Chances are pretty good that the Thomas County Central football team will be scoring a lot of points. And if the Yellow Jackets can patch a few holes on defense, there’s no reason they won’t be a contender for the state championship.
Thomas County went 9-3 last year with a young team. Ten starters are back on offense, with six returning on defense.
A lot of attention will be focused on Adam Choice, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound senior who returns for his third season at quarterback. Choice was the Region 1-AAAAA player of the year after he rushed for 1,650 yards and 23 touchdowns and threw for 600 yards and five touchdowns.
Choice has 30 scholarship offers from as far away as Stanford, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin, as well as nearly every school in the region. In addition to his quickness and athletic ability, the suitors appreciate his 3.9 grade-point average and his leadership abilities.
“He doesn’t get caught up in all that recruiting stuff,” TCC coach Bill Shaver said. “When he gets letters from schools he wants me to hold them and give them to him later, when nobody is watching. He’s just a very humble guy, and he’s a great leader and does a great job.”
He’ll get plenty of help in the backfield from running back Deondre Cooksey, a three-year starter. Cooksey, the son of legendary Thomas County star Johnny Cooksey, had more than 800 yards rushing and 300 yards of returns last year.
The offensive line has two stellar players in guard Caleb Autrey (6-5, 240) and Reggie Mobley (5-11, 210). Both were instrumental in helping a young group of linemen mature last year in a productive unit.
“Our offensive line grew up quick last year,” Shaver said. “That was big because when you’ve got that kind of talent in the backfield, if they can just hold that block a little bit, you’ve got a chance.”
It doesn’t hurt to have a dependable kicker, either. Gavin Wilson will be a four-year starter with good range who has won four games with a field goal at the wire or in overtime.
This spring the defense will be looking for answers in the secondary and at both tackle spots, all of which were depleted by graduation. “That’s where we’ve got to have people step up,” Shaver said.
The Yellow Jackets are solid at linebacker, where junior Austin Bryant (6-5, 240) and senior Jarell Jones (5-10, 210) are the anchors. Bryant, who may also see some time at tight end this fall, led the team with 106 tackles last year and already has an offer from Florida State. Jones had 92 tackles and four interceptions.
Thomas County will try to solve some of its problems up front by moving defensive end Austin Parmer (6-3, 255) to tackle. It may also ask some of the offensive linemen to play both ways at times, a tactic not normally used at the school.
The secondary is the biggest concern, so much that Shaver is contemplating the use of Cooksey and Choice back there is critical situations.
Thomas County’s schedule changed a little. Colquitt County asked out of its return game in order to play an out-of-state opponent, so the Yellow Jackets picked up Valdosta.
Thomas County Central Yellow Jackets
2012 record: 9-3, 4-1 in Region 1-AAAA, lost in second round to Northside Warner Robins
Starters returning: 10 offense, 6 defense
Key players returning: QB Adam Choice, RB Deondre Cooksey, OLB Austin Bryant, LB Jarell Jones.
Spring practice dates: May 8-21
Schedule: Aug. 24 at Thomasville, Aug. 30 at Valdosta, Sept. 6 Marist, Sept. 13 at Cairo, Sept. 20 Tift County, Oct. 4 at Bainbridge, Oct. 11 at Northside Columbus, Oct. 18 Lee County, Oct. 25 Hardaway, Nov. 8 at Harris County
Outlook: The Yellow Jackets are loaded, especially on offense, and could make another spirited run at a state championship. The team is heavy with seniors that have already endured many battles and know what it takes to win at one of South Georgia’s traditional powers.