Five games to watch: Veterans squares off with surprising Statesboro

It was Labor Day at Veteran High School and the football was hard at work. But to reward their players for working while the rest of the family members were enjoying the holiday, the moms made breakfast casseroles and served them to the players before morning practice began. And after the workouts were over, supporters showed up to make homemade ice cream for the team.

It’s a good time to be a Veterans football player. 

But the excitement around the school is more than just about food. The Warhawks are winning, off to a 3-09 start, and that success has the entire area fired up about what the season may hold. 

“Early on we didn’t know what it was going to look like,” said first-year coach Milan Turner, who has coached in six different state championships at five schools. “We’d seen the plan and we’d seen it work. We knew at some point we’d get there.

“We’ve still got a long way to go. There are so many things we need to improve on, but there’s been a lot of buying in and commitment by the kids and they realize the hard work that goes with it.”

Turner said the greatest steps were made over the summer when they attended three OTAs camps, mixing it up with the likes of Valdosta, Ware County, Griffin, Warner Robins, North Cobb, Coffee, Glynn Academy, Fitzgerald and Burke County. 

Veterans has gotten good play from first-year starter Sebastian Verger, a senior who has thrown for 316 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 187 yards and one touchdown. Jalon Shine (6-0, 240) has emerged as a force at H-back (eight pancakes last week) and at defensive end (scoop-and-score last week). Tylon Chambers (6-2, 285) is also doing double duty on the line. Jacob Pierce, a senior, has been a strength in the secondary. 

The Warhawks will have their hands full this week against a resurgent Statesboro team. The Blue Devils (2-0) are coming off a 23-6 win over then-ranked Liberty County. They haven’t been 2-0 since 2013. 

Statesboro’s defense has been rock solid. It held Liberty County to just 117 yards of total offense last week and has given up only nine points in two games. Returning defensive back Michael Dixon, who forced a fumble last week, is one of the key returning starters. Dixon was an all-region pick a year ago. Defensive end Dake Williams had four tackles for loss, a sack, four hurries and a safety last week. 

Rome at Kell: This is the first of several contests between the big-hitters in Region 7. No. 1 Rome (2-0) hits the road and puts its 29-game winning streak on the line against No. 7 Kell (2-0). Rome features quarterback Knox Kadum (13-for-20, 222 yards, three TDs) and running back Jamious Griffin (38 carries for 349 yards, six TDs). Kell is led by quarterback Evan Conley and senior defensive back Nick Ross, who seems to always come up with a big play. (He should have plenty of chances on Friday). Rome won last years game 54-33 in what was the most closely contested game played by the Wolves all year. Kell was in the game until halftime, when Rome hit the jets and blew past the Longhorns. Rome won by three points in 2016. 

Southwest DeKalb vs. Redan: Southwest DeKalb (3-0) has dominated the series between the two south DeKalb rivals. The Panthers lead the series 33-2 and have won the last five meetings, including 41-2 a year ago. SWD has gotten solid running efforts from Dontavioius Spearman, Eian Scott and Jamel Starks (best known for his defensive) and has seen sophomore quarterback Rion White grow into the job thanks to the presence of receiver like Aquil Muhammad. Redan is still trying figure things out on offense; the Raiders have used a pair of quarterbacks (Corey Mikell and Ali McDaniel) and their running game has not yet emerged. 

Clarke Central at Thomson: Clarke Central finally gets a home game after three rugged road games, but Thomson (No. 6 Class AAAA) may be the best team the Gladiators have faced. Clarke will try to run the ball behind running backs Jonathan Sewell (232 yards, two TDs) and O’Brien Barnett (239 yards, one TD). Quarterback Isaac Ward has thrown for 349 yards and one touchdown. Thomson quarterback Damekus Taylor has thrown for 243 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 291 yards and four touchdowns. 

Arabia Mountain at Newton: Arabia Mountain (2-1) gets credit for playing an ambitious schedule, which continues this week with a trip to Class AAAAAAA Newton. Quarterback Bryson Williams (487 yards, four TDs in first two games) has been the offensive anchor, with running backs Jaylen Burke and Amir Muhammad doing a solid job. Newton’s offense is built around offensive lineman Kendrick Carlton, a 6-5, 315-pound senior, running back Adarius Thomas, and speedy wide receiver Michael Mathison. 

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