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Thursday June 24th, 2021 8:31AM

Warriors enter 2020 hungry for first-ever region title

By Bo Wilson Sports Editor
  Contact Editor

CLEVELAND — Tim Cokely has a load of talent returning in 2020 and, with the drop from a brutal Region 7-4A to the more-closely competitive Region 7-3A, the Warriors are now instant contenders. 

The idea of being a region title contender is something that Cokely will not shy away from. He’ll tell you his team is good but with the uncertainty surrounding the season because of COVID-19, he does have some concerns. 

“I could toss out cliché after cliché, but I’m going to save you time,” he said. “We’re a good football team, and we want to play for a region title. But what is anybody expecting out of anything, right now? Aside from keeping our players safe, the practice side is this is not going to be a normal year as far as who’s prepared well in the offseason.”

With the amount of returning weapons on both sides of the ball -- 8 on offense, 6 on defense -- Cokely could be way out in front as far as preparation goes because of the experience. 

Four-year starter and First Team All-Region member in a star-studded Region 7-4A last year, J. Ben Haynes returns at quarterback to lead an offense that churned out more than 4,000 yards last season. And, even more impressive, Haynes accounted, in the air and on the ground, for all but 983 of those yards. 

“He’s had a chance to lift and get his body into football shape and into a football body, plus he’s added some velocity,” Cokely said about Haynes. “So, those things are really going to help his game because he’s a natural runner, which people don’t know that he can really run. The added velocity, though, is going to make him a complete player.”

Haynes (2,149 yards passing and six touchdowns, 961 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns) will have his main target back in senior Cooper Turner (901 yards, six touchdowns). Also back are seniors Reece Dockery and Jimmy King. The trio of receivers along with potential All-State quarterback Haynes should make Cokely’s spread offense tough to defend in 2020. 

“J. Ben has been throwing to Cooper, Reece and Jimmy since he was 6 years old,” Cokely said. “If that helps or if that relationship is good for football, then it’s going to be great for our team.”

The biggest question mark is the offensive and defensive lines. Cokely says he doesn’t like his linemen playing both ways but probably will have no other choice this season. 

“It just seems over the last three years, nobody has had lineman, us included, so you end up playing a couple of them both ways,” Cokely said.  

Senior Austin Sullens, a Class 4A state runner-up in wrestling last season, returns at guard and will be expected to be the leader. 

On defense, the Warriors return seniors Zion McMullen and Jesse Moose at linebacker. Juniors Silas Mulligan and Alex Thornton in the secondary and senior Jaquez Williams and junior Heaven Gholston on the line. Sullens will see some time on the D-line as well. 

The Warriors will be tested before they begin region play on Oct. 9. Stephens County, a super-talented Hart County, Pickens and Habersham County make up the non-region schedule. 

They open region play with another title contender Dawson County on the road, followed by three straight home games against rival North Hall, West Hall and another rival, Lumpkin County, before closing the season out at Gilmer and a much-improved Cherokee Bluff. 

“They’re just some really tough opponents in our region,” Cokely said. “But I think it’s going to be a really competitive region. It’ll be an interesting season, but a really fun region.”

 

WHITE COUNTY: NEED TO KNOW

  • MASCOT: Warriors
  • TEAM COLORS: Navy blue and White
  • CURRENT REGION: 7-3A
  • HEAD COACH/RECORD AT SCHOOL: Tim Cokely, fourth season, 15-17
  • 2019 RECORD/ACCOMPLISHMENTS: 5-5
  • KEY LOSSES: DB Nix Burkett, OL Jacob Anderson, OL Cam Sizemore, WR Jesse Thomas, OL/DL Clay Bolton
  • OFFENSIVE STYLE: Spread – J Ben Haynes is back for his senior year bigger, faster and stronger. He passed for 2,149 yards and rushed for another 961 yards in a brutal Region 7-4A in 2019. He’ll have his main target Cooper Turner back as well as Jimmy King and Reece Dockery to form one of the best combos in northeast Georgia. If they can find depth in the trenches early, they’ll be poised to wreak havoc in the region. 
  • KEY OFFENSIVE PLAYERS: 8 returning starters – Sr. QB J. Ben Haynes (First Team All-Region), Sr. OL Devin Sullens (First Team All-Region), Sr. WR Cooper Turner (First Team All-Region), Sr. WR Reece Dockery, Sr. WR Jimmy King
  • DEFENSIVE STYLE: 3-3 stack – The Warriors will rotate several to find a permanent solution to depth issues upfront. 
  • KEY DEFENSIVE PLAYERS: 6 returning starters – Sr. LB Zion McMullen, Jr. DB Silas Mulligan, Sr. LB Jesse Moose, Sr. DL Jaquez Williams, Jr. DB Alex Thornton, Jr. DL Heaven Gholston
  • SPECIAL TEAMS: Sr. K Andrew Pierce, Sr. P J. Ben Haynes, Soph. KR Darius Cannon (K/P/RET)
  • STRENGTH: Returning a large senior class and a potent offense, led by J. Ben Haynes, has the Warriors in a perfect position to rule the new Region 7-3A. Last season, the offense tallied 4,093 total yards with Haynes dishing out more than 3,000 of those yards. With all the hype surrounding the offense, the Warriors should have plenty to write home about in 2020. 
  • QUESTION: Cokely’s biggest concern is depth in the trenches. Austin Sullens returns to lead the way on the offensive line but finding others to plugin has Cokely worried he’ll have to play a lot of linemen both ways.  
  • KEY GAMES: The Warriors open the season with a tough non-region slate, both Stephens County and Hart County will test them early. Once the region begins, they’ll have two massive road games at perennial contender Dawson County on Oct. 9 and a much-improved Cherokee Bluff to finish the season Nov. 20. In between, key home games versus rival North Hall, West Hall and rival Lumpkin County and a road trip to Gilmer.  

2020 SCHEDULE
Sept. 4 Stephens County
Sept. 11 at Hart County
Sept. 18 Pickens
Sept. 25 at Habersham Central
Oct. 9 at Dawson County*
Oct. 16 North Hall*
Oct. 23 West Hall*
Nov. 6 Lumpkin County*
Nov. 13 at Gilmer*
Nov. 20 at Cherokee Bluff*
*- Indicates region game
(All kickoffs scheduled for 7:30 p.m. unless otherwise noted)

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