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Tuesday June 15th, 2021 9:53AM

Wildcats' Shaw: 'State title is our focus in 2020'

By Jeff Hart Sports Reporter

TIGER — Nine years ago, Rabun County football was just another mountain program. After the 2011 season, the Wildcats sat with an all-time record of 306-313 and just one region title to their credit.

In just eight seasons since, where they have gone 82-18 overall, they have transformed themselves into a regional power. They are the six-time reigning 8-2A champions and have added one state championship game appearance (2017) to the resume.

But second-year head coach Jaybo Shaw said it is time for his program to turn the corner for good.

“We feel like we’ve put ourselves on the map in north Georgia. Now, we’re ready to turn the corner and become a consistent state power,” Shaw said. 

They already have been in the state conversation after five straight quarterfinals appearances. But what Shaw wants is to have his team challenging for state titles year-in and year-out, ala Buford.

“I think we’re right there to take that next step. Our No. 1 goal now is to win a state title. But we just have to find a way to perform better in the playoffs once we get deep.”

If the time is now, they have just the guy to lead the way in junior quarterback Gunner Stockton (South Carolin-commit), who is the No. 1 junior quarterback prospect in the nation. The gunslinger passed for 3,473 yards and 43 TDs and rushed for another 1,126 yards and 19 scores in 2019.

Stockton will have a plethora of weapons at receiver at his disposal in senior Riverside MIlitary transfer Adriel Clark, senior Sutton Jones, and juniors Tate Ramey and Hogan Woodard. Sophomore Lang Windham is expected to get the bulk of the carries after Stockton in the backfield with last year’s second-leading rusher Cory Keller moving to the defense.

“Adriel coming in gives us even more athleticism and I feel like we’re as good at receiver as we’ve ever been. We have a lot of playmakers so we feel like we’ll be able to continue to push the opposing defense,” Shaw said.

At the state level, faster and more athletic teams have been the Wildcats’ Achilles Heel, especially on the defensive side. But that could change in 2020. Despite losing a pair of tacking machines in AJ Wheeler and Mason Sprinkle, the linebacking corp may be deeper this season. Seniors Brody Jarrard and LB Hoff Windham and juniors Turner Grimmett and Will Turpin could make up one of the best units in the area.

Keller, now a sophomore, and junior Hunter Moore give them a pair of solid guys to anchor the secondary.

“We lost a couple of really good linebackers but I also think with another year for guys like Hoff and Turner we may be better by the end of the season,” Shaw said.

The talent certainly seems to be in place and Shaw, with the new realignment, built a schedule to help them make that final step. Seven of the Wildcats’ nine opponents made the playoffs in 2019.

They have two monster showdowns on tap, including one with Prince Avenue Christian on Sept. 11 at Frank Snyder Stadium that will feature Stockton and the Wolverines’ Brock Vandagriff, who is the No. 1 quarterback in the 2021 class and a University of Georgia-commit.

The Wildcats also will play host to Oconee County, the 2019 Class 4A state runner-up, on Oct. 2 followed by a Oct. 16 road trip to Class 6A Pope, but will not open region play until Oct. 30 against Banks County at home. They will have a tough close to the season traveling to the Granite Bowl the following week and then taking on arch-rival Union County in the finale.

“We feel it’s one of the best schedules we’ve ever put together,” Shaw said. “There are a lot of good teams with a lot of playoff experience that should help push us during the season. We don’t take anyone lightly and we prepare each week for the team we’re playing at that moment.

"But again, the goal now is to not just win the region title but to win a state title. That’s our focus.”

 

RABUN COUNTY: NEED TO KNOW

  • MASCOT: Wildcats
  • TEAM COLORS: Red and White
  • CURRENT REGION: 8-2A
  • HEAD COACH/RECORD AT SCHOOL: Jaybo Shaw, second season, 12-1
  • 2019 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 12-1, Class 2A quarterfinals, Region 8-2A champion
  • KEY LOSSES: WR Braxton Hicks, LB AJ Wheeler, OL Will Hightower, LB Mason Sprinkle
  • OFFENSIVE STYLE: Spread option -- The Wildcats' high-powered attack will be just as potent with Gunner Stockton (South Carolina-commit) at the helm and the goal still the same: get the ball to their playmakers in space and make defenses cover the whole field.
  • KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: Jr. QB Gunner Stockton, Sr. WR Adriel Clark (transfer from Riverside), Jr. OL Bear Old, So. RB Lang Windham, Jr. WR Tate Ramey, Jr. OL Clayton Dixon, Jr. WR Hogan Woodard, Sr. WR Sutton Jones
  • DEFENSIVE STYLE: 3-3 stack -- A young defense returns 7 guys that started last year and found more youth throughout the season in 2019. The Wildcats mix of athleticism and speed will make them a tough unit.
  • KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: Jr. DE Will McCraw, So. FS Cory Keller, Jr. DB Hunter Moore, Sr. LB Brody Jarrard, Sr. LB Hoff Windham, Jr. LB Turner Grimmett, Jr. LB Will Turpin
  • SPECIAL TEAMS: Jr. PK Cesar Armenta, Jr. P Gus Hood
  • STRENGTH: QB/LB: With nation's No. 1 QB prospect in Stockton, as long he can stay healthy they are a state title contender. The LB group, despite losing a pair of playmakers from 2019, should be even more athletic in leading what could be an underrated unit.
  • QUESTION: State title contender: There are no real holes in the roster. For coach Shaw and the rest of the Wildcats, it's state title or bust. They have talent across the board. Can they get over the hump in 2020? That is the only question at this point.
  • KEY GAMES: The Wildcats have 7 teams on the schedule that made the playoffs in 2019. Shaw is hoping the tougher path will help them be able to make another run to a state title game and give them that extra boost. But they will have to close strong to repeat as region champs traveling to the Granite Bowl and then taking on arch-rival Union County in the finale.
  • TRENDING: Shaw says the Wildcats have moved from a regional power to a state power, at least in Class 2A. They have advanced to the quarterfinals or better five straight seasons but only once have gotten into the semifinals (2017 state title game). He said this is the year they are ready to make that next step to becoming a perennial power that challenges for a state title. With Stockton still just a junior and a core of talented players around him, they have a chance to do just that. They have added more speed and athleticism on defense, which could be the missing piece once they reach deep into the playoffs.

2020 SCHEDULE
Sept. 4 at Ridgeland
Sept. 11 Prince Avenue Christian
Sept. 18 Jefferson
Sept. 25 at Bremen
Oct. 2 Oconee County
Oct. 16 at Pope
Oct. 23 at Pacelli
Oct. 30 Banks County*
Nov. 6 at Elbert County*
Nov. 13 Union County*
*- Indicates region contest
(All kickoffs scheduled for 7:30 p.m. unless otherwise noted)

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