Class AAAAA blog: S. Effingham, Statesboro taking the right steps

One of the biggest transformations in Class AAAAA this season is taking place at South Effingham, where things are making a nice turnaround. Another is continuing in Statesboro, where the proud program is clawing back toward prominence.

The South Effingham Mustangs are off to a 3-0 season. That may not sound like much to some traditional powers, but it’s a big deal in Guyton. The program hasn’t had a winning season since 2015 and has combined to go 4-28 over the last three seasons.

In the off-season, South Effingham hired Nathan Clark to run the program. He was the offensive coordinator at Lee County, which won back-to-back Class AAAAAA championships in 2007-18. He had previously been on the staff at Peach County, which won three titles during his stay. The University of Alabama graduate obviously brought some great credentials with him.

Clark had been biding his time as an assistant and finally felt it was time to make the jump and become a head coach. Although he is an offensive guy by trade, don’t mistake that for softness. His first hire was a strength coach and the Mustangs are stressing toughness.

Clark also made an effort to reach into the middle school program and ensure the youngsters remained active with the high school program. He even got 40 to sign up for a freshman weight training class.

Clark inherited 27 seniors for his first season, giving him a good foundation from which to start. Among the returners are Austin Blaske, a 6-foot-5, 280 pound offensive lineman who has committed to North Carolina State.

Another key addition has been running back Rocko Griffin, who has committed to Vanderbilt. Griffin (5-10, 185) transferred from Calvary Day in Savannah. He has rushed for 240 yards and six touchdowns and combined with quarterback Taylor Jackson (524 yards passing, 253 yards rushing) to create a powerful one-two punch.

South Effingham will get a better feeling about its progress over the next two weeks when it plays Class AAAA No. 10 West Laurens and Class AAA No. 4 Pierce County.

Likewise, Statesboro scored a tremendous 29-19 win over previously unbeaten Veterans last week. It was the program's most impressive win in years. Statesboro began the fourth quarter with a 19-7 deficit, but benefited from a series of big offensive and defensive plays.

The defense forced a fumble that Statesboro quarterback Drake Horton converted into points, connecting with Will Yawn for a 41-yard touchdown on fourth-and-5. Another touchdown followed, this time on Jaylin Roberson’s run, and the Horton-to-Yawn connection was good for the two-point conversion and the lead. Statesboro put it away when Koriaun Reese came up with a pick-six to seal the win.

Statesboro is now 2-0; their game with Liberty County was wiped out because of Hurricane Dorian. The program, at one time one of state’s best, is seeking its first winning record since 2013. Jeff Kaiser has made strides during his three seasons, going 2-7 in 2017 and improving to 4-7 a year ago.