Sept. 11 — Metter, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 18 — Appling County, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 25 — @ Wayne County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 9 — at Effingham County*, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 16 — Brunswick* (homecoming), 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 23 — Glynn County, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 30 — @ Benedictine, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 6 — Statesboro*, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 13 — at Richmond Hill*, 7:30 p.m.
Nov. 20 — @ Bradwell Institute*, 7:30 p.m.
* — 2-AAAAAA game
GUYTON — It may take some time before the South Effingham football team finds its identity. There are quite a few question marks on the offensive side of the ball, including who will emerge as the squad’s top playmaker.
“We lost a lot of really good players from last year’s team, especially offensively,” Mustangs head coach Nathan Clark said. “It’s going to be hard to replace them. But at the same time, we have guys working hard offensively to get that accomplished.”
The team graduated Vanderbilt commit Rocko Griffin, along with wide receivers Noah Hoang and Zach Taylor. On the offensive line, Austin Blaske has gone on to play at the University of Georgia.
Fortunately, South Effingham has three proven running backs. Cameron Edwards, Larry Scott and Effingham County transfer Desmond House will make up the stable.
“We have a three-way rotation there at tailback,” Clark said. “Joel Laldee, Jeremiah Patterson, Justin Martell and Darius Jenkins are leading the way for receiver. Matt Dye, an offensive lineman, is doing a good job for us.”
Alex Cela looks to be the starting quarterback unless someone else surpasses him.
“Alex Cela — he’s going with the (first team) right now,” Clark said. “I guess there is still a little quarterback battle. He is our leading candidate to be the quarterback.”
Clark said Cela’s been hard at work, even on the team’s off days as he looks to get prepared for the season.
“He’s athletic,” Clark said. “He can move around. He can do a lot of things with his legs. He’s committed and he’s a hard worker.
“We had a couple days where we didn’t have anything going on and he came up and did a little extra work. He’s hungry. I can see his drive. He wants to be successful.”
Clark will keep the same offensive system but may tweak things to fit Cela’s style of play.
“The offense is similar,” Clark said. “We are trying to cater the offense more to what he does well.”
While there’s more experience returning on the defensive side, Clark is still waiting for another linebacker to emerge as a solid run stopper.
“At linebacker, we are looking for some guys to step up,” Clark said. “Cole Herrington has worked really hard this offseason. He should be able to step up and be a good linebacker.
“We are trying to find that second linebacker with Hunter Slater, Malkolm Stephens and Louis Hicks. The defense is further along than the offense. They are more experienced. They need to step up.
“We need to create more turnovers this year than we did last year. Last year, we struggled creating turnovers and we struggled getting them off the field. I think this year they will step up, create turnovers and force three and outs.
“We have a lot of depth on the defensive line with Nick Milbrandt, Malcolm Brown and Jake Kerns, and Brayden Bell is doing a really good job for us.”
Special teams, which has been a big emphasis for Clark, also has a couple roles that need to be filled. Although Liam Rickman returns, the team needs a solid punter and long snapper to establish a trio that can execute the kicking game without any hiccups.
“Liam Rickman — he did a fine job for us last year but with another year, his leg should be a little bit stronger,” Clark said. “Taylor Jackson punted and Trevor Pfiester long snapped — there are two big parts of the game that we have to replace. We haven’t settled in on that yet.”
What excites Clark about his second year is all the buzz around the team. He saw the numbers within the program grow during the offseason. In addition, he’s encouraging his older players to lay the foundation now for what it means to wear the Mustang jersey.
“(I am enjoying) the energy and excitement and the number of players that we have out,” Clark said. “We have more out this year than we did last year. You can tell the younger group is very hungry and excited, and they are coming out in large numbers.
“Hopefully, this will continue to become a program. We had a fairly successful season last year and I want to have another this year and the year after that. I told the seniors, ‘I want you guys to show them how we do things here — to lead them, to teach them and to make this a program you are proud of two or three years down the road. (Then) when you come back, you’ll look and say I helped build this thing.’”