School: Kendrick High
2013 record: 7-5
Key players: Anthony McGruder, Jaquariez Scott, Ryan Pearson, Leander James, Emmanuel Lemon
Key game: vs. Spencer, Oct. 31 at Memorial Stadium
Outlook: It’s a good news-bad news situation for the Cherokees entering the 2014 season.
The good news is that they are coming off their first playoff victory and winning record since 1995 after posting a 7-5 record and a win over Dade County in the first round of the Class AA state playoffs. Two years ago, Kendrick made the playoffs for the first time since 1999, finishing 5-6.
The progress has been on a steady uptick after years of fruitless football in which it won just seven games combined from 2007-11.
The less fortunate news is that the team is looking to continue its good play after losing the bulk of what made it so successful the past couple years—it’s strong defense.
The 2013 Region 5-AA co-defensive players of the year, linebackers Marvin Lewis and Emmanuel Brown, have graduated and taken up residence on Albany State’s football team. Gone also are defensive backs Antonio Jones and Loyoll Parks, who were second-team all-region picks a year ago.
The Cherokees were suffocating defensively last year, holding opponents to less than 15 points on six occasions. It held Class A-public state champion Marion County to just 20 points in a 20-14 loss in the second week of the season.
After two years of reliable defense, the unit must work in some new players and will likely find out how strong a foundation has been set.
Some more good news, though: If the eyeball test is any indication, the Cherokees will have a size advantage at the line of scrimmage in most contests they play.
At this summer’s high school sports media day, players like Anthony McGruder, Leander James and Emmanuel Lemon towered over their counterparts from other teams.
Strength at the point of attack will be a key element for the Cherokees yet again, considering their physical style of grind-it-out football.
They will play in a new region in Class AAA, though there will be some familiarity with teams like Jordan and Spencer.
Peach County will be the unquestioned favorite to win Region 2-AAA, but any of the other three playoff positions will likely be up for grabs.
If this was a year ago, when Kendrick returned a lot of experience on its defense, it would likely be a popular pick to take No. 2 and host a first-round playoff game. Right now, there are questions, including at quarterback and running back where top players Jonathan Hines and Reno Lee both graduated.
We’ll learn a lot about where Kendrick is overall as a program this year, and the best guess is that it is still in good shape. New players will simply have to step up and fill the roles of some very important players who returned the Cherokees to a level they hadn’t been in a long time.