The 2012 season was one of transition for the East Paulding football team.
John Reid, who built the Raiders into a state power, left to become the coach at Tift County. Taking over for Reid was former Walton defensive coordinator Chuck Goddard, whose last head coaching job was at Wheeler in 2005.
Reid’s teams were 60-15 in his six years at East Paulding. Before his arrival, the Raiders had just three winning seasons since starting the program in 1991.
One year later, the transition appears to have been a success. Goddard led East Paulding to the Region 5-AAAAA championship and a second-round appearance in the playoffs.
“We were fortunate enough to win the region last year and go undefeated during the regular season,” Goddard said. “There were some questions before I got there, but that made the transition a little bit smoother. But every year is a new year, and in our business you have to prove yourself year in and year out. I’ve relaxed in that I feel I’ve been accepted, but there’s still a lot of pressure when you’re at a place like East Paulding because the people are so passionate about their football. There’s still the pressure to do well because the bar has been set there.”
For the success to continue in Goddard’s second season, the Raiders will have to replace 12 starters, including seven from an offensive unit that averaged 38.5 points for the season and 42.5 in the regular season.
Among the key losses are running backs Kamani Thomas (signed with Middle Tennessee) and Kyler Neal (Georgia State), who each rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season. Another important offensive weapon who graduated is kicker Miles Hemphill, who kicked a 61-yard field goal in the playoff loss to Stephenson.
But quarterback Mitchell Webb returns, as do three of the team’s best offensive linemen.
“I’m really kind of excited in that we have what I think are some good young players, and I’m really just excited to see what they can do,” Goddard said. “I don’t know if they’ll be as good as what we graduated, because what we graduated was really, really good. But they’re going to be good players. We have what we feel like will be four good, quality running backs that are coming back. Will they be as good as the players we lost? I don’t know, but I’m excited to see what they’re going to do.”
On defense, the Raiders will lose linebacker Lorenz Suttles, the Region 5-AAAAA player of the year who signed with North Carolina A&T. But they will return six starters from a unit that allowed just nine points per game during the regular season.
East Paulding has had a winning record in each of the past seven seasons, including five years with 10 or more victories, and has been to the playoffs six times during that stretch.
“Football is important at East Paulding High School, and it is to our kids,” Goddard said. “So they accept the challenge. They want to come out there and keep the tradition going that’s been going on here for the past five or six years. We’re looking forward to it, but we will have some growing pains along the way.”
East Paulding Raiders
2012 record: 11-1, 10-0 in Region 5-AAAAA, lost to Stephenson 35-6 in the second round of the Class AAAAA playoffs.
Starters returning: 4 offense, 6 defense
Key players lost: RB Kamani Thomas, PK Miles Hemphill, RB Kyler Neal, LB Lorenz Suttles, TE Aaron Black, WR Marcus Gilbert
Key players returning: QB Mitchell Webb, OL Connor Christian, OL Tanner Ledbetter, DL Dylon Coleman
Spring practice dates: May 1-17
Aug. 30 – North Paulding
Sept. 6 – at Woodland-Cartersville
Sept. 13 – at Paulding County
Sept. 20 – New Manchester
Sept. 27 – at Villa Rica
Oct. 11 – Hiram
Oct. 18 – at Rome
Oct. 25 – South Paulding
Nov. 1 – Lithia Springs
Nov. 8 – at Allatoona
Outlook: East Paulding coach Chuck Goddard expects the race in Region 5-AAAAA to be tighter than it was last year, when the Raiders and Allatoona established themselves early and ran away from the pack. The key for East Paulding in 2013 will be replacing running backs Kamani Thomas and Kyler Neal, who have been mainstays in the backfield for the past three years. Thomas leaves as the school’s all-time leading rusher (4,801 yards) after running for a school-record 1,950 yards as a senior.