This is the 13th in a series previewing football teams around the Bi-City area. Coming Friday: Spencer
By DAVID MITCHELL
The last time Carver High took the field, it was a physical grind in the Class AA semifinals against one of the best teams in the state.
Some might still consider that Buford High team the best in Class AA in 2011, despite its loss to Calhoun in the title game a week later.
And more might credit the Tigers for their role in banging the Wolves up, holding them back in that final game.
"Coach Simpson told me after that game, 'Man, you guys beat us up,'" Carver coach Dell McGee said.
But that doesn't make the loss any easier to take.
Carver wants another state title to go along with the won it won in 2007, and it's willing to do what it takes to get there.
"That's our goal," said junior safety and linebacker Tim Whatley. "Every year. That's what we're playing for."
As it opens the 2012 season with a scrimmage tonight against Central-Phenix City (Garrett-Harrison Stadium, 7 p.m.), Carver will be looking at the little things: the fundamentals, the execution, minimizing mistakes and how the players face adversity at game speed.
They're each saying all the right things about taking it one game at a time and focusing on improvement.
But the simple fact is that this is a talented team, and it is ready to take the next step.
"We're always trying to get better," junior quarterback Torrance McGee said. "We want to be more focused this year. We want to be greedy. We never want to be satisfied."
Dell McGee, always a voice to curb rampant optimism, points to a few areas in which his team still needs to improve, areas which will be on display in the scrimmage tonight.
He points to the offensive line, which, while talented, has experienced some injuries and lacks a lot of quality depth.
"We've got a lot of new starters on the line, so that communication, talking and working together is going to come with more reps," the coach said. "It's the hardest area to get comfortable with. If you don't have some experienced guys there, it's the last thing that'll come around, and your offense changes completely."
He added that with the injuries have come opportunities for the young guys, who could be ready to step up in time.
But John Thomas, a member of the 2012 Ledger-Enquirer's Dandy Dozen, and Toddrick Johnson, both seniors, will be back up front and should give some stability to the position.
Dell McGee also pointed to his secondary as an area to keep an eye on early in the season. Like the offensive line, it is a unit full of fresh faces. All four starters are new, even though they are all juniors.
Loyoll Parks and Whatley will patrol the middle of the field at the safety spots, while Talik Quarterman and Kiante Walton will play cornerback. Khane Pass, a sophomore, is another face to watch in the secondary, the coach said.
Whatley said, despite the inexperience, he and the rest of the defense is beginning to feel more comfortable on the field.
"Things look good," he said. "We're learning to lead more and get all the calls down. We're talking it up, and we have more confidence in our calls."
The skill positions on offense are positions that seem stable for the Tigers.
Torrance McGee will be in his second year starting. Marqui Hawkins, who has committed to the University of Florida, will be back at wide receiver, and Brandon Thomas, who rushed for about 600 yards as a backup last season, will be handling the carries.
"We're just trying to get more continuity in our passing game right now," Dell McGee said. "Get the timing down between the quarterback and the wide receiver."
Both Dell McGee and his players understand the purpose of their scrimmage tonight. They want to win, sure, but they are looking at the little things like execution and how the team handles adversity.
Ultimately, although they won't say it this early in the season, they are trying to figure out what changes need to be made to contend for a state title.
And even when those changes are made, Dell McGee understands the difficulty in making that a reality.
"It takes a lot of luck," he said. "You've got to be injury free. And when you get down to the last eight teams, it takes a lot of breaks to go your way."
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571
Head coach: Dell McGee
Region: Region 2-AAA
Last season's record: 12-2, 7-0 in Region 5-AA
Last season's playoff record: 3-1
Aug. 31 at Spencer (M)
Sept. 6 Shaw (K)
Sept. 14 at Colquitt County
Sept. 21 at Tri-Cities
Sept. 28 Pike County (M)
Oct. 12 Henry County (K)
Oct. 19 at Southwest-Macon
Oct. 25 Central-Macon (K)
Nov. 2 at Peach County
Nov. 9 at Jackson