ECI eyes repeat in Class-A Public

Courtesy of ECI

The Bulldogs capped off a 13-1 season with a 47-7 blowout over Dooly County in the Class-A Public state championship. Head coach Chris Kearson’s team was dominant throughout the season, but really hit its top gear midway thru. The same greatness seen towards latter part of the championship run could be present in this team from the start. Eighteen players made the 2012 first-team all-region, and the far majority is returning. The offensive line that helped ECI score 62 rushing touchdowns last season remains almost completely in tact.


“We lost Gunnar Brown,” said Kearson. “All the other starters will be back and they are one talented group.”


Offensive linemen Jarrod Downer, Jarret Henry, T.J. Hackle and Mitchell Cowart were all named first-team all-region last year and will be a force to be reckoned with.


Greg Percell was the leading rusher a season ago and will need to be replaced, but James Brown and Michael Sutton are proven playmakers. Brown rushed for 1,138 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, and Sutton, who is a rising junior, scored 12 touchdowns with 585 yards on the ground. It is expected for both to put up even bigger numbers while they costar in the 2013 backfield.


This abundance of returning starters is something Kearson can credit to a decision he made a few seasons ago to focus on developing team depth.


“Coming into this past year [2012] we worked extremely hard on improving and developing depth, and I think that really worked out well for us last year,” explained the 2012 AJC Class A Coach of the Year.


“We were more energetic towards the end of the season and had everyone contributing at a high level.”


The depth rewarded the Bulldogs last season, and a long line of state championship experience now fills the roster for 2013.


Defensively, Taiwan Daughtry’s production will need to be replaced. The do-it-all tight end/linebacker and running back had a team-high 123 tackles in 2012. He posted a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery and 13 solo tackles against Class AAA-powerhouse Washington County in ECI’s only loss of the season (48-22). Daughtry also had a 90-yard interception return against Wilcox County in the state semifinals, and posted 19 tackles in the win against Trion.


Des Williams could be the next great defensive leader at ECI, and the rising junior comes off a breakout 2012 season. Williams had 96 tackles in his 13 starts and is still filling out his frame.


“Des has gotten huge since last season,” said Kearson. “He is a space eater on the field and he is probably 6-foot, (and) about 245 pounds right now.”


As for the offensive leader, Caleb Pressey got the job done at quarterback last year with an outstanding senior campaign. Jakobie Boatright is next in line to take the starting job and brings explosiveness to the position. Boatright was named all-region first team at defensive back last year and got reps throwing the ball, receiving and rushing. He had eight carries for 145 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 18.1 yards per carry. He caught three passes for 37 yards and found the endzone in two of them. His two completions went for 60 yards and a touchdown. Boatright will add a dangerous dimension to the Bulldogs’ offense. Zach Cowart will also see action at quarterback and brings skillsets that differ from Boatright’s, and Kearson believes they will complement the Bulldogs’ attack.


The schedule sets up big games before region action begins. They open the season Aug. 24 at Georgia Southern University against Metter in Allen E. Paulson Stadium. A bye week after the opener sets up a battle with Washington County as the Bulldogs will have an opportunity to make an early statement by toppling one of Class AAA’s best programs.


The focus of the team is there, and Kearson says he has not had to spend his time motivating this group.


“We got out of school late and all the way up to the last day we were working hard. We start back up after just a two-week break, but I can’t keep the kids away from here and out of the weightroom,” laughed Kearson. “They can’t get enough.”


We can expect this ECI team to rely on a defensive effort and a powerful offensive attack to make them serious contenders for the 2013 Class A-Public title.

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