TIFTON — The 2019 football season is inching ever so close for high schools in Georgia. Tiftarea Academy has been hard at work practicing and traveling.

The Panthers have had a camp at the University of Georgia. They have participated in a seven-on-seven activity at Tift County. Most recently, they traveled north to work with even more teams.

Tiftarea played a seven-on-seven at Northside High of Warner Robins Thursday. Far from staying challenging teams of its own size, the Panthers set their sights on bigger opponents. Head coach Erik Soliday said they matched up against Northside, Ware County and Lithia Springs. Northside is the largest of that trio at Class AAAAAA, with the other two checking in at AAAAA.

Not that Tiftarea minded. Soliday said it was good for them to play larger schools.

“We saw some speed,” he said.

The season is fast approaching in Chula. Tiftarea players will be independent on Independence Day, but will be back on the field for conditioning soon after. “We take next week off and right back to work,” he said.

After conditioning comes fully padded practices. The next step will be an ever larger step towards the season: scrimmages. The Panthers have one scrimmage on the schedule, which takes place Aug. 15 at Trinity Christian of Dublin. From there, it will be on to Creekside Christian in McDonough on Aug. 23.

This is supposed to be more or less a rebuilding year for Tiftarea. One of the most talented senior classes in school history received diplomas in May. It was a group that made the final four in state football competition in 2018 and achieved the first 10-0 regular season campaign since football began in 1975. Early signs, however, are positive.

Even a coach as seasoned as Soliday is a bit shocked.

“It’s been a pleasant surprise,” he said.

Senior Logan Crosson is still quarterbacking. The role has been his since his sophomore season. Behind him is Dylan Harbort, a sophomore. They’ll be throwing passes to players such as Jayk Sailer, Cason Peavy and Will Ross. Soliday figures Sailer will be a big part of the offense.

For the first time in five seasons, Spence Massey won’t be in the backfield. Adam McKinney, his backup last year, will take over running the ball. Mark Coley has been doing good work this summer as well.

Soliday listed starting offensive linemen possibilities as Ben Matt, Jackson Hoover, Ty Haskins, Banks Johnson and Wesley Malone. The same lineup will perform the same function on defense.

A healthy Jaden Jones will be in the linebacking corps. Soliday said he had been playing well before he was injured during 2018. Ross, Harbort and Brock Hammond can play the position as well.

McKinney, Peavy, Sailer and Coley will be seen in the secondary.

Colson Stewart will continue the family tradition of kicking. He can handle placekicking and punting.

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