Lassiter coach Jep Irwin is using spring practice to find some playmakers.
The Trojans will have to replace the quarterback, three of the top four receivers, the interception leader, three of the top four tacklers and all three starting linebackers from a team that went 10-0 during the 2012 regular season before suffering an upset loss to Brookwood in the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs.
The most high-profile loss is at quarterback, where the Trojans will be starting fresh after a great five-year run at the position by Hutson Mason and Eddie Printz. Mason passed for 8,200 yards as a junior and senior, setting the state record with 4,560 in 2009, before moving on to Georgia. Printz passed for 8,600 yards the past three seasons and was named the first-team all-state quarterback in 2012. He signed with Missouri.
The two players vying to step into the starting role in 2013 are rising junior Russell Aarons and rising senior Will Anderson. Aarons led the Lassiter junior varsity team to a 6-1 record last season and played in two games for the varsity. Anderson is a transfer from Wesleyan, where he started the past two seasons and set the school records for career passing yardage and completions.
“We don’t really have a timetable for naming a starter,” said Irwin, who has coached the Trojans for three seasons. “When one of them really separates from the other, then we’ll name them the starter. We do feel like we can win with either quarterback, and we want to find a role for both of them on the field. We do expect both of them to play, but obviously the starter will play more. We think both of them can do something for the team.”
Most of the receivers will be new starters, too. Willie Police, a first-team all-state player, signed with Western Carolina after a 1,000-yard season in 2012. Also gone are Ryan Jenkins (Tennessee) and Juwan Dickey (Hutchinson Community College).
But Blake Wilson, the team’s second-leading receiver last year, will be back. So will leading rusher Lane Jackman and five starters on the offensive line.
Perhaps the bigger area of concern is on defense, where only five starters return.
“Just like on offense, where we’ve got to find some guys who can make some explosive plays at receiver, we’ve got to find some guys on defense who are ready to step up and be playmakers, not just place-holders or role players,” Irwin said.
Among the players lost to graduation are defensive back Patrick Levandoski, the team’s leader in interceptions; linebacker Josh Danforth, who led in tackles the past two seasons; linebacker Ryan Gildea (Stetson signee); cornerback Robert Dowling (Georgia State); and defensive back Devontae Moore (Stetson).
“The good thing is that now we’re replacing starters with juniors and seniors and not sophomores because our program has really developed,” Irwin said. “We’ve got more numbers now, and we’ve got more stability in our program. A lot of these guys that are going to start for us, it’s not like we’re sticking first-time sophomores in there trying to play in AAAAAA. We had one game last year where one sophomore started for us, and that was the playoff game. Except for that, we had all juniors and seniors starting.”
2012 record: 10-1, 7-0 in Region 5-AAAAAA, lost to Brookwood 24-21 in overtime in the first round of the Class AAAAAA playoffs.
Starters returning: 7 offense, 5 defense
Key players lost: QB Eddie Printz, WR Willie Police, WR Juwan Dickey, WR Ryan Jenkins, LB Josh Danforth, LB Ryan Gildea, DB Patrick Levandiski
Key players returning: RB Lane Jackman, WR Blake Wilson, OL Sam Wood, DB Chris Murphy
Spring practice dates: May 1-17
Aug. 30 – at McEachern (9:30 p.m.)
Sept. 6 – Sprayberry
Sept. 13 – at Kell
Sept. 20 – Cherokee
Sept. 27 – at Woodstock
Oct. 4 – at Walton
Oct. 18 – Milton
Oct. 25 – at Wheeler
Nov. 1 – at Roswell
Nov. 8 – Etowah
Outlook: Lassiter should again be able to put up some big offensive numbers despite the loss of QB Eddie Printz and three starting receivers. Whoever wins the quarterback competition between Russell Aarons and Will Anderson will benefit from a solid running game, led by Lane Jackson and an experienced line. The Trojans haven’t been particularly known for their defense during their five-year playoff run, but the team’s success in 2013 could depend on how well the seven new defensive starters adapt to their new roles.