TIFTON — Irwin County returns to the gridiron Friday night at Berrien. The Indians will have a battle on their hands on the field. Head coach Buddy Nobles also has a battle of his own.
Nobles confirmed to Georgia High School Football Daily Monday that he had been diagnosed with cancer. He has appointments this week to discuss treatment.
“We’ll get the gameplan finalized,” he said Tuesday. “My plan is to be there [at games and practices].” Nobles is thankful for the support given to him in not only Irwin County, but Fitzgerald as well. He was previously a longtime assistant for the Purple Hurricane under former head coach Robby Pruitt.
“We’re very thankful for the community,” he said. Nobles joked the support from Fitzgerald would disappear for at least three hours next week when the teams play one another.
Nobles will be there Friday for the Indians. His lineup will be a bit smaller. Running back D.J. Lundy was injured during the summer and is expected to be out 4-6 weeks. Fortunately, Irwin is well-covered at running back.
The Benyard twins, Gabriel and Garland, will help fill Lundy’s void. So, too, will Eric Anderson, Jamorri Colson and a new man in the position: Kam Ward. Ward devastated offenses in 2018 at linebacker. Now his 200-pound frame will be doing the same to defenses.
“He’s a tough kid,” said Nobles of Ward. “He’s a good kid.”
The hope is that Lundy will be back during the regular season, but Nobles wants to make sure his running back is healthy. Not just now, but 20 years from now.
Zach Smith returns at quarterback. Nobles has been plenty impressed with freshman Cody Soliday, too.
“Our big question,” he said, “is offensive line.” Jalen Billingsley is the only returnee. He’ll be a three-year starter in 2019.
Irwin County played two scrimmages this August, one against Brooks County and another against Worth County. Berrien, on the other hand, played one scrimmage, Turner County. That contest was two Fridays ago.
Berrien enters reaching for a bit of history. Their next win will be the 250th in the history of the program. The Rebels went 5-5 a year ago, one of just two break-even seasons since their last winning mark in 1995.
History has been kind to Irwin in the series. The Indians have won the last five against their neighbor to the south, a streak that stretches back to 2009. The rivalry is an old one. When Berrien opened as a consolidated school in 1954, Irwin was their first opponent.
The location of all the games in the series has been the same throughout the years, but the Indians will walk into something new; Raymond Jones Memorial Stadium finished extensive renovations last year, replacing all the stands and the fieldhouse.
The Rebels have been affected by transfers over the summer, but they have gotten one big addition. Former head coach Ed Pilcher is back with the team. He will be the offensive coordinator for head coach Tim Alligood. Pilcher, who led Berrien from 2013-15, won five state championships at Thomas County Central.