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August 15, 2018     The Monroe County Reporter
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Page 2 By Richard Dumas iorsyth©tnymcmet Expectations are always high for Mary Persons football, but perhaps they’ve never been higher in the past two decades than they are in 2018. Ifever there was a team capable of break- ing through and getting MP to its first state championship game appearance in 25 years or even its first state title in 38 years, it could be the 2018 squad. With 29 seniors, the Bulldogs possess their largest senior class in the seven-year tenure of head coach Brian Nelson and most of the returners have extensive play— ing experience. In fact, a whopping 13 Bulldog players who received All-Region 2-AAAA first, second or honorable men- tion honors in 2017 are back in 2018. THE SKINNY: . keeps knocking on the door of great- ness repeatedly. The gradually improving Mary Persons Bull— dogs football program is trying to achieve the latter in 2018, and the time has never been . better to bust through that metaphorical door. the aforementionedgoals yet again. Sometimes long sports droughts end abruptly, such as when the 2018 Philadelphia Eagles captured the city’s first-ever Super Bowl crown seemingly out of nowhere. Other times they conclude when a team or program Under MP head coach Brian Nelson, the Bulldogs have almost exorcised all of the program’s post -Dan Pittsdemons. In 2012, MP won 10 games for the first time since 1998, in 2013, MP reached the state quar- terfinals for the first time since 1998, in 2015, MP captured its first region title since 1997, in 2016, MP reached the statesemifinals for the first timesince 1998, and in 2017, MP managed to reach every one of Now, all that’s left for Nelson and his seasoned staff wWwamww/w Dogs huti state title ‘ This year’s senior class, led by quarter- back ].T. Hartage and running back Quen Wilson, captured the Central Georgia Middle School Athletic League (CGM— SAL) championship as eighth graders, lost a single game as ninth graders on IV and have played significant roles on back- to-back AAAA state semifinal teams as sophomores and juniors. In fact, in MP’s six losses over the past two years, three have come to eventual state champions (Cartersville in 2016, Blessed Trinity and Lee County in 2017), one came to an eventual state runner-up (Peach County in 2017), one came to an eventual state semi- final team (Peach County in 2016) and the other came in the 2016 season opener to AAAAAA Houston County, who featured a quarterback in lake Fromm who started a year later on a College Football Playoff is for the Bulldogs to advance to the AAAA state finals for the first time since 1993 and possibly even to win just the program’s second state championship and first since 1980. Nelson has set up a challenging non—region schedule designed to test a veteran squad with 15 returning starters, including 13 players who were all~region choices last year. Two of those non—region opponents, Lovett and Peach County, are once again expected to be among the top teams in AAA. MP’s region schedule won’t be easy either, although the Bulldogs are heavily favored to win a fourth straight region crown. But the 10 regular season games, of which MP should be the favorite in 9 of them (all but perhaps the Peach County road game, although it too is winnable), are just a mere appetizer to the excitement of what could come in the playoffs. . Defending champion Blessed Trinity, who came to Forsyth and ousted the Bulldogs from the playoffs last December, is expected to open the season as the consensus No. 1 squad in AAAA. State powers Carters— ville, Marist, Troup County and Woodward Academy v ' wmm-mwmwmmw OFFENSE POS. PLAYER YR. QB J .T. Hartage #8 Sr. LT Noah Davis #52 Sr. LG Desmond Jones #56 Sr. C V Charles Dean #55 Sr. RG Luke Byrne #54 Sr. RT Colton Dingmore #51 Sr. TE Andre Jackson #87 ,Jr. WR De’Adrek Alford #83 Sr. WR Trippe Moore #1 Jr. WR Antoine Davis #5 Sr. RB Quen Wilson #6 Sr. K Liam Spence #46 Sr. runner-up team. Nelson said he thinks his team’s confidence has been buoyed by how it has performed against some of the state’s toughest competition over the past several years. “These kids coming up now, they don’t know anything different than winning,” Nelson said. “This senior group’s won three region championships and been to the semis twice. Our name is being talked about with those schools now. That’s the whole goal of it. And now it’s just playing the game and having the right pieces. And a couple of things have got to go your way.” With 15 returning starters, 8 on offense and 7 on defense, Nelson said it was tough to set a schedule this year. He said an unforeseen negative aspect of MP’s success in recent years has been that many strug— gling middle Georgia squads are unwilling FROM THEDOGHOUSE Mary Persons 2016 Finish: 11—3 (6—0 in Region 2—AAAA) of the AAAA state playoffs. Key Returning Players: Williams Projected MP Varsity Starters Lost 28-7 to Blessed Trinity in the semifinals Offense: RB Quen Wilson, QB J.T. Hartage, WR Antoine Davis, LT Noah Davis Defense: DE Daniel Lavelle, DE Kendrell Watts, OLB Ladamian Sands, FS Desmond With 29 seniors, including backfield stars J.T. Hartage and Quen Wilson, now is the time for MP to elevate itself back to where Pitts kept the Bulldogs for nearly three decades, squarely among the state’s premier programs. Not only could MP enter the playoffs unde- feated, but don’t underestimate MP’s potential to win] the whole thing right now. ‘ ' Under Nelson’s steady hand, that door to greatness is falling down sooner or later anyway. It might as well be this year. In the words of the gridiron great Terrell Owens, “Get your popcorn ready.” NIP fans very well could be in for aseason for the ages. August 15, 2018 .w w, wwmy-x DEFENSE POS. PLAYER 7 YR. DE Daniel Lavelle #24 Sr. NG Derrick Goodson #99 Sr. DE Kendrell Watts #35 Sr. OLB Iadanfian Sands#16 Sr. MLB Jumon Wilson #9 Sr. OLB Kanidric Jones #7 Sr. DOG Laderik Barkley#19 Sr. CB Antoine Davis #5 Sr. CB Rico Harden #22 Jr. SS Jaboree Goodson #29 So. FS Desmond Williams#4 Sr. P Desmond Williams#4 Sr. to play the vaunted Bulldogs. However, MP’s growing statewide reputation has caused Nelson to start getting phone calls from top AAAAAA and AAAAAAA programs like Camde_n County, Northside (Warner Robins) and Tift County that could overmatch MP. In hopes of finding a medium, Nelson said he settled on facing longtime state power Gainesville and a pair of Atlanta-area programs, Lovett and Morrow, to join rivals Iackspn and Peach County in the non—regiOn portion of MP’s 2018 slate. “It goes back to my theory about Atlanta, NorthGeorgia,” Nelson said. “You get your name recognition out there. Up that way is where people get talked about. You’re playing Lovett, now it’s in the AIC (Atlanta See PREVIEW o Page 13 are also among the teams expected to challenge the Titans. But perhaps MP could mount the strongest challenge. The Bulldogs are just two years removed from knocking off the Titans in one of the all-time Mitchell Field classics and are unlikely to be intimidated by a poten— tial rubber match with . Blessed Trinity.