The Blue Devils are making a switch from the I-formation to the spread, return just two offensive starters and have changed up the defense from a four- to a three-man front.
At least they will still be wearing orange and blue, right?
As for the change in offense, third-year coach Marino said it was all a matter of personnel. Sophomore QB Wyatt Peterson’s abilities fit the system, and the with talnted, albeit young, skill players, the coach said he felt it was time to make the switch in hopes of increasing the point procuction from the 110 points - or 11 per game - Columbus posted last season.
“(The spread) was something I’m familiar with, but I just never inputted it,” Marino said. “I had been a steadfast I-formation and play-action guy. It just felt like it was time to make a change because I’ve got a guy who can throw and kids who can catch. With this hopefully we can move the ball down the field because we have got to score more points this year.”
The Blue Devil are thin on offensive experience with only WR Anthony Padron and OL Tedric Palmer back with full-time starting experience. Marino said he is expecting huge things from both of them as Padron will be tasked with hauling in a lot of key catches and putting up points while Palmer is the most experienced - and the biggest - lineman protecting a first-year starting quarterback.
“Right now Tedric, at about 260 pounds, is our biggest guy,” Marino said. “After that we fall to 220, 230 pounds on the line. That’s not very big, but our guys are going to have to find a way to protect Wyatt.”
Peterson shouldn’t be completely helpless, though, Marino said. He took over after Marino moved last year’s starter, Ryan Lang, back to DB because “he was just too good an athlete not to have there,” the coach said. Since, Peterson has stepped in nicely.
“He can definitely throw the ball,” Marino said. “He’s got an arm on him, he’s very knowledgeable, he has great pocket presence and he is the biggest reason we went to this offense,” Marino said. “We went to this hoping he could do some things to make it more exciting and score some more points.”
Columbus players have welcomed the change, too.
“I think it will work better because we’ve got a couple good receivers,” said Lang, who is a starting defensive back and will play some slot receiver. “We are trying to spread the ball out a little bit, see if it will spark the offense up a little bit, see if we can get things going more than we have in the past.”
Defense is key
With six seniors on defense, including three returning starters, Marino said he has a better idea of exactly how his team can perform this fall.
“Defensively we’re strong,” Marino said. “We have six seniors back and we feel like we have five other kids who are either sophomores or juniors who we think wil be really strong players for us.”
Returning are seniors in LBs Patrick Stallings and Carden Doolittle, DB Ryan Lang and DE Terrance West, each of whom is expected to have a big impact this season as the team makes the switch to a three-man front.
“We just had so many more linebackers and defensive backs than defensive linemen, so we had to find a way to utilize all of those guys,” Marino said. “But we are still thin when it comes to depth. We are dressing four freshman who probably won’t start but may find themselves playing at some point.”
Barring injury, which has plagued Columbus in recent years, athletes can expect a bit of a break as Marino said he believes he has enough players - about 70 - to platoon and keep most of his players to one side of the ball.
The Blue Devils also spent a lot of time in the weight room this offseason in what Marino said the was the best lifting program in his tenure at the school, and senior linebacker Patrick Stallings he hopes it pays off when Columbus opens the season.
“We decided last year we were going to get a lot stronger this offseason so we could compete better and hang around with other teams easier,” Stallings said.
The turnaround Columbus is looking for after consecutive 2-8 seasons isn’t going to be easy, and making it to the state playoffs for the first time since 1994 when baseball coach Bobby Howard was coach is going to be extremely tough in a region with likely top-10 teams in Carrollton and Troup.
So Marino said he is looking for a turning point, preferably a few early wins.
“I think what we need is momentum going into our region,” Marino said. “The last couple of years here I thought we could get off to a good start with our first games. And if we can get off to a good start, especially with a win (in the season opener) against Manchester, we can get some confidence and go into that Troup game and play well.”
Aug. 18 6 p.m. at Pacelli
Aug 26 Schley County 7:30 Home
Sep 2 @ Hawkinsville 7:30 Away
Sep 16 @ Taylor County 7:30 Away
Sep 23 @ Marion County 7:30 Away
Sep 30 Central Talbotton 7:30 Home
Oct 7 @ Greenville 7:30 Away
Oct 14 Brookstone 7:30 Home
Oct 21 @ Macon County 7:30 Away
Oct 28 Dooly County 7:30 Home
Nov 4 Chattahoochee County 7:30 Home
(All games are Region 4-A contests)
Coming up in the Ledger-Enquirer
If you're wondering how your favorite team is doing leading up to kickoff, keep checking back. I'll be going to one or two practices just about every weekday through next week or so until I have hit all 17 Bi-City schools. I'll be posting blogs, photos and videos as I visit each one, but the featured stories about the teams will begin running one a day in the Ledger-Enquirer's print edition and running them in reverse alphabetical order. Here's the schedule of which days you can find which team's story in print:
Aug. 17: Columbus
Aug. 18: Chattahoochee County
Aug. 19: Central-Phenix City
Aug. 20: Carver
Aug. 21: Calvary Christian
Aug. 22: Brookstone
Aug. 23: 2011 Ledger-Enquirer Dandy Dozen team announced
Have any particularly interesting questions you want me to a coach or player? Have something you'd like to read about on the blog? Have a story suggestion? Paste it in the comments or send it in an email to email@example.com and I'll do my best to get to your request when I visit that team's practice.