SPECIAL TEAMS: So. PK Luis Sanchez place-kicker, Sr. P Ben Brissey, Jr. Keyshaun Curry KR/PR. Curry had four returns for TDs in 2012
STRENGTH: Recievers/linebackers -- The Panthers' pass catchers should be the top playmakers for Jackson County's offense. The linebacker corps should lead the defense.
QUESTION: Lines of scrimmage -- Rebuilding both lines will be a priority. Inexperience in both groups will be an early factor.
KEY GAMES: Four of first five games are on the road but they also finish with four of their last five at Panther Stadium. They open Region 8-AAA play against rebuilding East Jackson before traveling to defending region champ North Oconee at the midway point of the season. A road game against Elbert County in the next-to-last game of the season could determine which team makes the playoffs.
TRENDING: Harrison and the Panthers posted their first winning season in 19 years and their first-ever state playoff appearance.
Aug. 30 at Winder-Barrow
Sept. 6 vs. Jefferson
Sept. 13 at Athens Christian
Sept. 20 at East Jackson
Sep. 27 at North Oconee
Oct. 4 vs. Franklin County
Oct. 18 vs. Hart County
Oct. 25 vs. Oconee County
Nov. 1 at Elbert County
Nov. 8 vs. Morgan County
JEFFERSON -- Benji Harrison shuffled his feet and looked modestly at the floor when asked why he was able to accomplish something that no one else had been able to do as head coach of the Jackson County football team.<br />
"It wasn't anything I did. It was the kids and the coaches and the community all coming together to try and achieve something, build something," he said.<br />
What was accomplished was the program's first-ever state playoff appearance in 33 seasons and the first winning season since 1992.<br />
<iframe src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/72491418" width="500" height="375" frameborder="0" webkitAllowFullScreen mozallowfullscreen allowFullScreen></iframe> <p><a href="http://vimeo.com/72491418">2013 Jackson County Preview</a> from <a href="http://vimeo.com/wduntv">WDUN TV</a> on <a href="https://vimeo.com">Vimeo</a>.</p><br />
Now Harrison, in his second season as coach of the Panthers, and his team will have the task of trying to prove that last year was no fluke but the start of something long-lasting.<br />
The Panthers will have some big holes to fill with the graduation of experienced quarterback Kyle Daniel, running back Dustin Scott (over 1,600 yards of total offense in 2012) and three of their top four linemen from a year ago. In fact they return just four starters from an offense that averaged over 26 points a game.<br />
Junior Jacob Lewis will assume the quarterback duties and will have one of the best receiving groups in the area in seniors Xavier Harper, Ben Brissey, and Layson Giles. However, finding a solid replacement for Scott is a priority in fall practice.<br />
"Jacob is coming along, but we've got a great group of receivers that should help him progress," Harrison said. "The offense overall is still a work in progress, but I expect to get better as the season moves along."<br />
Harrison said rebuilding both lines of scrimmage will also be a priority. Senior Alston Standard is the only returning starter on the offensive line.<br />
Senior Donovan Harris and sophomore Jorge Monzon return on the defensive front. Seniors Chandler Todd and Evan Breakspear will anchor a solid linebacker group.<br />
After advancing to their first state playoff game, Harrison is hoping to continue to build the Panthers and become a perennial post-season program. They should find out early if they can keep the train moving in the right direction.<br />
Two winnable road games against Winder-Barrow and Athens Christian are sandwiched around a road game against cross-town rival and defending Class AA champion Jefferson in the first three weeks. The Panthers then open Region 8-AAA at rebuilding East Jackson before traveling to defending region champ North Oconee.<br />
"We have a tough first half, mostly on the road," Harrison said. "If we can get a few wins early I think that will carry us through the second half."<br />
Jackson County finishes the year with four of its last five games at Panther Stadium, including key contests against Hart County and Morgan County.
While title runs and the excitement of a busy spring sports season has stolen most of the headlines over the past few weeks, another group of dedicated athletes have been hard at work -- aiming for the headlines of this fall.