It’s difficult to gain traction on the football field under any circumstances. It takes a lot of work to build a program that can sustain year-to-year success.
That task becomes more difficult after losing seasons and like climbing a mountain when matched against one of the more difficult regions in the state.
That’s the challenge for the Columbus football team as it embarks on the 2013 season, trying to forget the 0-10 campaign of 2012 and improve a program that has won just seven games over the past four seasons.
“It’s a challenge,” coach Phil Marino said. “I knew it would be. That’s why I came here (in 2009).”
Despite the lack of success, Marino said his Blue Devils are excited, even if they still have to convince people on the outside looking in that they can win football games.
“We’ve got good players,” he insisted. “We’re loaded with skill kids and speed. We just lack the depth in some key places that some of these other teams have.”
Look at the region, he said.
There’s Sandy Creek, which has been one of the most consistent football powers in the state of Georgia over the past five years. Troup and LaGrange are always solid programs, and Carrollton vastly improved on a team that won eight games last season. And that doesn’t even include Shaw, which won six games and made a strong showing in the first round of the state playoffs against Monroe Area.
“Facing those guys, some of them have 100 guys on the sidelines,” Marino said. “We’re at about 56 kids right now, which is down from last year. It’s tough.”
Difficult, yes, but that is the task nonetheless for the Blue Devils this season, and Marino said his guys are ready to meet it head on.
Marino said one of the main focuses on offense was being able to run the football, controlling the clock and keeping opposing offenses off the field. The Blue Devils return eight players on that side of the ball, and Marino likes the abilities of the players at the skill positions.
He singled out players like wide receiver Ivan Rome and tight end James Traylor, the latter of which is a senior and one of the team’s leaders.
“He’s been to a lot of camps,” Marino said of Traylor. “He’s been looked at by some solid schools. He’s just a football player. He’s athletic, and we need to do a good job getting him the ball.”
In the running game, Dale Williams, Jr. has been a mainstay for the Columbus offense and should again be an integral part this season. Sophomore Ja’Quan Mason, a 6-foot, 185-pound back will also play a large role.
Cam Genung and Raymond Cochran round out the wide receiver position.
The offensive line will be occupied by tackles Eduardo Cubero and Brandon Fuller, guards Mario Parra and Brock Shinault, and center Chauncey Redd.
Marino said that he likes his offensive line, but it lacks depth. He’ll need strong play and good health from his players at the top of the depth chart.
“We’ve got to be able to run the football,” he stressed. “We just have to get better there. If you can’t open holes and you can’t run, it’s not going to matter.”
The Blue Devils return eight on the defensive side as well, including four-year starting linebacker Jailyn Trice, whom Marino singled out as one of the unit’s biggest leaders.
“I think he’s one of the best players in the city,” he said. “He’s 100 miles per hour, understands the game and he’s really turned into a big leader for us.”
Seniors Traylor, Cubero and Shinault will go both ways to fill spots on the defensive line, along with junior defensive end Justin Geter.
Linebackers Ladi Dada and Rodney Edwards will join Trice. The secondary will be patrolled by Rome, sophomore Essang Bassey, Raymond Cochran and Will Lowery.
Marino said he liked what he saw out of Bassey as a freshman.
“We’re excited about having him and Ivan at corner,” he said. “They have great ball skills and understand what they’re doing.”
Marino made one thing clear about his team: There’s no more excuse about a lack of playing experience. Most of these players have been on the field for three or four seasons, and should be improved this season.
Still, it isn’t easy to overcome the past, particularly in this region with such talented teams.
Marino said the goal is to compete, really compete, on a weekly basis.
“We think we can realistically win half our games,” he said. “The goal for us is to win some region games and compete at a high level every week. It’s tough to say, because our players want to win them all, but the main thing is to get to a point where we are still in games late and be able to win some of them.
“We just have to do our job. If we do that, everything should be okay.”
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.