August 2, 2004
Valdosta - After starting his Valdosta High career with three losses in his first four games, Rick Darlington turned the Cats around and took them to the AAAAA state title game.
It was a great start for the new Valdosta coach who knows that Wildcat fans are expecting their team to go one step further and claim the schools 24th state championship.
Darlington said, "As coaches you never change the goal and it is not bad that the fans have the same expectations we do."
If Valdosta High is to win a state championship it will be with an almost entirely new cast.
The Wildcats return just three starters on both sides of the ball. Running back Victor Harrell though is back along with linebackers Rod Johnson, Matt Ansley and James Neal.
The question for the 'Cats is will it be Torris Williams, Josh Hobby or Scott Shuman who replaces Cedric Hatten at quarterback.
"We'll just have to let them get reps and see how they do in the scrimmages and make our decision before we play that first game," said Darlington.
The offensive and defensive fronts though will be young and coach Darlington is hoping those new players will grow up in a hurry.
Darlington said "In order for us to be a good playoff team, we are going to have to have kids who are somewhat inexperienced grow up quick and maybe play a year or two ahead of schedule."
Meanwhile at Lowndes County, Viking head coach Randy McPherson hopes that everything is on schedule in his third season. "We are hoping with our experience coming back that we can play better this year than we did last year.
The Vikings experience is plenty with seven starters back on offense and defense.
Among the talent returning is fullback-linebacker Octavius Everett, defensive end B. J. Wright and quarterback Doug Belk.
"Just gained a lot of experience overall teamwise, playing as a sophomore," said Belk.
"We have gotten better," said Matt Harper. "We have been in the system. We started out with them."
Lowndes High will also have an experience on the offensive line with Andrew Dunn, Pat Bradley and Jacquinn Rice ready to open holes for running back Lynn Williams and to give Doug Belk plenty of time to find receivers Tavares Carter and Matt Harper.
So much returning talent naturally makes Lowndes one of the preseason favorites to win the region title but coach McPherson is not so sure. " We'll just see. We have a long way to go and we are cranking it up."
Both Valdosta and Lowndes open their seasons at home on August 20th.
The Wildcats will play Shiloh and Lowndes will welcome Tri-Cities High to Martin Stadium.
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