By S. Thomas Coleman
For the AJC
Emanuel County Institute Bulldogs
2012 record: 13-1, 4-0 in Region 3A-Division B, won Class A Public School title, 47-7, over Dooly County
Starters returning: 7 offense, 8 defense
Key players lost: QB Caleb Pressey (Georgia Southern, baseball), RB Greg Purcell, OT Gunnar Brown, LB Tiwain Daughtry
Key players returning: RB/DB James Brown, LB Des Williams, OL/DL Zach Thompson
Spring practice dates: May 1-May 11
Schedule: Aug. 24 vs. Metter at Paulson Stadium, Sept. 6 vs. Washington County, Sept. 13 vs. Jenkins County, Sept. 20 vs. Claxton, Sept. 27 at Portal, Oct. 4 at Wheeler County, Oct. 11 at Treutlen County, Oct. 25 vs. Johnson County, Nov.1 vs. Montgomery County, Nov. 8 Region playoff game
Outlook: With 15-of-22 starters returning, it will be hard to keep Emanuel County Institute out of the Public School championship game. Once the heir apparent to Pressey gets comfortable, the folks inTwin City will most likely make a return trip to the Dome in December.
One good thing about Emanuel County Institute football is that it is the main attraction in Twin City. One bad thing about ECI football is that it is the main attraction in Twin City.
Good or bad, the spotlight and the attention are always on the Bulldogs. Lately, there has been plenty of good and not much bad. Since 2005, ECI is 87-15 with four region championships and two state titles, the last one coming last season when the Bulldogs routed Dooly County in Georgia’s first Public School football championship.
With 15 starters back, expectations in Twin City are high as a kite for ECI.
“Almost everywhere I go, someone says ‘Time to win another one, coach,’ “ said Bulldog head coach Chris Kearson, who led ECI to a title last year in his first season as head coach. “I just laugh and say
‘Yeah, it is.’ All you can do is have fun with that and work as hard as you can to make it happen.”
While Kearson and the community are proud of the 2012 state championship, he still wishes the word “Public” was not on the trophy. With both ECI (47-7 over Dooly County) and state private school champion Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy (33-0 over Prince Avenue Christian) winning the titles so decisively, people began to wonder out loud “Who is the real Class A champion?”
“We didn’t take a stand one way or the other on the [public-private] split. We stayed neutral and didn’t pick a side,” Kearson said. “And there are differences [between small public and private schools], there’s no doubt about that. I get that. But at some point you do want to test your manhood. You want to find out who’s best, and we feel we can play with anyone.
“[ELCA does] a great job and they do things the right way, and when you look at our only common opponent last season (Washington County), they played well against them and we didn’t play well,” Kearson said of his team’s 48-22 loss to the Golden Hawks in Game 3 of the season. ELCA lost 24-19 in its season opener to Washington County, which went on to advance to the Class AAA quarterfinals.
“We respect [ELCA] a lot and we absolutely would have wanted to play them,” Kearson said. “Absolutely.”
ECI could find itself right back in the public school title game this season. The quarterback position is not set, as Zach Cowart and Jacokie Boatright will compete for the position. But 15-of-22 starters are back for the Bulldogs, including dynamic playmaker James Brown, whose long interception return early in last year’s championship game sparked the blowout win over Dooly County. Joining him will be linebacker Des Williams (who had more than 100 tackles last season) and 300-pound defensive lineman Zach Thompson.
Kearson said this team appears to have a different mental approach to repeating than the 2008 squad that went 14-1 but lost to Wesleyan (33-21) in the championship game.
“We haven’t gotten them on grass yet because we have a lot of kids playing baseball,” Kearson said. “But this group doesn’t seem as relaxed as [the 2008 team]. They are very focused, very serious, and they’ve really been getting after it in the weight room.
“People don’t understand how hard it is to repeat, split or no split, it’s hard. A lot depends on how the ball bounces,” Kearson said. “But it will be fun to see how this group turns out. They are a fun group to be around and to coach. They show up ready to work and they work hard.”