Coming off a 3-7 season, which saw the Cedar Shoals Jaguars football team make a fourth straight playoff appearance, the team will weather a grueling schedule this fall.
Cedar Shoals will be challenged early and often this season as it faces seven regular season opponents that made the playoffs last year, including Oconee County, St. Pius X Catholic, Clarke Central and Jefferson — all of whom won their respective regions.
The Jaguars, who had their first game of the season postponed against Clarke Central, open their season this Friday against Oconee County at Warrior Stadium. Oconee County is coming off a 35-28 Hog Mountain Bowl win against North Oconee.
The Jaguars see the benefits of facing stiff competition week in and week out.
“Playing tough teams in our region makes us even stronger,” senior safety Juan Silas said. “We have to be able to grind harder to beat them since they are so talented, and that grind makes us more playoff ready.”
Junior quarterback Mandrell Glenn will remain the starter this season. Senior running back Jerdavian Colbert, who led the team in rushing (626) and receiving yards (224) a year ago, also returns to the backfield. The team will have a total of eight offensive starters and six defensive starters coming back.
However, the team will be without senior offensive lineman Adorian Favors, who is out the rest of the season with a leg injury. Junior wide receiver Jason Massey is also sidelined with a wrist injury.
Colbert, who was named to the EXOS Select 50 list and the Athens Banner-Herald Terrific 20 football players list during the offseason, led the 2020 Jaguars in what was clearly a run-first offense. They averaged 47 more rushing yards and 22 more rushing attempts per game than passing yards and attempts.
Head coach Leroy Ryals emphasizes a need to become more balanced.
“Last year we were somewhat inexperienced in the quarterback position, but Glenn is experienced this year as well as all of our receivers so hopefully our passing game will be better,” Ryals said.
Glenn took over as quarterback in his sophomore season after Jaylan Rusher graduated in 2020. Glenn threw for 643 yards and four touchdowns with a completion rate of 42% a year ago.
“Glenn has really good arm talent, he is game smart and has improved his overall game this offseason,” Ryals said. “He has gotten faster and I think he will be able to balance both beating teams with his legs and his arm this year.”
The Oconee County Warriors are returning much of their offense from a year ago, including starting quarterback senior Jacob Wright who threw for over 1,600 yards and 21 touchdowns a year ago with a completion rate of 53%. Senior tight end and Louisiana State University recruit Jake Johnson will continue to be a main target for Wright after 37 receptions for 787 yards and 10 touchdowns last year.
Last week, senior wide receiver Darius Johnson Jr. broke onto the scene with two touchdown catches, one for 70 yards. Johnson Jr. also threw for a touchdown and tallied one interception on defense. With 27 receptions for 417 yards last year, Johnson Jr. is one of Oconee’s best offensive threats.
On defense, however, the Warriors lost five starters, all of whom went on to play collegiate football. The lack of experience showed last week as the defense gave up 28 points to North Oconee.
The matchup with the Warriors is the first step in what the Jaguars hope is a season where they finally reach new levels of success.
“Our team goals are what they always are: win the region, make the playoffs and go to the state championship game,” Ryals said.