In the 74 games it has played as a varsity program, the Chattahoochee County football team is 37-37, a .500 record that many teams would be happy to have over their first seven seasons.
That record belies some recent struggles, however, as the team has failed to put together a .500 season since 2009, its last season under inaugural head coach Josh Kemp.
In its first four seasons, all under Kemp, the team went 28-16, reaching the playoffs every year. Since then, the Panthers have won only nine games, including three last season.
It’s a trend they’ll be trying to change in 2013. With a couple of shakeups on offense and a handful of key returning players on defense, there is a chance the team could be ready to take a couple steps forward this year.
Despite winning only three games last season, the Panthers had opportunities for three more and a trip to the playoffs. The hope is that with more experience and discipline, they can turn close calls into Ws in 2013.
Offensively, the main shakeup is moving C.J. Afoa, a receiver last year, to quarterback. Afoa is only a sophomore, but he has good size at 6-foot-2, 195 pounds and has a good understanding of the offense from his time running routes last season.
Last year’s quarterback, senior Chris Askew, moves to a running back/wide receiver hybrid in hopes of using his supreme athleticism more. Under center last year, Askew rushed for 712 yards and passed for another 781 and 11 touchdowns.
He will be joined by senior Jodi Perkins at running back, who rushed for 472 yards on 73 carries last year, 6.3 yards per carry. Neither back has great size, both at around 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, but they are quick and tough to tackle.
Seniors Brandon Bourage and Leonate Lockett with both play wide receiver and should give Afoa a couple of big targets.
The Panthers will start four seniors — Marcus Saunders, Josh Sioasi, Malik Harris and Nate White — on the offensive line, bringing the total of seniors in the lineup up to nine. Tight end Chris Spears is also a senior. Tackle J.J. Delong is the lone junior on the line.
The line has decent size, but not great. The lone exception is center Sioasi, a 6-foot-5, 350-pounder up the middle. His size and strength should provide good protection for Afoa and open good holes for Askew and Perkins.
As a unit, the Panthers scored only 15.5 points per game in the region last year, breaking 20 points in only two of their eight region games. That will be a major focus in 2013.
Like the offense, the defense, which returns seven starters from a year ago, will be loaded with seniors. Nine of 11 projected starters are in their final year at the schoo.
Harris, Sioasi and White will be joined by Karl Arvin on the defensive line. Askew and senior Chris Spears will be joined by sophomores Mackery White and Chris Smith in the secondary.
The Panthers’ real strength on the defensive side, though, will be at linebacker, where it returns All-Bi-City honorable mention Ladarius Taylor, who racked up 98 tackles, 14 for loss, and eight sacks last season. He will be joined by Marcus Saunders (63 tackles, 7 for loss, 2 sacks) and Del Lawrence (85 tackles, 3 interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries). The unit has good size with all three checking in at around six feet, and Taylor and Saunders are both around 220 pounds.
Despite the talent last year, the Panthers defense still allowed an average of 26.9 points per game, including nearly 30 per region contest. While not the biggest concern for the team, that number must improve in 2013 for it to have a chance at the playoffs.
The team appears to have the experience necessary to make a run at a playoff spot out of the region in 2013, but the things that held it back last year must be corrected.
The region won’t be easy with a talented Heard County at the top joined by improved teams like Kendrick, Bowdon and Spencer, among others. Still, The Panthers were one score in three games away from six wins last year, which would have given them a trip to the playoffs.
They have every reason to believe they’ll be in those games once again, and if they are a bounce in the right direction could alter their script.
David Mitchell, 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.