This is the third in a series of stories on high school football teams in the Bi-City area. Coming Tuesday: Hardaway
Chattahoochee County's record from the 2011 season, 2-8, says the Panthers had their worst season in school history and its second straight losing season since going 9-2 in 2009.
However, the Panthers' list of results deserves a second look. ChattCo lost three games by a total of 14 points, including a 21-14 loss to Brookstone that saw the teams tied at 14 midway through the fourth quarter.
A play here and a play there and the Panthers' 2-8 record in coach Russell Morgan's first season could have been 4-6 or 5-5 -- not a spectacular record but still better than 2-8.
With Morgan ready to start his second season at the helm, he said ChattCo can take a step forward in 2012.
"I think last year was a combination of a lot of things," said Morgan, whose team opens its season Aug. 31 against Stewart County in Cusseta. "Last year was my first year, and I was the third coach in three years for this team. The program hasn't had a consistent leader, and that will be improved along with our kids having more experience. I think we can be better just by cutting down on our mental mistakes, and, hopefully, that will come with experience. We were just so inconsistent. We'd play a team like Brookstone tough, and then we'd lose to a team that went 1-9 (Macon County)."
Along with the continuity in leadership of the program, Morgan said practice has gone well due to having several returning players and a high turnout at summer workouts.
"Practice has been going OK," Morgan said. "Our school is over 60 percent military, and the football team is about 70 percent military, and a lot of them are gone over the summer. But we had a good turnout for summer workouts, and practice is going much better than last summer. We've got a good number of players back from last year, and some of our guys that were starters last year are going to be backups this year."
The Panthers return 13 starters off last year's team, including six on offense and seven on defense. ChattCo has about 40 players in practice. and Morgan is optimistic that the Panthers' roster can reach 50 by the season opener as incoming freshmen join the team.
One of the leaders for ChattCo is expected to be linebacker/offensive lineman Marquis Jews, who Morgan said "has had a great offseason. He's trimmed up and gotten a lot quicker." Also being counted on are Jamaris and Javaris Jones. Jamaris will be a tight end and play some offensive line for the Panthers, while Javaris is a split end/free safety.
ChattCo will have to break in a new quarterback in Chris Askew, who has spent time at wide receiver and running back, but Morgan said his backfield and wideouts will be able to carry the offensive load.
"I'd have to say our skill kids are a strong point," Morgan said. "We're probably deeper there than we have been. Our line on both sides of the ball isn't as deep, but it's picking up. We only had eight seniors last year, so a lot of 10th-graders played last year. That means we have more experience coming back. We still only have about eight or nine seniors this year, but we have 22-23 juniors, and they played a lot last year."
A new season also means a new region for the Panthers, who moved from Region 4-A to Region 5-AA. ChattCo's 2012 schedule is totally new -- no teams ChattCo played in 2011 are on the 2012 slate -- and teams such as Bowdon, Bremen, Temple and Manchester replace Dooly County, Brookstone, Pacelli and Greenville.
"It's probably 122 miles or so from here to Bremen," Morgan said. "If I was the guy making the regions, I'd have done it differently, but we just have to battle through it. Bremen, Bowdon and Temple (all 2011 playoff teams) are going to be strong. That's what we have to deal with, so we'll do the best we can and make it through."
The Panthers host Columbus in a preseason scrimmage Aug. 24 before their opener against Stewart County. After a pair of non-region games to open the season (versus Stewart County, at Terrell County), ChattCo opens region play Sept. 14 at preseason favorite Bremen.
Following the Bremen game, the Panthers play four home games in five contests from Sept. 21 to Oct. 26, with the only road trip being to Kinnett Stadium to face Kendrick. ChattCo then closes its season with consecutive road games at Manchester and Temple.CLOSER LOOK
Head Coach: Russell Morgan
Last season's record: 2-8, 2-8 Region 4-A
Last season's playoff record: 0-0
Aug. 31 Stewart Co. 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 7 at Terrell Co. 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 14 at Bremen 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 21 Bowdon 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 5 Heard Co. 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 12 Jordan 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 18 Kendrick (K) 7 p.m.
Oct. 26 Spencer 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 2 at Manchester 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 9 at Temple 7:30 p.m.