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Class AA blog: Checking in with Jefferson County

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When the new region alignments go into effect next football season, the Jefferson County Warriors will appear to be in a class of their own in 4-AA.

They’re two-time defending champions of the region, which just lost its other three playoff qualifiers from last season. Harlem, Hephzibah and Screven County were reclassified, and Putnam County and Oglethorpe County were added. The new additions join the Warriors with Butler, Glenn Hills, Josey, Laney and Westside.

Aside from the Warriors, no other team in the new Region 4 has had a winning season since at least 2015, with some programs in a longer drought. Jefferson County has enjoyed winning seasons in each of the last seven years and 15 of the last 16.

Though Jefferson County enters the realigned 4-AA as perennial favorites, that’s not how longtime Warriors coach JB Arnold chooses to see it.

“We lost some good teams in our region,” said Arnold, who has coached the Warriors since 2001 and is 149-71-3. “But we picked up — we feel like —some good teams, and the coaching in this region is slowly-but-surely getting better.”

The Warriors can only hope for a vast improvement amongst their region peers because those teams will make up the majority of their schedule in preparation for the state playoffs. As part of an an eight-team region, 4-AA teams must play seven of their 10 regular season games against each other, leaving them only three non-region opponents to schedule.

Arnold did what he could with the non-region schedule, booking games against Thomson, Swainsboro and Hephzibah. Last season, Thomson (AAAA) and Swainsboro (AA) reached the second round and Hephzibah went 7-3 and reached the playoffs in its final season in 4-AA. Arnold tried to schedule Washington County for a third consecutive year but that fell through, though the two will play a preseason scrimmage.

The Warriors’ non-region games are their first three, meaning they’ll close the season against 4-AA. Last season, they played two non-region games at the beginning of the year against Swainsboro and Washington County and lost them both, then won out in region play to finish the regular season 8-2.

They beat Vidalia 20-3 in the first round before Douglass edged them 12-8 in the second round.

“We had chances to win that game but I give credit to Douglass,” Arnold said.

Arnold is excited for the prospects of next season’s team. He notes that the senior class posted two undefeated seasons at the JV level, and that the Warriors will return seven starters on each side of the ball.

“We can’t have this year’s football season cancelled,” Arnold said, lightheartedly. “We’re too talented. This is a group that’s played together forever and they’re real tight-knit.”

They’ll have to replace quarterback George Brown, who graduated. Senior Izaiah Gaines is expected to fill that role, with Aquavious Hunter also contributing.

Hunter is considered the team’s X-factor on both sides of the ball.

“He’s special,” Arnold said. We’ll have him all over the field.”

Brown was also the team’s leading rusher, though Gaines and Hunter also have dual-threat capabilities. Lee Travis Hudson is expected to play a significant role at running back.

On defense, senior linebacker Ja’quine Gilmore is the cornerstone. He’ll man the middle of the Warriors’ 3-3 stack formation and last year he finished with 46 tackles — 6.5 for loss — with three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

“I have high expectations but with everything that’s going on I’m focused on keeping my rural-Georgia kids reeled in and out of trouble,” Arnold said. “That’s what’s got me worried. But we can compete and how far we go will be determined once we get back together. We’ve got the skillset to be good and we’ve got the nucleus.”

With GHSA activities cancelled, Arnold is letting his players focus on their online schoolwork, with communication kept at a minimum. He joked that Louisville, where Jefferson County is located, isn’t sophisticated enough for virtual meetings via Zoom or FaceTime.

“Here we think a calculator is a home computer,” Arnold said.

Warriors players have been given at-home workout plans to follow, but Arnold said he won’t know if they’re doing them.

“I’m not going to watch a video or look at pics of them working out,” he said. “We’re very rural. This is not urban America down here. We’re country here, and we’re trying to do what we can with the resources we have. We’ll do the best we can and we’re lucky to have a good group coming back.

“Hopefully, everything will go smoothly.”

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