There are few question marks, per usual, for the Cats. The big question is how, if any, will the look and feel of the team differ with the Jaybo Shaw era opening up? We can expect him to have the same intensity on offense as he’s been calling the past few seasons, and with another year that blue-chip recruit Gunner Stockton has improved, look out! However, the O-line lost a massive amount of talent with All-State center Shawn Lovell, as well as Jackson Webb (also All-State) and Austin Sosebee. Will Hightower will lead the line in its rebuild. The loss of All-State Austin Jones will be tremendous as well on offense, defense, and special teams. However, Braxton Hicks will be that go-to target at receiver, as the corp features him, newcomer Garrett Bragg, and holdover Dawson Lathan among others.
Brison Beck’s leaving hurts too, as he was the featured back for the past two seasons. Brody Jarrard has shown signs of the same though, so look for him to be that guy. The defense will return AJ Wheeler, Mason Sprinkle, Phillip Roberson, and Hightower, which is a formidable group. Rabun is the early favorite for the 8-AA title along with Union once again, and another quarterfinal run or deeper seems like a good bet.
This program is coming off a fifth straight region title, an 11-2 2018 season that saw the Cats reach the Quarterfinals for the fourth straight time.
7 Things To Know About the Wildcats
1. New Names Will Star on Friday Nights
With the loss of guys like Jones, Lovell, Beck, and Webb, among others, that leaves room for new players to step up. That includes move-in FS/RB Garrett Bragg (Tennessee), Philip Roberson (JR DE), Will McCraw (SO DE), Hunter Moore (SO CB/WR), Hoff Windham (JR LB), Lang Windham (FR RB), and Edwin Diaz (SR PK). Will Hightower, a SR OL, will return to anchor the line.
2. Strength is in Experience
Many guys are gone from the state championship 2017 version, but there is still a lot of experience here. There are six returning starters on offense, and another six on defense. The greatest strength, according to coach Jaybo Shaw, is the team’s “will to win and how they are always competing.” On defense, the strength is in the linebackers and secondary, where on offense it’s in blue-chip QB Gunner Stockton, at WR with Braxton Hicks leading the way, and at running back.
3. Cats Accepting the Challenge
The primary focus during this offseason for Rabun has been shoring up the line on the offensive and defensive side. Guys have accepted that challenge. “I am really pleased with their effort so far, and I look forward to watching them get better as the season goes on,” says Shaw.
4. Same Old Song and Dance
There’s no need to fret over the Wildcat offense, which routinely puts up video-game numbers with Gunner Stockton at the QB position. This year’s version should be even better in the no-huddle spread. The offense features Stockton, Braxton Hicks at WR, and Brody Jarrard as the featured RB. Jarrard backed up Brison Beck a year ago and did a phenomenal job.
5. Defense is Stacked
Six returning starters on this side of the ball, and Rabun will go with a 3-3 Stack defense in 2019. Under defensive coordinator Rob Stockton, this unit has been cheat-code good for years now. With the strength in the secondary and linebacker group, the D-Line will only get better as the season motors on. Mason Sprinkle and Jarrard will lead the LBs, while AJ Wheeler is a top player at the SS position.
6. It’s All On the Line
The O-Line and D-Line had HUGE shoes to fill, and as mentioned above, that’s been the focal point this offseason. There are three new guys on each line. “I have been extremely proud of the growth that we have made from Spring Practice to now,” says Shaw. “Some of those guys have been moved to that position after playing different spots so they have Friday Night experience even if it may have been at another position. They will be a hard-nosed, tough, and relentless group that will represent exactly what Rabun County is.”
The O-Line is forecasted to include: Will Hightower, Nolan Crane, Bear Old, Chris Thompson, Aaron Burrell, and Clayton Dixon. On the flip side, it’s Philip Roberson, Logan Owens, Will McCraw, and Thompson.
7. The Best for Last
Jaybo Shaw expects, as usual, that the Cats will only get better with each Friday night. That means the best ball will be played in late November as Rabun seeks a return to the State Championship. “The goal here is to win the Region Championship and win a State Championship, that will never change.”