TIFTON — South Georgians, football is getting closer.
Area teams have been extremely active in recent weeks, traveling all over the state for drills. Tift County hosted a seven-on-seven session June 13. Tuesday, they will be back in action at the high school’s mini-stadium for an organized team activity involving (OTA) three other schools.
These have made for unusual pairings. Joining the Blue Devils June 13 were Tiftarea Academy, Berrien, Coffee, Ware County and Fitzgerald. Talent will come from even more distant lands in two days.
Tift will mostly be lined up against Lee County in the OTA. The other two schools are less known to Blue Devils fans: Terrell and Crawford County. Both belong to the Georgia High School Association’s Class A. The Terrell Greenwaves were 4-6 last season. The Roberta-based Crawford County Eagles finished 3-7 in 2018.
“I’m excited about this group,” said head coach Ashley Anders, who enters his fifth year as head coach.
Tift finished 8-5 last year and though they entered the state tournament as the wildcard in the Class AAAAAAA tournament, they rolled over a one-loss Roswell (42-7) and defeated East Coweta to reach their second consecutive quarterfinal. They made the elite eight in 2017, too, the first time this feat has been achieved in consecutive campaigns.
At last week’s seven-on-seven, Tift’s teams were divided into varsity and junior varsity squads. The baby Blue Devils are already turning heads for their ability. Anders said he had “big skill kids” in the bunch, but needed depth on the offensive and defensive lines.
Two quarterbacks have seen nearly all the snaps for Tift County’s varsity during June: Weston Clamp and Joe Almond, a transfer from Lowndes. Clamp was in the mix for the starting role last year. Anders said he was doing well. “He knows it’s his turn.”
After returning from a spleen injury, Almond played in seven games for the Vikings while splitting time with Jacurri Brown.
Walter Jackson is poised to be Tift County’s starting running back in 2019. He moves over from linebacker. Anders said he probably won’t have many defensive snaps this season because of the new role. Backups include Chrishon Stephens, K.D. McCormick and Zach Carter. Stephens had the most game experience at the position last year, scoring a touchdown against Worth County.
Cade Anders and Ben Brock are listed as tight ends. Anders will also get time at defensive end. Other receivers available are Jeremiah McKinnon, Azaria Smith and Ty Hall. Smith is a potential quarterback candidate.
Line is anchored by center Boone Utley, who earned heaps of praise from his head coach. “I can’t say enough about him,” said Anders. The Devils have a pair of twin towers at the tackles, Tye Conner and Archer Hathaway. Both are 6.5-feet tall and weight in over 300 pounds. Hathaway came over this spring after his father, Adam Hathaway, accepted the job as Tift County’s superintendent of schools.
On the other side of the line stands quite an imposing defensive line: Tyre West, Jalon Miller, Charles King and Byronn Williams. West, a sophomore, has already caught the attention of every coach in the Southeastern Conference. King is a junior, Miller and Williams seniors. Williams, who saved his best for the state tournament, is already having “an unbelievable summer,” according to Anders.
J.D. Bengston and Daniel Whitehead are among the linebackers he’s had this summer.
Two defensive backs have been limited during the offseason because of injuries (Stephen Thomas and Wendell McClain), but Tift is not hurting at that position. Transfer Willie Brown has played well and Jamaal Davenport had valuable experience a year ago.
Kicker is still up in the air, something not seen for some years for Tift County after the long runs of Frankie Mejia, Fernando Ramirez and Rosendo Ramirez. Pedro Mendoza was the latter’s backup last year. Kevyn Lopez is competing for the spot as well. Colby Gann will be back at punter.
Tift gets a break after this week for the annual Georgia High School Association “dead week,” which lasts from June 30-July 6. Preparations for the 2019 season ramp up even more afterwards, with the Blue Devils set to scrimmage at Lee County Aug. 15.