By Jonathan Deal
The first official day of high school football practice across the state is today, but that didn't stop Athens from getting a head start on the season. The Golden Eagles took the field last week preparing for another tough schedule in 5A Region 8.
If Athens to improve on its 3-9 record from a year ago, it will be on the shoulders of its veteran defense.
AHS returns nine starters from a defense that shut out its final two 2012 opponents.
“We’ve played so many young guys (in the past), and that experience they’ve gained is going to pay off,” Athens head coach Allen Creasy said. “It’s tough for a freshman in this league to be able to compete, but the flip side of that is you can’t show these guys anything that they haven’t seen before.”
Athens suffered losing seasons the past two years, fielding mostly underclassmen that will be seniors on this team. Three seniors have started on the varsity team since they were freshmen.
One of those three-year starters is Johnnie Anderson. Anderson led the Athens defense last year from his safety position while also seeing action at wide receiver. That was until late in the season when the coaching staff decided to give Anderson more touches.
The versatile playmaker played mostly quarterback the final two games, leading Athens to a 17-0 win over Lawrence County and a 33-0 win in the season finale.
“We’re going to have a package where he is playing quarterback,” said Creasy about Anderson. “He’s not the full-time quarterback right now, but we’ll definitely have a package for him. He’s 2-0 right now (playing quarterback).”
Ending the season with a pair of lopsided wins did more than just add to the win column, it provided the Golden Eagles with some much-needed momentum heading into the off season.
“That really propelled us,” said Creasy. “It’s always easier to fix things after a win than after a loss. They were excited to get in the weight room in the offseason and get back into this season. I think everybody on our team is excited about starting practice.”
Creasy said getting over the hump mentally is the biggest obstacle for his team heading into fall camp.
“That’s the biggest challenge for this group,” said Creasy. “Being young last year and going through the knocks that we went through, they’ve got to expect to make the play that wins the game instead of expecting something bad to happen at the end of a game.”
Injury plagued season
An already young Athens team lost its senior starting quarterback, Adam Harvey, during the first half of the season-opener against Decatur. Williams Matthews took over, but was also injured a few games later.
Matthews has made the transition to wide receiver over the offseason and could be a focal point of the offense this season, according to Creasy.
“He’s had a really good summer and pushed himself,” he said. “He is one heck of an athlete and we are excited about him this year.”
Taking over the reigns at quarterback will most likely be Stephen Farmer. The senior transferred into the school last spring and will lead what promises to be a more up-tempo offense.
“We’re going to look at spreading the field at little more horizontally,” said Creasy. “We’re going to add some pace, do a little more up-tempo stuff.”
Athens opens its season at home against Decatur at 7 p.m., Friday, Aug. 30.