The 2016 season continues to inch closer, and while some programs have to worry about plugging up large holes left by departed talent, Stephens County returns the bulk of their playmakers from 2015.
No team is immune to turnover, and Frank Barden and the Indians are no exception. They did lose some talent on the line, notably UGA freshman lineman Ben Cleveland.
“He’s a freak of nature, being 6’7″, about 330 pounds and not much body fat on him at all. I don’t think you replace those kind,” exclaims Barden, in his third season as coach at Stephens County.
“What you hope happens is that people look up to what he did, and he sets the bar at a level to where the kids coming want to attain that or do better.”
The 23-year coaching veteran has racked up 176 wins, including a state championship in 1999 at Cartersville.
Returning for the Indians, who went 8-3 in 2015, includes skill players like juniors QB Jackson Bell, WR AJ Curry and senior RB AJ Howard, as well as junior linebacker Cole Beitzel.
“Each year’s different. Sometimes you have to fill lineman, sometime’s you gotta fill skill. It’s something different each year, and that’s the fun part about coaching is building a team,” says Barden about having to replace guys year-to-year.
Despite whatever teams may lose, Barden believes that it lies on the seniors to set the tone for the season.
“You’re only going to be as good as your seniors. If they come back hungry to leave their mark, that’ll start the process of having another good year.”
The Indians will play in the same region (8-AAAA) as teams like Jefferson, St. Pius and Oconee County which were added to the region, and face also North Oconee and Madison County, who Barden believes has a good young class.
“Our region is going to be tougher; our [non-region] schedule is tougher,” says Barden.
The Indians play Franklin, Rabun, Flowery Branch, Habersham and Hart in non-region play prior to kicking off region play on October 7 at St. Pius. The non-region schedule will prove difficult for the Indians.
“Four out of five went to the playoffs, and I feel like this will be one of [Habersham’s] best years. They’re a good team with that tailback [Michael Babers] that they have. I think they’ll make the playoffs in their region.”
Stephens County will be ready to go come August 26 when they open at Franklin, but the gauntlet that is the 2016 schedule will prove to be difficult for Barden and the Indians. However, they’ll be tougher come region play in October. Visit BLITZ for more high school sports.