulder as being the starter. I think we've got some athleticism on defense and that makes good coaches out of all of us."
Offensively, the Blue devils will have to replace Class AAAA Player of the Year, quarterback David Cone. Sophomores Luke Connell and Aaron Cone (David's younger brother) will be competing for the starting job.
"David started this thing three years ago as a sophomore," said Pennington. "We're looking at two sophomores trying to fill that spot again. Right now, it's wide open. I feel real good about Luke and Aaron."
Statesboro loves to run the football out of their traditional power wishbone formation. The Blue Devils will be without running backs Charles Rock and Dominique Lanier. Lonnie Brown will have to carry most of the load for coach Pennington in 2006.
"Lonnie Brown has been the main stay in our backfield," said Pennington. "As he goes, so does our offense. He's a two year starter for us. Since we're run oriented, he has to lead the way for us."
"We feel very optimistic about our running back situation," said Pennington. "We've got some young guys that's going to step in there and we feel real good about them. Our offensive line, in some respects, may be bigger than we've been in the past. If we continue to improve there, that would also be a positive. We're looking for some good things in running the football."
"To reach the highest level, you've got to have high expectations," said Pennington. "We expect to knock on the door again this year. We might have to go around the world to get there, but that's our expectations. We want to go deep again in the playoffs and make another great run."
The Blue Devils will have to replace key members of their defense in 2006. Junior defensive tackle DeAngelo Tyson is expected to fill the vacancy left on the defensive line by Alex Dekle. Tyson is a player with the physical tools to be a dominant defensive tackle at the next level. There's still question marks concerning the Blue Devils' depth at linebacker and at the corners.
The idea of moving Justin Houston to inside linebacker makes sense, but coach Pennington would like for someone to step up and claim the inside linebacker position during spring practice. At 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, linebacker Jaudon Butler will be a player to watch in 2006. Safety John Knox has a knack for always being in the right place at the right time. Knox should provide stability in an inexperienced secondary.
On offense, the Blue Devils are still trying to decide on a starting quarterback. Both Aaron Cone and Luke Connell were very impressive in spring practice. Therefore, coach Pennington is reluctant to name a leader.
The offensive line will get stronger as the season progresses. Coach Pennington is very happy with his replacements on the O-Line. The Blue Devils should continue with their dominating ground attack in 2006.
Keep an eye on wide receiver Kennell Thompson. He could have a break-out year and coach Pennington is going to get him more involved in the Blue Devils' offense.