By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Most coaches parse their words a bit when discussing their team. Not Dooly County’s Jimmy Hughes.
He does not hold anything back when asked about the fact that his team, which entered the Class A public school playoffs unranked, is considered a prohibitive underdog in Saturday’s final against Emanuel County Institute (12-1).
“Does it bother me? Yes, it does bother me. It makes me mad that our team is disrespected like that,” Hughes said. “Take nothing away from ECI. They are a well-coached, talented football team. They’ll be tough to beat. I know nobody gives us a chance against them, but nobody gave us a chance at Seminole County (34-28 semifinal win) and nobody gave us a chance last week at Lincoln County (10-7 win).
“I don’t think people realize how much goes into what we do, how much work our kids and coaches put in,” Hughes continued. “This all started back in May and has been building for eight months. These kids aren’t here by accident. They worked hard, lifted a lot of weights, ran a lot, worked out a lot. They went to Lincoln County and played their tails off last week and won the ballgame. So for people to not respect that, yes, it bothers me. It bothers me a lot.”
Still, Hughes knows his task is a formidable one. After a 48-22 loss to AAA quarterfinalist Washington County in Week 2, ECI has won 11 in a row. The only other team to score at least 20 points on the Bulldogs was Wilcox County, the No. 2 seed in the public school playoffs. ECI defeated the Patriots 38-27 in last week’s semifinals.
The Bulldogs have five running backs that have rushed for at least 300 yards with season, with senior Greg Purcell leading the way with 1,028 yards and 15 touchdowns. He is also the team’s leading receiver with 363 yards and seven touchdowns. Quarterback Caleb Pressey, also a senior, has thrown for 880 yards and 15 touchdowns, while running for 304 yards and seven touchdowns.
On defense, ECI is giving up just 12 points per game. That unit is led by senior linebacker Taiwan Daughtry, who has 113 tackles, 16 for losses. Bulldog head coach Chris Kearson, in his third season as head coach, is also the defensive coordinator. He was in that role in 2007, when ECI won the state title.
“They beat Wilcox and Wilcox beat us, 28-14,” Hughes said, referring to a loss in Week 3 of the season. “ECI has performed well all year, and they are to be commended for what they’ve done this season. They are a great team.”
But Hughes knows he will have the best player on the field, something he has had all season, in defensive tackle Montravius Adams. The 6-foot-4, 295 pound tackle usually plays at a little over 300 pounds. But a bout with the flu a couple of weeks ago caused him to shed a few pounds.
But Adams is more than just a big body. He is cat-quick off the ball and is a disruptive force on defense. He is too strong to run at, yet too quick to run away from, and a nightmare to block on passing situations. In the semifinal win over Lincoln County, Adams had two sacks and 10 quarterback hurries.
“He is an outstanding young man and a great high school football player,” Hughes said. “He’s played running back for us. He’s played tight end. He’s our kicker and he’s our punter. People don’t know that he averages 35 yards a punt for us.”
But Hughes is quick to point out that his team is more than just Adams. Senior quarterback A.J. Smith has been solid, hooking up with junior receiver Courtney Clark and handing off to sophomore running back Chanin Hamilton, who has rushed for 1,300 yards. On defense, linebackers Jalil Brown and Mark Lloyd make tons of plays because of the attention Adams demands, and two-time all-region safety Tay Daniels cleans up on the back end.
“I know people don’t give us much of a chance,” Hughes said. “But I expect our team to perform well. If that’s not good enough, that’s OK. ECI has a fine team, but I know we have a good team as well.”