Looking forward to Panthers, Raiders, Wildcats under Friday night lights

Published 11:15 am Thursday, August 9, 2018

I am truly excited about the high school football season coming right around the corner. All three local teams: Americus-Sumter, Southland Academy and Schley County will kick off what is sure to be another exciting season of high school football.

All three teams had very successful seasons in 2017. Americus-Sumter, under former head coach Erik Soliday, had a tremendous season. The Panthers went 9-3 overall and won the Region 1-AAAA Championship with a record of 7-0. They made it to the second round of the GHSA Class AAAA State Playoffs before losing to Thomson 35-34 in overtime.

The Southland Academy Raiders had an outstanding season in 2017. They went 10-2 and were co-region champions. Though they lost in the first round of the playoffs 35-0 to Trinity Christian-Sharpsburg, the Raiders still had a great season. Last, but certainly not least, Schley County had a fine season as well in 2017. They went 8-4 and finished third in their region. They qualified for the GHSA Class A-Public State Playoffs, but lost in heartbreaking fashion in the first round to Mitchell County 22-21.

But hey, it’s a new year. I wasn’t here last year to see these teams play. I am looking forward to seeing the plethora of talent that is in this area.

I’ve covered high school football for a long time, both as a videographer and as a reporter. I’m from Lawrenceville in Gwinnett County, just north of Atlanta. That county has produced many players who have gone on to play major college football and in the NFL. Some of the names of those players would be familiar to you.

However, I’m not there anymore. I’m here. I’m interested in the teams here. Americus has also produced several great players. Two of them have gone on to become NFL head coaches: Dan Reeves and Chan Gailey. Of course, I don’t have to tell you that, but I wanted you to know that I am aware of the rich athletic history of Americus and Sumter County. Let’s not forget Leonard Pope, former Americus-Sumter star and University of Georgia tight end. Pope also played seven years in the NFL for the Arizona Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers. Tyler Clark, who plays defensive tackle at Georgia, is also a son of Americus, having starred at Americus-Sumter. He may be NFL-bound as well. There are more players like Pope and Clark who are currently playing at all three schools. They will go on to play college football, and some will be playing on Sundays. I look forward to watching and covering these kids. South Georgia has long been known for having some of the best high school football in the country. I look forward to experiencing the atmosphere, the tradition and the hard-hitting action for myself. I look forward to seeing what the Panthers will accomplish under first-year head coach Larry Harold who has instilled in his team a “championship mind set.” He and the Panthers are poised and ready to go much further than last year. Their goal is the Benz: Mercedes Benz Stadium, where they hope to be playing in and winning the 4A State Championship. I look forward to watching their journey.

For the Raiders of Southland, they, too, have championship aspirations, and not just region championship. They play in a different league than Americus-Sumter and Schley County, but the Georgia Independent School Association (GISA) is not weak. There are teams in the GISA, including the Raiders, that can go toe-to-toe with just about any GHSA school. There is a lot of talent in that association as far as football is concerned. The Raiders return most of their players from last year and have talented freshmen that are on the rise (the same is true for Americus-Sumter and Schley County). I look forward to watching their journey toward a state championship. The talent is there to get it done. I’m looking forward to watching the Raiders’ journey this year.

Just up U.S. 19, the Wildcats of Schley County are getting ready to do what no other Schley County football team has ever done: win a region championship. This year may very well be the year they do it. However, head coach Darren Alford doesn’t want his players to be satisfied with just a region championship. Like any other football coach in Georgia, he, along with his Wildcats, want the top prize: a state championship. Like Americus-Sumter and Southland, Schley County also has the talent to go all the way. I am looking forward to watching Schley County’s journey as well.

Three area schools: Americus-Sumter, Southland, and Schley County are prepared and ready to begin their quest for greatness. For Americus-Sumter and Schley County, it starts Friday, Aug.  17. The Panthers will cross Lake Blackshear to take on Crisp County. Kickoff is at 7:30 p.m. Schley County will host Marion County on that same night at 7:30 p.m. For Southland, their quest will start Aug. 24 when they host Southwest Georgia Academy at 8 p.m. Toe meets leather. It’s time for the local boys of fall to shine.


You can reach Ken Gustafson, Times-Recorder sports editor, at ken.gustafson@americustimesrecorder.com or 229-924-2751.