Tiftarea Panthers hope year 3 is the magic number - WALB.com, South Georgia News, Weather, Sports

Tiftarea Panthers hope year 3 is the magic number

Tiftarea football (Source: WALB) Tiftarea football (Source: WALB)
Spence Massey (Source: WALB) Spence Massey (Source: WALB)
Tully Payne (Source: WALB) Tully Payne (Source: WALB)
CHULA, GA (WALB) -

The Tiftarea football program is starting to make up ground the stacked Region 3AAA.

For head coach Tully Payne, and for his deep junior class-- they're hoping year 3 is the magic number.

No disrespect to the seniors, but out in Chula, it's the junior class that runs the show.

About 70 percent of the Tiftarea football roster belongs to the class of 2019.

Entering year three isn't exclusive to the athletes. This is head coach Tully Payne's third year at the helm for the Panthers. 

From 2 wins in 2015, to 5 last season, Payne expects the progression to continue in 2017.

"I expect to make the playoffs," said Payne at morning practice. "I expect to have a winning season. I expect to be state championship contenders."

That starts with the performance of the juniors. They're led by quarterback Spence Massey. 

"The biggest grade at Tiftarea probably is the junior class, so we've got a lot of players," said Massey. "We act like the seniors sometimes."

Last fall Massey etched his name into history. He's believed to have broke the GISA single-game rushing record with 383 yards against Westfield. He was the engine that made the team move, and don't expect that to change this fall.

"He's been my workhorse," said Payne. "He plays secondary, he plays all special teams and he does everything we ask him to do. He's a great player and a fine young man."

The Panthers haven't won region since 2005, and they haven't won state since 1992. 

While the juniors are the strength, Payne knows he'll need the entirety of his team to end the drought in Chula.

"You look for that good mesh, but the biggest thing is you got to get the kids playing together as a unit. If there's no unity, if there's no team spirit, than you've just got a bunch of individuals out there."

The Panthers open the season against Robert Toombs Christian at home on August 11th.

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