By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Tucker players always get considerably stronger during the off season, thanks to the strength and conditioning program first implemented by former head coach Franklin Stephens, and now continued by Bryan Lamar.
But look for the Tigers to be even stronger in 2013 after carrying around so many chips on their shoulders since the season ended late last November:
– Tucker lost three games by an average of five points last season.
– They led Northside-Warner Robins 13-3, in Warner Robins, heading into the fourth quarter in the quarterfinals, but ultimately lost the game (23-20) after committing five turnovers.
– The Tigers lost to two of their main DeKalb County rivals, Stephenson (13-6) and M.L. King (24-17).
“Our program is at the level where we always feel we have a chance [to win region and state championships], but we were just so young last season,” Lamar said of his first season at the helm, after serving as a top assistant on the Tucker staff under Stephens, now at Lamar County. “Last year we shot ourselves in the foot a lot. We weren’t able to finish [games]. But last year we had just one returning starter on defense and three on offense. This year it’s the opposite.”
This fall, 15 of the combined 22 starters on offense and defense are back for a Tucker team that survived the gauntlet that is Region 6AAAAA, in spite of its youth and inexperience, and then advanced deeper in the playoffs than any other team in its region. So this season, expectations are even higher than they usually are at Tucker.
“We’ve got a good group of kids, a good nucleus coming back,” Lamar said. “But nothing is ever guaranteed.”
That is particularly true for the teams competing in arguably the toughest region in the state. Last season, of the 10 teams in 6AAAAA (Clarkston played a non-region schedule), six finished .500 or better and a seventh, Arabia Mountain, finished 4-6 in just its second full varsity season. Tucker finished third in the league due to the losses to Stephenson and region-champion M.L. King. And those losses still sting.
“It’s a great, unique rivalry that you have all of these DeKalb County teams in the same region,” Lamar said. “It’s good for the sport and for the community.
“We take tremendous pride in what we’ve achieved at Tucker, and we feel like we’re the [DeKalb] team with all the hardware,” Lamar said. “But at the same time, Stephenson and M.L.K. feel like the only reason we have the hardware is because we didn’t have to play them in the past, being in a different classification. Now we have to live with the fact that they beat us, and it’s tough for the players and the coaches, too. We all see each other out in the community, at church, everywhere. I think it has put a chip on our guys’ shoulders that they’ve had to carry around this off season.”
If the Tigers are to exact a measure of revenge and then compete for the school’s third state championship, they will have to take care of the ball better and improve their overall blocking. Lamar said that will be the focus once during spring practice and during the summer.
“We’ve got to limit our turnovers and we have to hold our blocks longer, even our running backs,” he said. “On the offensive line, we think we have some players, but that’s a work in progress. We’re really going to put some pressure on those guys, really turn the heat up on them and see who rises to the top.”
2012 record: 10-3, 7-2 Region 6-AAAAA, lost in quarterfinals to Northside-Warner Robins
Starters returning: 10 offense; 5 defense.
Key players lost: QB/DB/ATH Juwaan Williams (Oregon); OL Evan Clay (Tennessee State); OL/DL Solomon Jackson (Buffalo); OL Alex Hayes (Syracuse).
Key players returning: LB Dertric Dukes; NT Elisha Shaw; S/WR Kirk Tucker; S/ATH Dominick Sanders; S Devanta Reynolds.
Spring practice dates: May 6-17. Spring Game on May 17, 5:30 p.m. at Fitzgerald Field (Tucker Youth Football Complex).
Schedule: (Scrimmage) Aug. 16 at Marist; Aug. 23 Cedar Grove; Sept. 6 North Atlanta; Sept. 13 Arabia Mountain; Sept. 20 Dunwoody; Sept. 27 Lakeside-DeKalb; Oct. 11 Stephenson; Oct. 18 Southwest DeKalb; Oct. 25 Miller Grove; Nov. 1 M.L. King; Nov. 8 Mays.
Outlook: The Tigers’ three losses were by a combined 17 points last season, including a 23-20 loss in the quarterfinals at Northside-Warner Robins, a game Tucker led 13-3 going into the fourth quarter. With a ton of talent coming back, look for the Tigers to be one of the favorites to win the Class AAAAA title.