Note: This is the first in a series of 19 stories previewing football teams around the Bi-City and surrounding areas. Next: Hardaway
It was mid-afternoon on Aug. 1, the first day of full-contact practice as allowed by the Georgia High School Association, and the Manchester football players were sleeping quietly in the school’s darkened gym.
Hours earlier, at 4:30 a.m. to be exact, the team was under the lights of the its football stadium, getting a head start on its preparation for the 2013 season, a season that will offer a number of new challenges for the Blue Devils.
First, the team has a new man in charge, head coach Tanner Glisson, who took over the job vacated by longtime coach Greg Oglesby (129-59-2 in 16 seasons with the school). Glisson, who played for Oglesby at Manchester, must take ownership of a program that won one state title, went to another, went to two semifinals and experienced just three losing seasons under its former coach.
Glisson has made the rounds as an assistant, including two stints at Manchester, one at Greenville and one at Shaw under Charles Flowers, but this is his first time as the man in charge.
Manchester is coming off of a 9-3 record and a trip to the second round of the Class AA playoffs in 2012, but returns just six of its 22 starters (four on offense, two on defense).
Glisson said that he likes the mentality of the team, but there is still plenty of room left to grow.
“So far, I like where we are because of our work ethic,” he said. “I wish we had some of those seniors from last year back, sure, but I like where we are headed.”
On paper, he acknowledged, some may consider this season a rebuilding year. To the players and coaches, though, who know how much work they have put in, Glisson said the team expects to be playing postseason football.
To get there, Glisson said there’s on thing the team needs most.
“We’ve got to be more physical,” he said. “On both sides of the ball.”
Offensively, the team returns four starters from last season. Of those, Glisson highlighted the contributions of quarterback Quinn Prather and lineman Darius Alford, who were voted the team’s captains during camp.
Prather is relied upon to run the team’s triple-option offense, which takes an ability to make quick decisions each play based on the opposing team’s defense. With a year as the starter under his belt, Glisson said he expected Prather to be more seasoned as a senior in 2013.
Alford, who plays on both sides of the ball, is physical, a trait Glisson hopes the surrounding players adopt as the season goes along.
Glisson also mentioned two of the team’s running backs, senior Davante Davis, a returning starter, and sophomore Anthony Bell. Davis is a hard-nosed runner, though perhaps not a natural running back.
“He likes the contact, though,” Glisson said. “He’s a physical kid.”
The coach said he expected a lot from Bell, who is already 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds.
“He has a great frame and he’s great at changing directions,” Glisson said. “He has a great opportunity to be as good as anybody I’ve coached.”
The offensive line lacks some of the experience, size and physicality it has had in the past, though it does have decent speed.
“We’ve got a handful of physical kids, but not really an entire unit yet,” Glisson said. “We’re nowhere near where we were last year yet, but we’ve got some young guys who are still learning. We’re just not there yet.”
The defense will present an interesting challenge in Glisson’s first season as it returns just two starters from a unit that allowed just 8.8 points per game last season (not including special teams scores), which was best in the region and among the top five in Class AA. Like the offense, the unit is largely inexperienced and lacks the same size and physicality.
“We’re tiny on defense,” Glisson said. “Maybe the smallest I’ve had. But they can run.”
He has a handful of coaches he’s relying on to bring ideas of how to use speed to their advantage.
Alford will anchor the defensive line with fellow senior Dejone Fitzpatrick, who is 6-0, 185 pounds, but runs a 4.7 40-yard dash, according to Glisson.
The team works out of a 4-3 base defense and expects to rely on pressure to achieve its ends in 2013. If it can’t find a way to use its speed to its advantage, though, Glisson acknowledge the unit’s lack of size could be exposed.
The team isn’t at the level it was at in 2012 yet, though Glisson has a lot of confidence in the team’s future.
Sure, Glisson said, it would be nice to be Heard County and return nearly the entire team from an 11-1 region champion, but at Manchester, the expectation is always the playoffs.
“I like our team. I think we can be in the hunt down the road,” he said. “That’s definitely our expectation. It will take a lot of works and a few breaks, but that’s what we expect.”
To do that, Glisson, once again, stressed the team’s need to be more physical.
“We just have to see if these guys like contact,” he said.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.