Lowndes was 9-0 and ranked No. 4 around Halloween of last year. The 0-2 finish – home losses to Camden County (24-7) and Marietta (30-27) – called into question what kind of team the Vikings really had after such a promising start.
Was it a state contender that slipped up, or a young team that just wasn’t ready? Or maybe some of both?
“To make a deep run, a bunch of things have to go your way,’’ said Lowndes’ Randy McPherson, a coach with five state titles. ‘’We had a young team. We’ve got a bunch coming back.’’
What McPherson wouldn’t blame it on was injuries. Limping down the stretch were leading rusher Nick Burgman and all-state defensive back Tijuan Lang, perhaps the team’s best two players.
That’s over now, though, and Lowndes has 13 of 22 starters back, plus some talent uploaded from a JV team that went undefeated. The team is best fortified on defense and the offensive line, which are the main priorities for an old-school coach such as McPherson.
McPherson liked the work of his defense during spring practice, which finished up last week. All four starting linebackers return, including Georgia Tech-committed middle backer Tre Jackson.
‘’Jackson is one of those rare breeds that is just a natural leader,’’ McPherson said. “He goes hard on the field and off. In the classroom, he’s right at a 4.0 GPA. He plays hard, and it bleeds over to the other kids.’’
Lowndes must replace two interior defensive linemen and two in the secondary. Lowndes’ defense won’t be that big physically, but it should be fast.
‘’The defense is way ahead of the offense,’’ McPherson said. ‘’We always put the best players on defense and go from there, and we just had a hard moving the ball against them in the spring. We’ll get better.’’
On offense, McPherson says he will have his most experienced line in a couple of years. Three starters are back, and a fourth lineman played a lot last season. The Vikings picked up a move-in over Christmas when Valdosta’s Dyshon Sims, the only junior who made first- or second-team all-region on the OL last season, moved to the country. Sims has an offer from Georgia.
Ahman Brown (553 yards, 10 TD in 2012 as a sophomore) and Jordan Williams (393 yards, 6 TD) return as running backs.
Lowndes must replace quarterback Alex Stephenson. That position will be decided through the summer, but the new quarterback will be an underclassmen with no varsity snaps. Leadership qualities rank highly since Lowndes passed only about seven times per game last season.
McPherson’s assessment of the 2013 is pretty similar to most that he’s given in his 11 (going on 12) seasons in Valdosta.
‘’The expectations here are always going to be the same – basically to win every game,’’ McPherson said. “We feel like if we can continue to improve, we can compete with anybody on the schedule. Spirits are high around here. The kids are excited.’’
Lowndes Vikings at a glance
2012 record: 9-2, lost to Marietta 30-27 in first round.
Starters returning: 6 offense, 7 defense
Key players lost: RB Nick Burgman (Valdosta State), DB Tijuan Lang (Marshall), QB Alex Stephenson (Valdosta State), DL Chandler Sumlin (Miles), DE Sam Washington (Fort Valley State)
Key players returning: RB Ahman Brown, MLB Tre Jackson, LB Nathan Brantley, DB Eric Hart, LB Brian Bell, DE Ellis Griffin
Spring practice dates: Completed May 23
Outlook: Lowndes should be strong in the places that it matters most for this program – defensive, offensive line, running back. The Vikings return 13 of 22 starters, and several experienced backups return. The JV team went undefeated. Expectations will be what they usually are at Lowndes, which would be an improvement over the first-round exit of 2012. Not much will be known until the Colquitt County game on Sept. 27 as Lowndes doesn’t play a strong non-region schedule.
Aug. 30 – Luella
Sept. 6 – Newton
Sept. 13 – Windsor Forest
Sept. 20 – Hardaway
Sept. 27 – Colquitt County
Oct. 4 – at Brunswick
Oct. 11 – Valdosta
Oct. 18 – at Coffee
Oct. 25 – Tift County
Nov. 1 – at Camden County