It was an odd season in 2002 for Brookwood football. The Broncos opened at the Corky Kell Classic and gave up 301 rushing yards to Tyren Jones in a 35-24 loss to Walton. They barely made the playoffs, entering as the No. 4 seed in Region 8-AAAAAA.
Then for the second time in four seasons, they stunned a 10-0 team in the first round. This time it was Lassiter 24-21 in overtime. (In 2009, it was McEachern.) But Brookwood’s defensive problems were revisited in the second round as Mill Creek – a team that Brookwood had beaten in September – scored eight touchdowns and won 56-21.
‘’It was just so hot and cold,’’ Brookwood coach Mark Crews said of the 7-5 season. “We really struggled with injuries on defense. We went to Lassiter and played really well and thought we were in good shape to make a run, and then we turned around the next week and turned the ball over five times against Mill Creek and got beat pretty bad.’’
Crews said that just a few days of spring practice, which began Wednesday, have made him more optimistic about the 2013 season despite returning only four starters on offense and five on defense.
‘’If you’d asked me in January or February, I would’ve said I don’t know if we’ve got much coming back,’’ Crews said. “Over the last couple of months, I’ve seen kids get bigger and faster. Our first three days of spring have been pretty good. I think we’re going to find some players. I feel much better now.’’
Crews’ defense will need the most improvement for Brookwood to go deep into the playoffs. The Broncos allowed 28.8 points per game in 2012 and gave up 42 points or more in three of the last four games. Gone from that unit is defense end Shaun McGee, who signed with Georgia.
Brookwood returns safeties Nick Aube and Matt Price, linebacker Hobson McCain, Chris Dancy and defensive lineman Zach Williams and a couple of others who played significant minutes. Defending the long ball will be a priority.
One offense, the biggest loss will be Kyrin Priester, the Clemson -bound wide receiver who caught 54 passes for 1,116 yards and 12 touchdowns. Rising seniors Matt Price and Daquan Joy will be counted on to help fill that void.
Joey McLane is expected to be the new starting quarterback, taking over for Zach Moon. McLane’s brother, Ben, led Brookwood to the 2010 state title and now starts at Georgia State. Their father is Benjie Jones, who has coached at Brookwood for over 25 years. Joey McLane is a pro-style quarterback and game-manager that fits Brookwood’s offense.
But Priester’s numbers aside, the Broncos are a running team, and they will have one of the top tailbacks around in Josh Brown, who started in the secondary as a sophomore and at fullback as a junior, when he rushed for more than 800 yards. Brown has an offer from Arizona.
On the offensive line, only Joe Kelly is a returning starter. He’s a D-1 prospect. Crews said he had seven or eight players in the 6-foot-3, 270-pound neighborhood trying to win positions.
‘’We look good getting off the bus,’’ Crews said of his linemen.”Whether they can play, I don’t know yet, we’ve got 7 more days in spring, We’ve certainly got some guys who have some of the god-given size and that kind of stuff to be a good group.’’
Brookwood will have one of the state’s best placekickers. Brandon Morrow made 12 of 14 field-goal attempts. One was the overtime game-winner against Lassiter.
Brookwood also made a coaching change on what remains a stable staff. Michael Owens, with Brookwood since 2005, is the new head coach at Chattahoochee. Philip Jones, captain of Brookwood’s 1996 state championship team, takes his place. Jones had been head coach at Banks County.
On paper, Brookwood doesn’t look like anything special. But it’s Brookwood. Crews (104-34 in 11 seasons) has led his team to the playoffs each year since his first in 2002 and advanced at least a round each of the past four and won a state championship in 2010..
‘’The more we’ve come through workouts, the more I’m becoming encouraged by the kids’ work ethic, kids emerging at this place or that place,’’ Crews said. “I’m developing a positive attitude about this bunch and think they’ve got a chance to be pretty good.’’
Brookwood Broncos at a glance:
2012 record: 7-5, 4-3 in Region 8-AAAAAA, lost in second round to Mill Creek 56-21.
Starters returning: 4 offense, 5 defense.
Key players lost: WR Kyrin Priester (Clemson), RB Jamaal Cole, QB Zach Moon, DE Shaun McGee (Georgia)
Key players returning: RB/DB Josh Brown, G Joe Kelly, S Nick Aube, PK Brandon Morrow; TE Keenan Sweeney
Spring practice dates: April 30-May 16
8/24 vs. McEachern (Georgia Dome)
9/6 at Mill Creek
9/13 at Archer
9/27 vs. Parkview
10/4 at Dacula
10/11 vs. Shiloh
10/18 at Central Gwinnett
10/25 vs. Berkmar
11/1 at South Gwinnett
11/8 vs. Grayson
Outlook: Don’t look for Brookwood to start as a Top 10 team. Gone is the team’s top player, wide receiver Kyrin Priester (to Clemson), and only nine of 22 starters are back. Only two of those are top recruits to this point in TB Josh Brown and OL Joe Kelly. But Brookwood is a program built on depth and history. ‘’It’s really not that unusual for us to have only three or four starters back on both sides because our seniors are guys who’ve grown up in the weight room and earned their chance,’’ coach Mark Crews said. “We have a lot of guys who don’t play a lot until their senior year.’’ Expect Brookwood to be in the hunt for the Region 8-AAAAAA championship, as always.