TIFTON, GA (WALB) - Tift County experienced two different seasons in 2015.
The Blue Devils shot out to a 5-0 start, then entered Region 1-AAAAAA play, where they lost five straight to finish at .500.
But head coach Ashley Anders will admit his team probably played above their experience level in 2015.
"We only lost 17 seniors," he notes. "We've got 25 seniors move into that leadership role this year, and the numbers are even bigger with our juniors."
Many of this year's juniors and seniors were forced into playing time as sophomores and juniors a season ago. Anders says he's seen that early experience shape the Devils into a mature team.
"The first couple weeks of the season, their eyes were real big," he says. "Now you can see a confidence factor, just in the way they practice. They understand what they're up against each and every week, but that confidence is going to be big for us."
That growth from early experience can't be seen more than in QB Griffin Collier. The junior was a pleasant surprise for the Blue Devils in 2015. He'll be expected to take another leap this fall.
"Being a true sophomore last year and not having any varsity experience, he came in and threw for over 1500 yards and rushed for over 300 yards," Anders says. "He settled in. He's had a great summer. He's grown and matured, and gotten stronger physically. The sky is the limit for him."
Collier will be protected by an offensive line Anders calls a strength of his team. The junior QB will also be called upon to help make up for the production lost from star RB Barry Bennett.
Anders says the Devils will incorporate more of a running back by committee plan early in 2016. He isn't worried though about losing any of his running game.
"We take a lot of pride in running the football. Our offensive staff is unbelievable," Anders says. "They know what we have. They know what each kid's strong point is, and what they're capable of doing."
The Blue Devils open the season on August 19 at the Erk Russell Classic in Statesboro. Tift County will play South Effingham at Georgia Southern's Paulson Stadium.